Saturday, January 26, 2008

Which Democratic candidate is more "electable" in November?

That is, which of the two leading Democratic candidates, Obama or Clinton, would be more likely to beat any of the likely Republican nominees in November? At the moment, this is still a matter of speculation, though that doesn't prevent a lot of people from having strong opinions on this question.

We will probably have plenty of time to ponder this question, since it looks likely that the Democratic primary contest will go on for a while.

Kevin Drum recently pulled together several recent polls that have some bearing on this question (see below). As he properly emphasizes, we shouldn't get too carried away by opinion polls this far away from the actual election. Bearing that caveat in mind, one can nevertheless notice the following intriguing results:

(1) According to these and other polls, John McCain would be the strongest Republican general-election candidate by far; (2) when matched up against McCain, Obama and Clinton do about equally well; and (3) either Obama or Clinton would demolish any of the other Republican candidates. (For some further details from the polling results themselves, see here and here.)

Of course, all this could change dramatically during the next 9 months. But there is some reason to think that, for people trying to choose between supporting Clinton or Obama, their relative "electability" in November is probably not the most crucial factor to consider. (Maybe ...)

--Jeff Weintraub
Kevin Drum (Washington Monthly)

January 24, 2008
MATCHING UP AGAINST McCAIN.... Is Barack Obama incontestably a better candidate than Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup against John McCain? A couple of days ago Jon Chait called my insistence on questioning this conventional wisdom "maddening," and maddening it might well be. But the detailed results of the latest LA Times poll have now been posted, and they show that Hillary is indeed the tougher candidate: she does at least as well as Obama against every leading Republican, and in a hypothetical matchup with McCain she wins by 4 points while Obama loses by a point.

How can this be? Well, it turns out that the vaunted independent voters split right down the middle in both matchups. But Republican voters are more likely to jump ship if Hillary is the Democratic nominee and Democratic voters are more likely to stay on board. And that makes the difference.

For what it's worth, my take is still that these kinds of matchup polls are pretty meaningless this early in the cycle. What's more, there are lots of undecided voters in both matchups, and there's no telling which way they'd jump when they finally entered the voting booth. But that said, what the numbers do show is that Obama is no slam dunk. Maddening or not, there are plenty of reasons that Hillary might be a stronger general election candidate than Obama, and plenty of reasons to think she might run a stronger campaign against Honest John in particular.

UPDATE: Just to make this crystal clear, I'm not arguing that Hillary Clinton is a stronger general election candidate than Obama. There's good evidence in both directions. What I am arguing is that....there's good evidence in both directions. There's a strong thread of conventional wisdom saying that Obama is obviously stronger than Hillary in a general election, and I just don't think it's that obvious. There's more to a general election than just independent voters.

January 25, 2008
MATCHING UP AGAINST McCAIN....ROUND 2.... Tonight I give equal time to Barack Obama supporters. According to the latest Wall Street Journal poll, Obama runs even with John McCain in a hypothetical general election matchup, while Hillary Clinton loses by two points. Advantage Obama!