February 18, 2008

Can Clinton "Come back" in Wisconsin or Hawaii?

After the American Century

Tomorrow the last primaries in February take place in Wisconsin and Hawaii, with 74 and 20 delegates respectively. For Obama, it has been a spectacular month, starting with a strong showing on Super Tuesday, followed by victories in eight straight primaries. The polls suggest that he can make it ten in a row tomorrow, which would give him even more momentum. For Hillary this month was supposed to be a triumph and instead has bordered on disaster. Rather than being crowned as the nominee, she found herself nearly bankrupt, fired her campaign manager, and lost every primary after February 5. If she can win either election tomorrow she can claim it as a second comeback. In New Hampshire she made her first comeback, after coming in third in Iowa. 

In Wisconsin the economy is the main issue for 4 our of 10 voters, while only a quarter of them focus on the War in Iraq. This emphasis is good for Hillary, as voters seem to like her on economic issues. No doubt they remember the prosperous Clinton Presidency. The polls also indicate that the same pattern we have seen before recurs. She is leading Obama among women and older voters. He does better among men, younger voters, and African Americans. Overall, it appears to be a close race. Several different polls puts him ahead by just 4%, which borders on being statistically insignificant, as there is always a margin of error.  Moreover, in another pattern familiar from the previous primaries, 25% of the voters remain uncertain and say they might still change their minds. In short, Hillary might pull off an upset.

On the other hand, the trend in the polls over time suggests otherwise. Clinton consistently led in the Wisconsin polls until Super Tuesday, when she fell behind. Obama appears to have momentum, and he also tends to bring out marginal voters such as young people and African-Americans, who are both under-represented in polling samples, because they often do not vote. Another problem for pollsters is their data bases focus on land-line telephones, which means that voters under 30 - heavily for Obama - may also be under polled. So the margin of polling error may be greater than 4%, and it may favor him, not her.

Hawaii is less problematic, because Obama was born there. He represents the multiracial integration of Hawaii, which has been far in advance of the rest of the United States in developing multicultural harmony. There seem to be no polls for Hawaii, however, where 20 delegates are at stake in caucuses. The local newspapers predict that the turnout will be at least 50% higher than in 2004, and the Democratic Party there fears it will be overwhelmed. Obama has won every other caucus, and it seems hard to believe Hillary has a much of chance. She did send daughter Chelsea out to enjoy the good weather, however, while she slogged on through the heavy snows of Wisconsin. 

Of the 94 delegates at stake, Obama will likely get a few more than Clinton, but neither is likely to gain a decisive statistical advantage from these contests. More important, at this point, is the psychological victory for Obama, if he can make it ten in a row, or for Clinton, if she can make a second "comeback."