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Illinois Sen. Barack Obama campaigns against the blue and red ideological division in the country, but he is leading in the Democratic primary contest against Sen. Hillary Clinton because he has done a better job of turning out the Democratic base in the most partisan of Democratic communities.
Sen. Clinton, meanwhile, is judged to be the more polarizing of the candidates. Yet she has found her strength among those who live in the counties with the most Republican voters.
The Yonder conducted a simple experiment to see where the two remaining Democratic candidates were finding their strongest support. We took the Democratic and Republican landslide counties from 2004 — the counties where George Bush or John Kerry won by 20 percentage points or more — and then we calculated how Clinton and Obama have fared in these places. We wanted to discover who gets more votes from the Democratic base — and who pulls more support from places where Democrats are an endangered species.
Obama has been winning the Democratic landslide counties from the beginning. Most of these counties are in the cities — places where Obama’s advantage with young, affluent and African-American voters is powering his campaign. Obama won 72 percent of the landslide Democratic counties from 2004.
Clinton, meanwhile, has won 62 percent of the largely rural counties where Bush defeated Kerry in 2004 with landslide margins of at least 20 percentage points. Voters here are whiter, older and poorer than those in the darkest blue counties.
Obama lost these dark red — meat red — counties to Clinton in all the primaries up until the Potomac votes on February 6. Those were the first primaries where Obama beat Clinton in the landslide Republican counties from 2004.
In both the Super Tuesday states and the earliest primaries, Obama gathered fewer votes in these conservative communities than did Clinton.
And even in the contests in Virginia and Maryland, Obama’s margins over Clinton in the most Democratic counties were far greater than in the most Republican communities.
In Republican landslide counties — counties where Bush won by more than 20 points in ’04 — Obama won 54 percent of the vote in Maryland and Virginia. In the Democratic landslide counties — where Kerry won by 20 percentage points — Obama won 68 percent of the vote.
Clinton’s ability to pull votes from “red” counties will be tested this coming Tuesday in the Texas and Ohio primaries, two states Bush won in both 2000 and 2004.
The results of the Yonder study raise questions both about Clinton’s strategy and Obama’s ability to find a non-partisan compromise with Republican (“red”) America. Clinton largely ignored caucuses in “red” states, such as Idaho, North Dakota and Colorado. Obama won easy victories in these places where Clinton might have had an advantage.
It’s impossible to predict a vote in a general election based on the vote in the primary, but Obama has not yet shown an ability to pull voters from more conservative communities. He has been able to excite the most partisan of Democratic voters — the Democratic base that may be the least willing to compromise with Republicans should Obama be elected.
It’s interesting that the likely Republican nominee, John McCain, has done best in the cities — the same communities where Obama has excelled.