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HOPE OR EXPERIENCE? The Pennsylvania Primary

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Elections, like second marriages, often represent the triumph of hope over experience.  So it may be with the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday.


Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. conducted a telephone poll of 625 registered and likely Pennsylvania Democrats during April 17 – 18.  The margin of error was +/- 4%.


Among the poll’s substantive results were these:


·        57% of voters had a favorable opinion of Clinton, vs. 52% for Obama.  22% saw Obama unfavorably, vs. Clinton’s 14%.  Neutrals were virtually identical.  Thus Clinton’s “net favorability” was 44% to Obama’s 30%.  That difference may prove significant on Primary Day.


·        Overall, 48% favored Clinton to Obama’s 43%.  Eight percent are undecided.  Clinton is preferred by women, voters 35 and older, white, Catholic, and Jewish voters.  Obama appeals more to males, voters under 35, Blacks, Protestants, and those with no religious preference.  Obama dominates the metro Philadelphia area.  Clinton appeals elsewhere in the state.


·        Clinton supporters think she cares about the same issues they care about and has the right experience.  Obama backers believe he represents change and a new approach and is honest and trustworthy.  There we see the contrast of hope vs. experience, which have been the candidates’ main points of differentiation since the campaign began.


·        Pennsylvania voters say the economy and jobs, Iraq, and health care are the dominate issues for them.  And they give Clinton higher marks in all three areas.


·        Asked which candidate, Clinton or Obama, stood the better chance of defeating John McCain in November, 67% said Clinton to 63% for Obama.  But only 6% cited “the best chance to win in November” as being an important quality to them.  This is a curious result: why would you support someone you think might not win the general election?


·        Looking ahead to November, supporters of both Clinton and Obama think Clinton has a better chance against McCain if she gets the nomination.  Obama voters believe he can win over McCain but fewer than half of Clinton supporters agree with that.


·        Among those who watched the ABC debate last week, most thought Clinton performed better (44% to 25%), but 93% said the debate did not influence their votes.  Similarly, 92% of voters say they are not likely to change their minds.  So the televised debate did little to influence how people might vote on Tuesday.


The poll also revealed that hunters, gun owners, and bowlers prefer Clinton.  So a “Hunters for Hillary” demographic may yet emerge, but “Bowlers for Barack” will have to wait for the next frame.  Beer drinkers are undecided (44% for “Less filling!” 44% for “Tastes great!”  8% prefer another beer.)


Clinton is expected to win the Pennsylvania primary.  Obama appeals to the bluest progressives, which most Pennsylvania Democrats are not. He also appeals to those cynical Republicans who would change parties to vote for him hoping he will be an easier target for McCain in November.  Caucus voters appear to be bluer than the average Democratic voter, which may account for much of Obama’s caucus appeal.


A loss or even a narrow victory might bring Clinton’s campaign to an end.  But a compelling victory (say, 55-45) will have to get the superdelegates’ attention.  If she wins big in Pennsylvania, Clinton will have won the eight largest states in the country, worth 220 electoral votes in the fall (including Texas).  Obama has won two large states (15 or more electoral votes) worth 36 electoral votes (or three states with 70 electoral votes, including Texas).


Pledged-delegate counts may favor Obama going into the convention but potential electoral vote counts already heavily favor Clinton.  Then the superdelegates will face a daunting choice: hope or experience?

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Rick Wise is an industrial psychologist and retired management consultant. For 15 years, he was managing director of ValueNet International, Inc. Before starting ValueNet, Rick was director, corporate training and, later, director, corporate (more...)
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