Monday, November 17, 2008

Hillary Clinton vs. John McCain

I spent a lot of time last week looking at the county-level 2008 v. 2004 map that The New York Times was running online (see below). It really is a fascinating feature, but if you've been around here long enough, this doesn't really come as any surprise. I like maps. [Incidentally, you can now compare 2008 to the past presidential elections back to 1992. Just click on "Voting Shifts."]
[Click Map to Enlarge]

Anyway, the more I looked at it, the more it looked like something I had remembered seeing somewhere before. In fact, it was right here at FHQ. One of the things that the early days of this election year allowed us was this wonderful three month period after John McCain had wrapped up the Republican nomination, but in which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still actively competing for the Democratic nomination. The polling that was released during that period produced what FHQ liked to call the McCain margin.* The formula was simple: Subtract Hillary Clinton's margin against John McCain in head-to-head trial heat polls in each state from the similar margin between Obama and McCain.
[Click Map to Enlarge]

Above is the final McCain Margin map from June 3; the day of the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota. Now what you see isn't anything groundbreaking, but the areas in green (those where Clinton was doing better against McCain than Obama was) overlap to a large degree with the Times map above. It is that same swath of land from Oklahoma eastward and north into Appalachia. Now, Massachusetts and New York would have given their votes to either Democrat, and neither ever seemed terribly viable in those Appalachian states, but at the time Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania lent some validity to that Clinton campaign argument that the New York senator would fare better in the electoral college against John McCain than would her senate colleague from Illinois. As it turned out, Obama won two of those three anyway.

While things changed for Barack Obama after the economic crisis hit (and even before that, for that matter), the same areas that vexed him during the primaries, ended up going against him on November 4. But they would have gone against either Democrat, right? Well, I'm not so sure Hillary Clinton (and by extension Bill Clinton) wouldn't have made things interesting in Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia. I could see a scenario where she exchanged the 16 electoral votes from North Carolina and Nebraska's 2nd district for the 22 from the three states above. That could have drastically recolored that Times map (...with North Carolina being much lighter blue and Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia turning blue in the process.).

That would have given Clinton 371 electoral votes (to McCain's 167). Where else would Clinton have potentially been more successful? More vulnerable?

*In 2012 the McCain Margin will be redubbed the Obama Margin because, unless Obama fails over the course of the next four years, the president-elect will run unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Translation: we get to compare the various Republican candidates against how they are doing versus President Obama in each of the states. And we probably won't have to wait until 2012. There will likely be some state level polling done in some of the more competitive states in 2011. [And I'm sure we'll start seeing national level trial heats as soon as the 2010 midterm elections are complete.]

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Long Island Democrat said...

When I discuss this issue I get this compulsion to reargue the electability thing, so I might be a bit biased. But I'm not sure Hillary would have won VA or CO and doubt that she would have won IN. She certainly would not have won NC or Omaha. If she lost all those, that's a loss of 49 EVs. She would have been stronger in AR, KY, TN, and WV, but I doubt that she would have won any except for Arkansas: this is not the same KY, TN and WV that Clinton won in 1992 and 1996. Arkansas would have been a lock for Hillary without Huckabee heading the Republican ticket.

Of course we'll never know - the polls don't tell the whole story, and there's Nate Silver's point that she would have had to run a campaign too.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

I agree with Jack. If she had reacted to the financial meltdown as effectively as Obama did, then I think she might have looked like more of a lock coming in to Nov. 4, but with less chance of a landslide. A few extra percentage points in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, and maybe a shot at West Virginia and Arkansas. But no Indiana, no North Carolina, no Nebraska, maybe no Virginia. A more strongly divided map, in other words.

Josh Putnam said...

Yeah, I really ought to go back and add Indiana to that list of states Clinton wouldn't have been able to swing toward the Democrats. I'm pretty sure the Hoosier state is still red in my mind. I need to fix that. At least the map's right (...well unless Missouri flips).

I think you're absolutely right to bring up the possible reaction to the financial ordeal of mid-September. Run that gauntlet and Clinton is likely in a similar position to where Obama was.

And Jack, I agree that those states are nowhere near the states they were 16 years ago. The other part of that argument is that while her last name is Clinton, she isn't Bill. That's not a gender thing necessarily, but it is a nod to the fact that Bill Clinton is a rare politician. [What if it had been Bill Clinton against Obama in the primaries? Now that's an interesting hypothetical.]

Long Island Democrat said...


I'd add that Hillary is now tainted by having been a senator from New York, which hearkens back to the "New York liberal" discussion we had yesterday. So people now think of her as a liberal, while they might have considered Bill a centrist. Whether or not this is valid is immaterial.

Josh Putnam said...

I'd even add that the health care push in the '90s put her further to the left than Bill in the eyes of many. And then the New York tag got added on. Good thing they didn't relocate to Massachusetts when they left Washington.

MSS said...

It surprises me that Indiana did not show up as at least a nice shade of baby blue in the McCain margin map from June. It is indeed hard to imagine that Clinton would have won the state (or even made it especially close). Then again, I am also a tad surprised that North Carolina also is not very blue on that map and that Missouri is not greener. So, what do I know?

Otherwise, not much to add to a really fascinating discussion.

(Do you really think we'll have to wait all the way till late 2010 to see trial heats?)

MSS said...

With Missouri maybe it's the sandwich phenomenon. That is, the two candidates would have run roughly the same there in aggregate, but with different coalitions.

The Missouri Sandwich--so-called because of the state's position bordering both Dems' "home states."

(Maybe a similar factor in the other states I mentioned in the first comment, plus Virginia, though the sandwich metaphor fails the geography test in those states.)