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McCain Democrats? Putting a Survey in Historical Context

By Jon Cohen
Democrats afraid their party will suffer from the extended primary battle point to new polls showing sizable numbers of Democrats ready to bolt to Arizona Sen. John McCain should their top choice not win the nomination.

Those data are stark, but context is also important.

A slew of recent national polls report Democratic "defection rates" ranging from 18 to 35 percent, depending on the candidate. If the numbers held in November, it would be a big turnabout from recent elections.

In the last four presidential contests, only about one in 10 Democrats cast ballots for the GOP candidate, according to network exit polls. In the 2006 midterm election, 93 percent of Democrats cast ballots for the Democratic contender in their House district.

But other new data may also concern some Democrats. In today's Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, Hillary Clinton's ratings have dipped among all voters, African Americans and women. (Bill Clinton's ratings have also dropped among African Americans in WSJ-NBC polling from 76 percent last November to 60 percent now.)

And in the new poll from the Pew Research Center, Obama's "unfavorability" rating among Clinton supporters continued to rise. More than four in 10 of those backing Clinton in the primary had negative views of Obama -- a number that's up sharply over the past few months. Obama voters, in turn, now view Clinton more negatively than they did before Super Tuesday.

So far, the bad feelings have not spilled over into hypothetical match-ups between Clinton or Obama with McCain. In both the Pew and WSJ-NBC polls, those head-to-heads are little changed from previous surveys. And Democrats currently enjoy a large advantage in partisan identification.

While Democratic defections have been low for a long time, they were higher in earlier races, with 26 percent of Democrats voting for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Those voters crossed party lines that year after a bruising fight for the Democratic nomination between President Carter and Sen. Edward Kennedy (a battle that lasted all the way to the convention). But there no evidence that Kennedy voters were more likely than others to jump ship: those who supported Kennedy in the primary were no more apt to vote for Reagan (24 percent) than were those who did not back the Massachusetts senator (26 percent), according to the CBS News-New York Times exit poll.

And Kennedy supporters also turned out to be less likely to cross over the partisan divide than they had indicated earlier in the year. In a late March 1980 Gallup poll, nearly half, 47 percent, of Democrats who wanted Kennedy to be the party's nominee said they would vote for Reagan if Carter were to get the nod; that is nearly twice the proportion who ended up doing so.

Vote among Democrats in presidential elections (network exit polls):

      Democrat   Republican   Ind/Other
1972     61          37           2
1976     77          22           1
1980     67          26           7
1984     74          25           1
1988     82          17           1
1992     77          10          13
1996     84          10           5
2000     86          11           2
2004     89          11           *

Vote among Democrats in presidential elections (percent of two-party vote, from network exit polls):

      Democrat   Republican
1972     62          38
1976     78          22
1980     72          28
1984     75          25
1988     83          17
1992     89          11
1996     89          11
2000     88          12
2004     89          11

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 27, 2008; 6:05 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton , John McCain , The Pollster  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A Survey That Raises Tough Questions
Next: On Wright Question, Unclear Answers From Obama


Matthew, love the response. Have read Milton Friedman in college, disagreed with him then and you now. One real issue you have is with the fact that the government is already effectively bailing out wall street. I don't know with what moral compass one chooses to bail out folks who've lost billions of dollars speculating on the mtg. industry and not the poor homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes. Also, you don't begin to address the small cost of assisting homeowners here. We're looking at an investment in the order of, let's say, 10-20B? What will be the loss in value of the number one asset most Americans have if we allow this thing to "work itself out"? Much more than that I fear. I guess you'd also get rid of FIMA, since it clearly encourages people to live in threatened areas (either from floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and the like)? Ultimately, Matthew, you and I believe that government has different purposes. I believe that governments are here for the people. I believe that "for the people" means, at times, rescuing the people from mistakes they've made. This, however, does not preclude creating incentives for both private citizens and the market to privately insure/hedge against uncontrollable events. Certainly, if private companies can, on their own, re-negotiate mtg terms to bring the principle down by 20% or so, that's great. The government would not need to get involved.

One thing additionally. We differ largely here on the question of upon whom should fall the punishment of an systemic excess? Lots of banks and individuals made heaps and heaps of money on the backs of loans that obviously should not have been made. Now, it seems that the only people that will suffer the consequences of these excesses (under your plan) are the small homeowners. I reject that idea. A huge section of our economy benefited from the over-heated housing market (A HUGE SEGMENT that included banks, contractors, employees for those contractors, steel workers, lumber employees, home insurers, furniture companies, retail outlets like Home Depot and Wal-Mart, etc.) and, therefore, all of us should be required to suffer the burden that follows that excess. If the benefit of this irresponsible behavior had not been so wide-spread, perhaps it would make more ethical sense to confine the burden to just the home-buyers. But as I imagine I've sufficiently elucidated, that's just not the case. Therefore the nation, morally, should pay. That's the problem with Friedman, there's no ethics, no real morality to his ideas. And that's why I reject them.

Posted by: geellis | March 28, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

geellis, while I have some issues with McCain on his economic plan, knocking him on letting the morgatge crisis take care of itself isn't one of them. Bailing out the homeowners is nothing but welfare and a reward for buying an unaffordable house. Americans are too in love with buying things on credit, and living beyond our means. The only long term solution for this kind of behavior is to make people suffer the consequences. I know that sounds uncaring, and anyone who is being forclosed on would think I'm an assh*le, but if we continually bail out those who do not act responsibly, when will it end. If the morgatge crisis is left alone, housing prices will continue to fall due to the surplus of houses on the market. This will, all by itself, create a buyers' market, which will drive housing prices back up, but, since people would know that the government is not going to bail them out if they buy one beyond their means, they will buy what they can afford, keeping the market at a steady growth rate. Throw in a little more regulation of the trading of morgatge instruments on Wall Street, by which I mean, you cannot trade in debt instruments like they are assets and you have to have assets to back up those debt instruments, and you have a long term solution to a short term problem. Yes, people will suffer in the short term, and there are other ways to solve those issues, but a short term bailout of the morgatge crisis will not address the systemic problem, will cost the tax-payers in an already overspending government, and will only push the problem down the road a few years. Not to mention the fact that confidence in our financial institutions will suffer, as well as the dollar, for far longer if we do not employ a long term fix. This is simple stuff, you should read some Milton Friedman. The long term health of the economy should always take precedence over short term problems, and bailouts, while helpful in the short term, are invariably harmful in the longterm.

Posted by: mathewcarson1975 | March 28, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Interesting enough, I bet his youthful self would be embarrassed by the use to which this video was put. If service was tantamount to qualification to be president, every returning vet should simply hand in his uniform for a suit and key to the oval office. It's just not nearly enough to make up for the substantial lack of thoughtful initiatives that John McCain has demonstrated during this primary season and political campaign thus far. Not nearly enough to help th people in Mich. and OH who've watched their jobs go overseas and their homes on the auction block and all McCain has to offer is a continuation of the Bush tax cuts and the Bush war in Iraq.

Posted by: geellis | March 28, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone else seen the latest McCain ad?

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Oh, sorry, I forgot. McCain's economic plan also includes retaining the Bush tax cuts. Hmmmmmmmmm. That sounds like a plan. ONE THAT'S GONNA CONTINUE TO RESULT IN THE DEVALUATION OF OUR CURRENCY AND THE GROWING FEDERAL DEFICIT (and debt). You see, we can't afford to maintain those tax cuts AND maintain our military engagement in Iraq without cutting various other spending priorities to an extent that is politically not viable. Yeah, there's an economic plan for you. I can't wait till all of McCain's plans receive the full media vetting that they deserve. Then people will see why "CHANGE" is required. He really does represent a third term for Bush people, he really does.

Posted by: geellis | March 28, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Apologies for the numerous typos in my last post.

Posted by: geellis | March 28, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Wow!!!! Have you people ever listened to John McCain. Why don't you come up for air after hanging out up hit butt hole and listen to what the man has to say. He has no significant prescriptions for any of the issues of greatest importance to the nation. Let's take them one at a time. Even while the truce that has reduced violence in Iraq threatens to fracture, he calls for an unlimited commitment to this military campaign. What's his plan for resolving the obvious sectarian conflict that continues to rage there? On the economy, he has, on numerous occasions, pleaded his ignorance re the economy. So, for those of you blasting Obama, or Hillary for that matter, re their economic plans, McCain doesn't have one. Did you hear his latest speech on the economy and the mtg crisis: he suggests just watching it play itself out and letting the mkt do its thing. And you, somehow, think this is superior to the solutions being offered/suggested by Obama. Get your heads out of the sand and realize that Obama is offering far more enlightened solutions to all of the nation's ills than is John McCain. The only reason we haven't seen more light/criticism re McCain is due to the current fight b/n the democratic primary contenders. One more thing, the Fla and Mich Democratic parties decided to move their primaries in spite of the known consequences. It is not Obama who should suffer the consequences of the inability for a do-over in those states. Do you people realize the logistical difficulty of actually conducting a do-over of a major state-wide primary or caucus election. And there are details that favor one or the other candidates (caucasuses favor Obama, primaries, Clinton). The fact of the matter is, there's a reason that the DNC put its foot down re the race to be first going on with the state primaries and both Hillary and Obama AGREED at the outset to the DNC's strong rule (i.e., of the non-seating of delegates for states in violation of the primary schedule). The only reason this is remotely seen as a legitimacy question is because Clinton is losing and thus trying to create a legitimacy issue where, at the onset of the political campaign season. at the beginning of this process she did not see such an issue (remember she AGREED with the DNC position on this and decided, like Obama, Edwards, and the rest, not to campaign in Fla or Mich). If it was such a legitimacy issue, why didn't Hillary violate the agreement not to campaign in Mich. and Fla and do so anyway? If it was so important NOT to disenfranchise the Mich and Fla voters? Ultimately, if Obama loses, it will be in large part because of race. Not that white Americans are all so racist. Rather, because they simply don't understand the racial context in which black people live (and have lived) in this country and, therefore, have no idea whatsoever the context for the statements of Rev. Wright. Because white Americans have not had to endure a history of being second-class citizens and at the bottom of the heap in almost every social economic way, they cannot fathom how a Rev. Wright, the politics of whom were forged during the most tumultuous period of this relationship between the races, could evince such anger, such "anti-Americanism". GROW UP PEOPLE. This is America and it is QUINTESSENTIALLY AMERICAN to express moral outrage at the perceived injustices of our own country. And, finally, This was Obama's pastor and close confidant. But how many of us have such close confidants who could endure the scrutiny that now 20 years of Jeremiah Wright's life is now receiving? I doubt may.

Posted by: geellis | March 28, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I am a 70 year old Democrat, so I've voted in a lot of elections. I am active in the Democratic party. I have never ever considered voting for a Republican president before.

I find Barack Obama's judgment and passivity over 20 years to be so questionable, that it is highly likely that I will vote for McCain. He's a moderate and I can hold my nose and vote for him.

It really is different this time.

Posted by: mac35 | March 28, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

wcowan1, do you have a link for the %s you used?


Posted by: newagent99 | March 28, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Read here why North Carolina looks like it could be a deathly blow to Clinton's chances:

Posted by: campaigndiaries | March 28, 2008 1:33 AM | Report abuse

An Obama win that has been garnered by opposing the votes of Florida and Michigan raises issues of legitimacy, and for this reason he will lose a great many votes. I simply can't accept as his candidacy as legitimate if the voices of 9% of the electorate (Florida and Michigan) are being excluded. Beyond the legitimacy issue, the reality that Florida and Michigan (collectively) account for 9% of Americans and more than 8% of Democratic delegates will seriously damage Democratic chances of victory. Unless the 9% of our citizens in Florida and Michigan are allowed to have their votes counted, there's no way that the party's nominee can win in the fall. The nominee would certainly lose Florida and Michigan. An even greater problem, however, is that it will be impossible to rally a large part of the electorate around the nominee. Presently this issue is tearing the party apart, and if it isn't resolved, the party will pay in the general election.

In addition to the legitimacy issue, Obama's connection to Jeremiah Wright continues to concern many voters. The images of Barack Obama's minister that appeared in the ABC news report ( can't be forgotten. In the video, Senator Obama's minister states that blacks should not sing 'God Bless America' but 'God damn America'." This one sentence continues to play in my head! Long after Senator Obama has finished with speeches about unity, these angry words from the mouth of his minister of twenty years will live in the memory of the electorate. The Republicans will be much tougher than Hillary Clinton and will certainly have TV commercials showing: 1) Pastor Wright saying "God d**m America" over and over; and 2) Pictures of the congregation being driven to frenzy by the words. When these two scenes are repeated over and over for 26 seconds by the Republicans, the commercial will doom Barack Obama as a presidential candidate.

Posted by: wcowan1 | March 27, 2008 10:45 PM | Report abuse

To xplanes... I agree with you. Despite what many in the media would say, for me and a lot of people I know, Obama's speech is inconsequential and tiring. I personally want somebody would act on the problems, rather make another speech. It is also true despite what Obama supporters may want to project, experience account for a lot. If the Dems decide that Obama will be their candidate, many Clinton voters will rather stick it to McCain. Iraq is only 1 issue... the others are the economy, healthcare and national security.

BTW, I read Obama's speech on the economy... it is more of the same from Obama... one soundbite after another.

Posted by: CPCook | March 27, 2008 9:31 PM | Report abuse

McCain has several advantages over other Republican candidates. First, he will get the Latino vote, Obama will not. That gives him most, if not all, of the Southwest. Add that to Florida and Michigan, which will not have their delegates counted, plus Ohio, where Obama will not win, and the election is in the bag for McCain, and that is before he picks a running mate. If he picks Powlenty from Minnesota, it's over. There is no way the average American wants to talk about race and have a national conversation above race. Many Americans are losing their houses, losing their jobs, losing their health insurance. The last thing they want to be on the top of the agenda is race! People are sick and tired of this kind of thing along with white guilt and everything else. No one wants this conversation in the White House and in the center of the political discourse, no matter what the media said or any of the pundits think about Obama's speech. Other things are much too important!

Posted by: xplanes | March 27, 2008 7:31 PM | Report abuse

But you add that to Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" and it might just make all the difference that's needed.

Posted by: JakeD | March 27, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

It looks as though these apparent defection rates are not unique to 2008. In 2000, 51% of McCain supporters initially said that they were not going to vote for Bush. See this discussion that puts these numbers in context:

Posted by: MAB4 | March 27, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

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