links for 2008-04-10
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Democratic "Electability"

It's probably too late for me to ever learn whether it is spelled "electability" or "electibility": the neuronal grooves are too deep.

We are, however, live at Salon on the topic:

Salon.com | No, Hillary Clinton shouldn't be winning: Hillary Rodham Clinton has won fewer votes this spring in contested primaries than Barack Obama. She has persuaded fewer of her supporters to turn out for caucuses. She has won fewer pledged delegates. Yet Sean Wilentz writes that she "should be winning." And in response I say: "Huh?"

It turns out that when Sean Wilentz says that Hillary Clinton "should be winning" the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, what he means is that if all the Democratic caucuses and primaries had been winner-take-all, then "Clinton would now have 1,743 pledged delegates to Obama's 1,257."

Sean Wilentz is a Yankees fan. I am a Red Sox fan. Perhaps Sean Wilentz could write that the American League championship should go to the team with the most hits instead of the most wins, which would have made the Yankees rather than the Red Sox the real champions last year. After all, isn't the real point of baseball to hit the ball and get on base? That's why it's called baseball, and not run-ball or win-ball, right?... "If my grandmother had wheels, she would be a bus" is rarely a persuasive line of reasoning. If the rules for winning delegates and the nomination had been different, the candidates would have run different campaigns and put their resources into different places and different proportions....

The best... "electability" argument for Hillary Clinton was made by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo in a commentary on posts by bloggers David Sirota and Brendan Nyhan. Marshall wrote that he believes that states with a midsize African-American population are especially difficult for Obama to win:

[R]acially polarized voting increases with the size of the black population in a given state. That leaves Obama winning a lot of states with few blacks. But once the black population gets into the high single digits, racialized voting kicks in and Obama then can't get enough of the white population to win. Only when blacks approach 20% of the population does the black population get large enough to make up for and often overcome the increased white resistance to voting for Obama ...

Only a quarter of the nation lives in states where... "racialized voting kicks in" but where the African-American population is not large enough "to make up for and often overcome the increased white resistance to voting for Obama." But 96 out of the 153 swing electoral votes belong to five key states... where the black population is not big enough for an increased black turnout to offset the white vote... Michigan and Florida (14 percent); Missouri and Ohio (11 percent); and Pennsylvania (10 percent). The argument that Wilentz should have made is that this spring's primary results show that white reluctance to vote for an African-American candidate could be a real and important factor this November -- and potentially key in these five states, all of them crucial to Democratic hopes....

Is this argument true?... As best as I can tell, no. As Nyhan pointed out, there is no visible tendency for Obama to fare worse than Clinton as the African-American portion of the population increases... [and] there is no sign that states with demographic compositions like the key five -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Michigan and Missouri -- are necessarily hard terrain for Democratic politicians. Consider this graph, which is constructed to show the correlation between percentage of black population and the Democratic vote....

With the exception of Washington, D.C. -- that blue dot way off in the upper-right corner... the linear relationship between African-American population share and Democratic vote share is flat....

Thus my judgment is that the argument that superdelegates should support Hillary Clinton because Barack Obama is not very "electable" falls to the ground.... I think that Wilentz agrees with me. He... spends little time engaging the real-world issue of electability.... Which Democratic candidate, Obama or Clinton, has a better chance of carrying Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, New Mexico, Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri and Colorado against John McCain in November?

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