Friday, March 07, 2008

Why isn't Ohio like Wisconsin?

It's overdetermined, so it's impossible to really point to a reason "why" the gains Barack Obama made with working class whites in Wisconsin didn't extend to Ohio. But I have lived and voted in both states, and my experience tells me that they are not that much different culturally. Why did their Democrats vote so differently?

I can think of six possible reasons, and I bet there are more:

1. NAFTA. Wisconsin has lost manufacturing jobs, too, but not as many as Ohio. No doubt the weird NAFTA flap in the couple of days before March 4 hurt Obama badly.

2. Race. Is Ohio more racist than Wisconsin? If this feels like a cheap explanation, it is, and to me it feels unlikely. But it's actually not so easy to dismiss. Analysis of Ohio exit polling here finds that the percentage of white voters "who voted for white candidates partly because of race" was only 6 percent in Wisconsin compared to 11.4 percent in Ohio.

3. Campaigning. The view put forward by an aggrieved anonymous commenter below was that Obama neglected campaign stops in rural Ohio, and as a result basically conceded every county except the heavily urban Franklin and Cuyahoga counties.

I think there's something to this. I don't know that much about Obama's campaign stops in Ohio, but he was all over Wisconsin, even up here in the north. If he had only stopped in Madison and Milwaukee, that absolutely would have been held against him by white rural Wisconsinites.***

4. What about the power of political endorsements? Usually the conventional wisdom is that endorsements don't move a whole lot of votes, unless maybe they are mayors with access to a political machine. But it's worth noting that Wisconsin's governor endorsed and campaigned for Obama, while Ohio's governor endorsed and campaigned for Clinton.

It seems to me that endorsements would hold the most sway among "low information" voters, in other words those who aren't political junkies who have been following the campaign since the beginning. And that group would presumably include a lot of, yes, working class whites.

5. That stupid 3 a.m. ad. I wasn't in Ohio when this ad dropped, and I really haven't seen data assessing its effect. But the specific type of national security appeal made by the Clinton campaign with that ad was never made in Wisconsin, and it is reasonable to assume that it caused a flicker of doubt about Obama's readiness in at least some voters' minds.

6. Saturday Night Live. Even though she had always been ahead in Ohio, Obama's 12 straight wins made Clinton an underdog in the campaign storyline. The blame-the-media shtick rolled out by SNL and seized upon by the Clinton campaign certainly caught on in the culture, triggering both some sympathy for Clinton among voters and some apparent "toughening" in press treatment of Obama.

To me, numbers 1 and 3 feel like they probably explain the most; numbers 5 and 6 seem the weakest. But I guess you never know what resonates with people. Ohioans, how would you rank the importance of these factors? Also feel free to pick apart these theories or add your own...

*** Of course, Wisconsin is a much smaller state than Ohio, and during the lead-up to its primary Obama wasn't simultaneously campaigning in another huge state with multiple urban centers. Wisconsin had its primary on the same day as Hawaii, a state Obama won by a margin of something like 99-1 without even a campaign stop. Ohio had its primary on the same day as Texas, which, well...

2 comments:

Saxdrop said...

And what explains an 18-point margin in Wyoming? I've never really paid much attention to Wyoming as anything but a red state (has anyone for that matter)? So I never really thought about what kinds of things might sort WY Dems into Obama or Clinton camps. Here's a couple options:

1. Are states now more likely to just go the way of the national press winds? That is, if one candidate seems to be polling favorably nationally (or atleast moving up faster), will that trickle down to localities?

2. Is it really just Obama's advantage to have caucuses?

3. I got some sense that Obama was always ahead in this state, and laid out a very aggressive ground game (aggressive for Wyoming that is) with something like 5 field offices. Clinton never took the bait.

I suppose 3 is the most likely, but why was Obama ahead in the first place?

Nicole said...

Wisconsin's long history of progressive politics?

I read an article that said American's have some sort of psychological relationship with Hillary where for some reason they don't want to see her win, but they don't want to see her lose either.