Friday, May 9, 2008

Awaiting November

Paul Krugman has a column in the most recent New York Times in which he wonders about what factors will effect the outcome of the general election. The first part of the column has very sharp analysis that cuts through the nonsense.
Political scientists, by and large, believe that what happens on the campaign trail, while it gives talking heads something to talk about, is more or less irrelevant to what happens on Election Day. Instead, they place their faith in statistical analyses that identify three main determinants of presidential voting.

First, votes are affected by the state of the economy — mainly economic performance in the year or so preceding the election.

Second, the approval rating of the current president strongly affects his party’s ability to hold power.

Third, the electorate seems to suffer from an eight-year itch: parties rarely manage to hold the White House for more than two terms in a row.

All these factors are well lined up for the Democrat. We have among the most unpopular president in the history of polling, a terrible economy likely to get worse, and the Republicans have been in for eight years. What could go wrong?
He is slightly worried though.
But this week, Mr. Obama, while continuing to win huge African-American majorities, lost North Carolina whites by 23 points, Indiana whites by 22 points. Mr. Obama’s white support continues to be concentrated among the highly educated; there was little in Tuesday’s results to suggest that his problems with working-class whites have significantly diminished.

Discussions of how and why Mr. Obama’s support narrowed over time have a Rashomon-like quality: different observers see very different truths. But at this point it doesn’t matter whose fault it was. What does matter is that Mr. Obama appears to have won the nomination with a deep but narrow base consisting of African-Americans and highly educated whites. And now he needs to bring Democrats who opposed him back into the fold.

It’s possible that this will happen automatically — that bad feelings from the nomination fight will fade away of their own accord. In recent decades, Democrats have had little trouble unifying after hard-fought primary campaigns.

But this time the division seems to go deeper than ordinary political rivalry. The closest parallel I can think of is the bitter intraparty struggles of the 1920s, which pitted urban, often Catholic Democrats against Protestant farmers.

In a nutshell, the argument he is making is the same Hillary made when she says Obama lacks support among "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans".
I'm not sure that this is necessarily true. As Mark Kleiman notes "[Krugman] might at least pretend to believe that some of the people who voted for your preferred candidate were voting for her, rather than against him."
Krugman claims it is insulting to say that Clinton's lower class supporters are racist, and suggests this subject should be off limits for political reasons. Excuse me, I read Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal, and one of it's central theses is that cynical conservatives pols manipulated racist sentiment. Why is it not allowed for people to point out when the Clintons do the same?
(Posted by Ewan)

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