- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s upset New Hampshire primary victory and Sen. John McCain’s five-point defeat of Mitt Romney signal that the 2008 primary season’s very fluid environment continues. The exit polls offer clues to the patterns of that fluidity. Turnout, candidates’ last-minute ability to grab voting blocs from one another, and the wild card of emotive gestures like the misty-eyed Mrs. Clinton’s remarks on Monday — which may or may not have swung an appreciable number of undecided voters, perhaps a decisive number, in her dramatic New Hampshire bounce — are where it counted. Looking forward to Nevada, South Carolina and Michigan, the race is still wide-open among Democrats, far more open than is typical for Republicans and likely to yield further surprises.

The import of turnout in New Hampshire was clear enough given the shortage of Democratic ballots — turnout outstripped even bullish expectations. But dissecting the exit polls, the other factors emerge. Mrs. Clinton’s edge is found among women, especially unmarried women, lower-middle-income to lower-income voters and seniors. Not all of these groups were hers in Iowa. Mrs. Clinton won a decisive 46 percent of women in New Hampshire compared to Sen. Barack Obama’s 34 percent, plus nearly half of all voters earning under $50,000 (who account for nearly one-third of total state Democratic primary voters). By contrast, in Iowa last week, Mr. Obama carried the female vote with a strong 35 percent compared to Mrs. Clinton’s disappointing 30 percent (John Edwards took 23 percent of Iowan women).

By income level, Mr. Obama performed superbly among New Hampshire’s wealthy, carrying 41 percent of earners above $100,000, as he did in Iowa, where he carried the $100,000-and-above bracket, also with 41 percent. But he failed to improve measurably in the $50,000-and-under demographic, which Mrs. Clinton dominated. Then there are seniors, who Mrs. Clinton won running away. In this crucial voting bloc as well as their immediate juniors, the 50-64 age bracket, New Hampshire’s largest, Mrs. Clinton garnered 48 percent and 39 percent respectively, compared to Mr. Obama’s 32 percent and 30 percent.

On the Republican side, Mr. McCain outperformed every other candidate among voters of every income level except $150,000-$199,000 earners, among whom Mitt Romney edged Mr. McCain 38 percent to 37 percent, nearly bested Mike Huckabee among evangelical Christians (who comprise 22 percent of New Hampshire Republican voters, as compared to 60 percent of Iowa’s) and carried twice the proportion of women in New Hampshire as he did in Iowa. Interestingly for Mr. McCain — who has never been the leading candidate for family-values Republicans — the Arizona senator won more voters who care greatly whether a candidate shares their religious beliefs than any other candidate, including Mr. Huckabee. At the same time, he bested all others among voters who view the Bush administration unfavorably. Mr. McCain also took the plurality of voters who disapprove of the war in Iraq. Many of his voters, it seems, were late deciders. Forty-nine percent of voters who chose their candidates in the last week went to Mr. McCain.

Looking forward to South Carolina, these contours could change dramatically. Even as Mr. McCain will look to benefit from Mr. Huckabee’s expected strong performance there, at the expense of Mr. Romney, “wild cards” may abound. No one could predict that the spectacle of an emotional Mrs. Clinton would attract so much attention and sympathy. The races remain very open.

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