Clinton-to-McCain Defectors: Media Hype?

Many of us were a little worried that there was going to be a mad dash of “Angry White Women” to McCain’s camp following Clinton’s decision to finally wave the white flag. That narrative has been hammered home by a lot of news outlets who seem to have an inexhaustible supply of Clinton supporters willing to comment on how they’ve been robbed of Obama’s unelectability. And while those folks are definitely out there, how serious of a threat to Obama’s general election chances are they?

John Dickerson says the acrimony from Clinton supporters following the long primary is starting to ebb.

It’s true that over the last couple of months, polls that asked Clinton supporters whether they would defect to McCain found as many as 30 percent who were willing to do so. But these polls, taken in the heat of a Democratic primary fight, were meaningless. I agree with Kerry’s 2004 pollster Mark Mellman, who likens the polls of Clinton’s supporters at their keenest moment of disappointment to asking women (or men) in the middle of a heated marital argument about their Valentine’s Day plans. In the NBC post-primary poll, tempers were already cooling: Only 19 percent of Clinton supporters said they’d vote for McCain. …

There’s already some polling that suggests that Obama is improving his standing with women. According to the latest Gallup poll, in a head-to-head matchup with McCain, Obama is now matching Clinton’s performance among women, with a 13-point lead among female voters. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Obama also leads McCain by seven points among white women. This is perhaps the most crucial swing portion of the electorate as a whole. George Bush won white women by 11 points in 2004. Not all white women were Clinton supporters, of course, so these polls aren’t a precise measure of Obama’s inroads into the camp of Hillary defectors. But Obama couldn’t have improved his standing with women as much has he has since clinching the nomination without a big boost from those who once supported his Democratic rival.

In his column Sunday, Frank Rich went even further, calling the hand-wringing over what to do about disaffected Clinton supporters a product of media hype.

The real question is how Mr. McCain and his press enablers could seriously assert that he will pick up disaffected female voters in the aftermath of the brutal Obama-Clinton nomination battle. Even among Democrats, Mr. Obama lost only the oldest female voters to Mrs. Clinton. …

Our new bogus narrative rose from the ashes of Mrs. Clinton’s concession to Mr. Obama, amid the raucous debate over what role misogyny played in her defeat. A few female Clinton supporters — or so they identified themselves — appeared on YouTube and Fox News to say they were so infuriated by sexism that they would vote for Mr. McCain.

This is reality turned upside down. It’s the Democrats who are largely united and the Republicans who are at one another’s throats.

Yet the myth of Democratic disarray is so pervasive that when “NBC Nightly News” and The Wall Street Journal presented their new poll results last week (Obama, 47 percent; McCain, 41 percent) they ignored their own survey’s findings to stick to the clichéd script. Both news organizations (and NBC’s sibling, MSNBC) dwelled darkly on Mr. Obama’s “problems with two key groups” (as NBC put it): white men, where he is behind 20 percentage points to Mr. McCain, and white suburban women, where he is behind 6 points.

Since that poll gives Mr. Obama not just a 19-point lead among all women but also a 7-point lead among white women, a 6-point deficit in one sliver of the female pie is hardly a heart-stopper. Nor is Mr. Obama’s showing among white men shocking news. No Democratic presidential candidate, including Bill Clinton, has won a majority of that declining demographic since 1964. Mr. Kerry lost white men by 25 points, and Mr. Gore did by 24 points (even as he won the popular vote).

Conflict makes for a good story. Dickerson pointed out that in 2004, Republicans who were less than enamored with George W. Bush and going for Kerry got a lot of play in the press, but that number — 6 percent of Republicans — turned out to be dreadfully small in November.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.