Backlash Voting Impacted Democrats in SC and NH
For the second time in just under two weeks, a late-breaking backlash vote upended the conventional wisdom in a Democratic primary contest. In New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton won a stunning victory when her original voters came home, partly in reaction to media coverage perceived as both unfair and sexist. Tonight in South Carolina, it was Barack Obama who was the beneficiary of an 11th hour backlash. This time, the culprit was Bill Clinton.
Once again, the polls failed to capture the emerging dynamic in South Carolina. Heading into the last two days in the Palmetto State, surveys gave Obama leads as large as 20% (PPP) and as narrow a 3% (ARG). In what was portrayed as a major red flag for the Obama campaign, a McClatchy/MSNBC poll showed Barack Obama capturing only 10% of the white vote in South Carolina.
But as the final results and exit polling revealed, the South Carolina contest did not tighten as election day approached. Barack Obama not only doubled Hillary Clinton's vote (55% to 27%), but defeated her by 52% to 21% among those deciding in the last three days. While Obama took a whopping 78% of the African-American vote, a block which constituted 55% of the total ballots cast. But importantly for Democrats, the media-fed panic over a looming racial schism did not come to pass, as Obama earned 24% among white voters (among whom John Edwards and not Hillary Clinton was the first choice). Among white voters ages 18-29, Obama won outright, with 52% support to 27% for Hillary Clinton.
As I first suggested 8 days ago and amplified on Thursday, Bill Clinton's attack dog politics boomeranged not only on his legacy, but against his wife's campaign. 70% of South Carolina Democrats claimed Hillary's campaign unfairly attacked Barack Obama (compared to only 57% who claimed the reverse). In CNN's exit polling, 58% of voters said that Bill Clinton's role in the campaign was important or very important. Among that group, Obama defeated Mrs. Clinton by 11 points.
In New Hampshire and South Carolina, backlash voting produced very different results. In each case, it seems that voters had largely made up their minds but their support was soft. But when one candidate was seen as being unfairly attacked (Hillary Clinton by the likes of MSNBC's Chris Matthews in New Hampshire, Barack Obama in South Carolina by the Democratic 42nd president of the United States), his or her voters came home. This time, it appears that Bill Clinton helped fuel the backlash.