Gannett News Service
The fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is likely to go the distance through the June 3 primaries because neither candidate has been able to poach on the other’s demographic base.
In what political scientist G. Terry Madonna describes as a “hardening of the demographic arteries,” Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have lurched from contest to contest within a tight margin of error since Obama won Iowa and Clinton rebounded by capturing New Hampshire.
With Tuesday’s primaries in Indiana and North Carolina standing as the next big contests, these demographic markers point to a relatively decisive win for Obama in North Carolina and a tossup to a slight Clinton advantage in Indiana.
Clinton, the senator from New York, has marshaled a traditional Democratic coalition of older white women and blue-collar workers to win in key Rust Belt primaries of Ohio and Pennsylvania over the past seven weeks.
Since the South Carolina primary in late January, Illinois Sen. Obama has won an overwhelming percentage of black voters, upper-income liberals and first-time voters.
The numbers are almost identical from state to state. Clinton won 66 percent of white women in Pennsylvania, 67 percent in Ohio on March 3.
She won 54 percent of people earning less than $50,000 in Pennsylvania, 56 percent in Ohio. She benefited heavily because women made up nearly 6 in 10 Democratic primary voters in both states.
Obama won 89 percent of black voters in Pennsylvania, 87 percent in Ohio. He won 61 percent of voters under the age of 29 in both states.
“You go from campaign to campaign and nobody is winning in the other person’s home demographic,” said Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College. “You would think that something would give, but it hasn’t.”
Here’s why demographics, rather than polls, may be a more accurate marker for the next two primaries.
Indiana is demographically close to Pennsylvania, which Clinton won by 9 percentage points.
North Carolina is more of a first cousin to South Carolina than a close sibling, and some experts on Southern politics say the Tar Heel state more and more resembles Virginia in its politics and population. Obama decisively won both the South Carolina and Virginia primaries.
North Carolina’s population is 21.4 percent black; South Carolina’s is 29.4 percent. South Carolina’s population is slightly older and more blue collar, but North Carolina has a higher percentage of college graduates and those making more than $50,000 a year.
Older and blue-collar voters have favored Clinton, while more educated and wealthier voters have gone for Obama.
Indiana is similar to Pennsylvania, “in terms of how the states split up with rural voters, aging voters, manufacturing,” said Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight, a political newsletter.
Some think the historic elements of the primary campaign have helped harden the demographic camps. Clinton is the first serious female contender for a party nomination, and Obama is the first black candidate to achieve front-runner status so late in a nomination fight.
“Both of these are history-making campaigns and as a consequence of that, neither one was going to collapse,” said Craig Varoga, who advised former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s short-lived Democratic bid.
Chuck Raasch is political editor for Gannett News Service. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.