The mainstream media is already busy anointing “serious contender” status to a variety of Democratic party presidential hopefuls, well in advance of the 2008 elections. What makes a serious contender, in the eyes of insider pundits? Why, fundraising success, of course; that is, success in gathering large bundles of campaign cash from party insiders and the corporate well-to-do. This sort of prediction can be self-fulfilling, as people give cash to people who are “serious contenders” because they have already received large wads of cash. It’s also an undemocratic measure, giving disproportionate weight to the wishes of the wealthy and little to no regard to the large majority of American voters who have the gall to be too strapped for cash to make campaign contributions.
There’s an alternate measure, one that still captures the preferences of committed political activists while remaining more egalitarian in its measurement. Over at Vote Democrat 2008, we offer bumper stickers, buttons and t-shirts that promote various Democratic politicians’ bids for the presidency in 2008. For someone to buy a sticker, button or shirt promoting a presidential candidate takes some gumption, since it involves the commitment to publicly state one’s endorsement of a candidate. That’s strong stuff, but it doesn’t take loads of cash to make such an endorsement. The relative popularity of the contenders in sales of these items is an indicator of the size of the set of core supporters, ready to mobilize when a full presidential campaign gets underway.
We’ve been keeping track of trends in the sale of Election 2008 stickers, buttons and shirts since the debacle of November 2004. With another month past us now, here’s an update that includes results for February of 2006:
The pattern here mirrors those of previous months. Senator Hillary Clinton maintains a powerful lead in the hearts and minds of Democrats and Democratic leaners with more than a third of all sales in support of her predicted bid to return to the White House. Senator Barack Obama remains a clear second, although as of late his support has been on the wane. The remainder of support comes from a muddled pack of politicians who receive so-so support: Evan Bayh, Bill Richardson, Russell Feingold, and Al Gore most prominently among them. Within this group, leadership seems to fluctuate from month to month (possibly the result of the law of small numbers).
If I had to sum up what this graph tells me, it’s that we’re in a holding pattern. Hillary Clinton is a strong leader, Barack Obama is a sentimental favorite as well, but nobody else has sprung from the pack of possibles to draw progressive and centrist Americans to their banner in a compelling, continued fashion. On occasion, a Boxer or Gore or Feingold will capture the public’s imagination, but only for a short time, and then fall back into the muddled bunch of many who receive tepid support.
We are, in short, waiting. What for?