As prominent politicians jump in (Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack), jump out (Evan Bayh, Russ Feingold, John Kerry, Mark Warner) and hover on the lip (Al Gore) of the 2008 race for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, I hear a lot of questions about what “the American people” will support, as if the American people have a single group mind that acts in unison fashion. Will “the American people” vote for a woman? Are “the American people” ready to have a Black or Hispanic president? But while these and other questions are substantively interesting, they’re directed at the wrong target. Thanks to our Electoral College system, any presidential contender must win contests in the caucuses and primaries across the fifty states and the District of Columbia. So the appropriate question is not who “the American people” support, but rather who is getting support across the states where the contests of early 2008 will be played out.
In each of those states, there are three classes of people: those who can’t or won’t vote, those who will vote (or participate, in the case of caucuses), and the activists who contribute money, go door to door as canvassers, or engage other citizens in their daily lives and promote their preferred candidate. This third group of most committed citizens — the people who are not only most likely to get out and vote but who are most likely to change others’ votes — are especially important to pay attention to if you’re interested in figuring out which way the race in a state is headed. To figure out who is winning favor across the fifty states among the highly committed, I’ve combed through sales data for the Election 2008 bumper stickers, buttons, t-shirts, magnets, posters and sundries we sold in the period from September 19, 2006 right through to yesterday, January 23, 2007. I’ve looked at who buys items supporting which bumper stickers, and kept track of the state in which buyers of these items live.
When I asked these same questions looking at sales during the spring months of 2006, the result was a map. The map was color-coded to indicate which Democratic contender’s items garnered the most sales in each of the fifty states during that period. And what the map for the Spring of 2006 showed was a race wide-open:
A lot has changed since then. Barack Obama has gone from an “unrealistic” to a “serious” candidate for the presidency in the eyes of the media, and a handful of other “serious” contenders — Evan Bayh, Russ Feingold, John Kerry and Mark Warner — have withdrawn their names from consideration. So as the presidential contest gets ready to kick into an even higher gear, letâ€™s look at the new, updated information on state-by-state popularity of presidential contenders from 9/19/06 to 1/23/07. Does the spring’s pattern hold true for the fall and winter? Or has the race changed?
Oh, yes, the race has changed. While Bill Richardson got the biggest share of election 2008 sales in New Mexico, and Hillary Clinton got the biggest share of election 2008 sales in Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi and Nebraska, in each one of the other 45 states, Barack Obama came away with the biggest share of sales. That’s a really impressive level of dominance — one which Hillary Clinton approached in the middle of 2005 by dominating 32 of the 50 states. But Obama’s current domination is much stronger than Clinton’s wave, giving merit to the suggestion of “Obamamania.”
In fact, in order to find any sort of meaningful variability, we’ll have to ask a slightly different question. Manias and fads like Obamamania don’t tend to persevere, at least at their original strength. Obamamania may fade in the coming months for a number of reasons, including the introduction of cynical questions and journalists’ desire for a new story to tell. As Obama’s support begins to fall to mere mortal levels, where might he remain strong as a fallible human candidate, and where might he be most vulnerable? To answer this question, let’s look state-by-state again, but this time at the actual percentage share of all election 2008 sales that are accounted for by pro-Obama items:
While Obama had a plurality (the most) of items almost everywhere, there were a number of states in which he didn’t garner a majority:
OK, that’s not really a large number of states either, but those are the states where it looks like committed public support for Barack Obama is at its weakest. Unfortunately for Obama’s competitors, of these Obama-vulnerable states, only Delaware (Feb. 5) and Virginia (Feb. 12) have relatively early primaries next year. On the other hand, the four earliest primary/caucus states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina are states where Obama items account for a majority; that’s a real accomplishment considering that we offer items in support of more than 20 possible presidential contenders. To beat Obama’s popularity, somebody’s going to have work extra hard to capture the popular imagination, or spend a whole lot of money to buy it. Hillary Clinton, I believe that may be your cue…
Iâ€™ll keep on keeping track of Democratsâ€™ popularity across the 50 states; look for an update of this particular line of data as winter turns to spring. If you’re impatient for more state-by-state information like this, look tomorrow for a post containing separate maps with information on state-by-state strength relative to state population for each candidate.