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Something’s Changing. I Don’t Know What it Is. But is it Great?

Apologies to Stephen Sondheim, but something is changing in the field of Democratic candidates for 2008. That change is happening among the people who are choosing to publicly commit to a candidate. After nearly half a year in which one contender convincingly dominated among the committed populace, the whole race is being thrown into a jumble.

Since November of 2004, we have been tracking the strength of the different potential Democratic nominees for President in 2008 through a simple alternative measure: the number of bumper stickers, campaign buttons, posters and t-shirts that we sell in support for each of the Democratic contenders in the 2008 race. Instead of the weak and changeable indicator of an opinion given over the telephone to a stranger, our own system for tracking candidates measures the kind of support that counts – whether Americans are willing to spend money to show their support for a particular candidate in a public way. That kind of strong commitment turns into donations, and later turns into votes. As the election season has gotten underway, we’ve updated our tracking of jockeying in the presidential horserace once a week. Below are results for two time periods: the week of April 29 – May 5, and the year 2007 so far.

April 29 – May 5, 2007: Obama Erodes in the Face of the Other

The following is the percent share of sales of our Election 2008 gear in the past week, for each candidate who garnered at least a 1% share of sales:

Barack Obama: 30.2% (last week: 46.8%)
Hillary Clinton: 14.2% (last week: 13.6%)
Al Gore: 13.2% (last week: 10.4%)
Bill Richardson: 14.5% (last week: 6.8%)
Mike Gravel: 9.0% (last week: 2.7%)
John Edwards: 7.7% (last week: 2.9%)
Dennis Kucinich: 6.8% (last week: 4.1%)
Joseph Biden: 1.9% (last week: 8.7%)
Others: 2.5%

For the second week in a row, those “others” include Christopher Dodd, who despite being a U.S. Senator, a declared presidential candidate, and a participant in the first Democratic presidential debate garnered less thatn one percent of all election sales — twenty one times the sales of items supporting non-politician, non-candidate and non-participant Al Gore. Senator Dodd, that’s saying something.

It’s saying something, all right, but I’m no longer sure what that is. After all, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel has catapulted from Dodd status to a popularity that has eclipsed media-designated “major candidate” John Edwards and “major candidate” Joseph Biden. Gravel has more experience in government than John Edwards, and no smaller amount of tact than Joseph Biden. Will the Gravel surge continue? Is Mike Gravel a new significant protest candidate? I don’t know. Is that great? It’s a change, that’s for sure.

The other big change is the quantum fall of support for Barack Obama over the past two weeks, down to a level not seen since January. The substantive size of that drop is made clear by looking at the trajectories of the year’s top five overall candidates:

Weekly Tracking statistics for 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Contenders, Updated May 5 2007

Now, Obama’s January drop was due to Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she was “in, and in it to win,” as she memorably put it. But the next week Barack Obama rebounded. Is this the result of the public out finding about, and having fleeting crushes with, other potential candidates? Or is this a tightening of the 2008 race that is more permanent? Let’s wait another week and find out.

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