In the Iowa Caucuses of January 3 2008, support for Barack Obama bloomed over the still-considerable support for John Edwards and Hillary Clinton in the second round, when those who had supported candidates such as Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson shifted their support. Some of that support went to John Edwards, but most of it was redirected to Barack Obama, giving him the largest share of caucus support (although only a one delegate lead over Hillary Clinton and a two delegate lead over John Edwards, making claims of a blowout overblown).
The same appears to have happened during this week in our sales. Since the Election Day debacle of 2004, we’ve kept track of committed support for various presidential contenders, indicated by sales of Election 2008 bumper stickers, magnets, campaign buttons, t-shirts and lawn signs. While polls measure fickle opinions, our measure tracks the stronger commitment marked by the laying down of cash to promote a candidate in public. The more strongly committed are more likely to caucus and to vote. The following is the percent share of sales of our Election 2008 gear in the past week of December 30, 2007 to January 5, 2007:
Barack Obama 2008: 44.5%
Hillary Clinton 2008: 24.4%
John Edwards 2008: 8.5%
Joseph Biden 2008: 5.1%
Al Gore 2008: 4.0%
Dennis Kucinich 2008: 3.6%
Chris Dodd 2008: 3.0%
Bill Richardson 2008: 1.7%
Mike Gravel 2008: 1.6%
As a static snapshot, this may look like an uncomplicated blowout of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards by Barack Obama. But let’s compare this past week’s results with the week before, and all the weeks before that of 2007:
In the past week, Hillary Clinton’s share of sales actually went up, as did John Edwards’. The difference is that Barack Obama’s share went up by much more, as the share of sales by candidates such as Joseph Biden, Dennis Kucinich (and, off the chart, Bill Richardson) took a nosedive. My interpretation of this pattern is that the same thing is happening nationally that happened locally in Iowa: supporters of the candidacies of Biden, Kucinich and Richardson are switching their allegiance in the wake of the Iowa caucuses, and they’re not doing so evenly. Barack Obama is pulling these supporters away disproportionately.
Is this substantively based switching, or is this behavior about following a winner? If Hillary Clinton were to win the New Hampshire primary this upcoming Tuesday, would we see commitment swing back to her? Wait and see.