A few weeks ago, I wrote about my theory that Hillary Clinton performs worse in caucuses, which require a public display of support, than in primaries, in which voting is private. The recent results from Super Tuesday corroborate this theory far more strikingly than I would have predicted. Of the 22 states in play for the Democrats on February 5, six held caucuses and 16 held direct primaries. Barack Obama won every single caucus state, mostly by wide margins! He also won seven out of 16 primary states, showing that the primary format doesn’t favor Clinton as much as the caucus format favors Obama.
That said, the outcomes in Nevada and South Carolina last month were the opposite of what I would expect based on this theory, with Clinton winning the Nevada caucuses and Obama winning the South Carolina primary. However, I think the demographics of those states and the specific campaigning that occurred overcame the biases of the formats. Based on the Super Tuesday showings, I think it’s clear that Obama has a general baseline advantage in caucuses.
So why does Hillary Clinton perform worse in caucuses than does Barack Obama? Here are a few possibilities:
- As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, Clinton is polarizing, controversial, and not well-liked by the anti-war faction of the Democratic party. Thus, it’s more difficult for people to support her publicly. If this theory is correct, then the same should hold for John McCain, who for unfathomable reasons is not liked by the religious right and other extreme conservatives. And in fact, the Super Tuesday results show that McCain lost every single caucus state that was in play for the Republicans. Romney won most of them, though Huckabee took West Virginia.
- Barack Obama currently has momentum as the “exciting” candidate, while Clinton is perceived as the establishment candidate. In my caucus (about which I’ll write more later), at least two thirds of the voters were wearing Obama stickers, pins, or T-shirts, whereas I didn’t see a single piece of Clinton paraphernalia. It’s difficult to vote publicly against that kind of momentum. I ended up voting for Clinton, but felt almost uncomfortable to do so when the vast majority of the voters in my precinct favored Obama.
- Finally, the caucus format itself, which disenfranchises much of the population, favors the higher income demographic currently supporting Obama.