Close to four months after a decisive win for New York Senator Hillary Clinton in the California Democratic primary election, the tide of public opinion may be shifting in favor of Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
As the Democratic primary season draws to a close today, a Los Angeles Times/KTLA poll last week found Obama leading presumptive Republican nominee Arizona Senator John McCain in a hypothetical general election matchup.
The poll found that Obama would defeat McCain by 7 percentage points if the general election were held today; Clinton would win by only 3 percentage points.
Obama has inched closer to the party’s nomination in the time since and this may explain why more voters are gravitating toward him. The poll shows that Obama has taken the lead among many of Clinton’s strongest demographics including Latinos, Catholics and those without college degrees.
However, the survey did not measure which candidate is more popular among Democrats alone.
While previous exit polls from primaries across the country suggested that supporters of one Democratic candidate would be reluctant to support the other, this poll showed both Obama and Clinton garnering about three-fourths of the Democratic vote.
It was Obama’s relatively greater support among Republicans and independents that propelled him to his current edge over Clinton. Overall, Obama led McCain 47 percent to 40 percent among registered voters, while Clinton led 43 percent to 40 percent.
The survey interviewed 834 Californians, including 705 registered voters, last week. The margin of error is 3 percentage points in either direction overall and 4 percent for registered voters.
While McCain had enjoyed months of a brutal Democratic nomination contest as he was free to prepare for the general election, the poll gives the Arizona senator little hope for winning California. The only bright spot was increased support among Latinos – figures substantially higher than proportions President George W. Bush received in 2000 and 2004.
While McCain’s campaign insists it will compete in California come November, most political experts consider the state to be reliably Democratic and not worth an expensive full-throttle effort by the Republican Party.
“I think McCain’s chances are not good here and he probably won’t campaign here,” said Walter Stone, UC Davis professor of political science. “He’ll raise money, but California is an expensive state and he won’t be able to squander his resources. This is a year where he’ll need every close state he can get and California won’t be one of them.“
Further problems for McCain could include his association with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican state governor experiencing continually lower job approval ratings. The same poll found the governor’s approval rating now stands at 42 percent, his lowest in three years.
On the Democratic side, the results demonstrated that party loyalty may not be hurt in California even as supporters of both Obama and Clinton continue to tout the virtues of their preferred candidate.
Katie Gallinger, a first-year international relations major and an Obama supporter, said that while the Illinois senator was not initially as well-known as Clinton because she is a former first lady, the campaign has resulted in greater support for Obama.
“The more people see him and hear what he has to say and get informed about him, the more they like him, the more they see him being a great president and the more they are willing to vote for him,” Gallinger said.
Clinton supporters continue to assert that the New York senator has won decisively in swing states – places where the party should be concentrating its efforts.
“As a Clinton supporter and someone who knows the nomination is coming to a close, I think that we should be looking at is not who does better in California, Massachusetts and other blue states,” said Adam Thongsavat, a first-year history and political science double major. “What I think the Obama campaign should be looking towards is swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan, where Clinton is doing better than McCain.“
While larger, swing states have gone to Clinton, Obama supporters argue that he capitalized on a Democratic nominating system which props up candidates who do well in small-state caucuses.
“[Obama] saw the system for what it was, for its flaws, the ‘undemocratic‘ caucuses which he seems to be doing very well in, and saw this potential to do well in these states so he focused his campaign as a grassroots movement to win,” Gallinger said.
Despite perceived division, Clinton supporters on the whole seem willing to support Obama in the general election.
“I’m a Democrat and no matter who is the nominee, I will be fully behind them, and I’m sure a lot of other Democrats will,” Thongsavat said. “But what I am worried about is people in states like West Virginia, Ohio and Florida where dissension rates are not the same as dissension rates in blue states like California.“
Another factor which brought Obama closer to the magic number to clinch the party nomination came May 24 when party leaders decided that delegates from Florida and Michigan, who had been previously unseated because the state’s primary elections were held earlier than mandated, would receive half-votes at this summer’s convention. The decision also gave Obama a share of the “uncommitted“ vote in Michigan based on the number of uncommitted votes counted even while his name did not appear on the ballot.
The end of the Democratic nominating season arrives today as South Dakota and Montana hold primary elections, rounding out what has been a long, arduous road for both campaigns.
Depending on how many Democratic superdelegates announce their endorsements soon after the contests, a nominee may finally emerge by the close of the week.
CHINTAN DESAI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.