Can Kerry stop the bleeding from his Wisconsin wound?

Politics and policy.
Feb. 18 2004 12:20 AM

Turning the Tables

Can Kerry stop the bleeding from his Wisconsin wound?

Edwards: most likely to succeed?
Edwards: most likely to succeed? 

The pundits are at it again. They're impressed that John Edwards took John Kerry to the wire in Wisconsin. They're surprised that Edwards defied polls suggesting Kerry would blow him out. They're intrigued that Edwards beat Kerry among independents. But a win is a win, they say, and Kerry has won nearly every contest.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Among self-identified Democrats, that's true. But among independents and Republicans who have chosen to vote in Democratic primaries, the record is very different. In 10 of the states that have voted so far, the media have conducted systematic exit or entrance polls that clarified how independents voted. In seven of those states, exit polls have also measured how self-identified Republicans voted. What percentages of these voters have Kerry and Edwards won, respectively? Let's look at the numbers:

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Table 1

Independents

Crossover Republicans

.

Edwards

Kerry

Edwards

Kerry

Iowa

25

34

 N/A

 N/A

N. Hampshire

13

37

9

29

Arizona

6

33

 N/A

 N/A

Delaware

12

42

 N/A

 N/A

Missouri

28

37

37

30

Oklahoma

34

18

30

7

S. Carolina

48

22

54

16

Tennessee

34

32

28

22

Virginia

31

41

45

13

Wisconsin

40

28

44

18

Among independents in the exit-polled states, Kerry has beaten Edwards in six contests; Edwards has beaten Kerry in four. This month, the candidates are tied with four wins apiece. Since Feb. 10, Edwards has won two primaries to Kerry's one.

The pattern among crossover Republicans is more lopsided. Kerry has won one contest; Edwards has won six. This month, Edwards has beaten Kerry among Republicans in all six states in which Republican votes were measured.

Remember, Democrats are as likely to vote for Edwards against President Bush as they are to vote for Kerry against Bush. It's far more likely that independents and crossover Republicans will determine the outcome. In states where the choices of these groups have been measured, Edwards is matching Kerry among independents and beating him among crossover Republicans.

Fine, you say. But independents and crossover Republicans don't control Democratic primaries. Democrats do, and they're voting for Kerry.

That's true. But the exit polls show that, by and large, Democrats aren't voting for Kerry because they prefer him on the issues. They're voting for him because they think he's the Democrat most likely to beat Bush. What happens if they find out he isn't? What happens if they realize that Edwards is doing as well as Kerry among independents and is doing better than Kerry among crossover Republicans?

Again, the numbers tell the story. In nine states, voters were asked in exit polls to clarify whether they chose their candidate primarily because he "agrees with you" on the issues or because he "can defeat Bush." Here's how Edwards and Kerry performed, respectively, among the "can defeat Bush" voters and the "agrees with you" voters.

Table 2

"Can defeat Bush" voters

"Agrees with you" voters

.

Edwards

Kerry

Edwards

Kerry

N. Hampshire

11

56

14

29

Arizona

6

59

7

32

Delaware

10

71

12

35

Missouri

21

68

29

39

Oklahoma

24

43

32

19

S. Carolina

42

42

48

22

Tennessee

24

58

34

31

Virginia

18

69

28

42

Wisconsin

28

59

39

29

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