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September 13, 2008



You have far more faith in the intelligence of voters than I do.

John Petty

Well by golly, sometimes you just have to think positive.


1992 Presidential Election results:
Bill Clinton: 43%
George H.W. Bush: 37.4%
H. Ross Perot: 18.9%

1996 Presidential Election results:
Bill Clinton: 49.2%
Bob Dole: 40.7%
H. Ross Perot: 8.4%

Please post numbers showing how much better Bill Clinton did amongst white working class voters than either Al Gore (48.38% of the vote) or John Kerry (48.27% of the vote). Then we can talk about the apparently unbeatable drawing power of the Clintons with more facts and less hagiography in our arsenal.

John Petty

Hagiography, ouch! I've seen the numbers, but probably couldn't find them this second. Suffice it to say that Clinton carried Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri--each one both times.

The Ohio valley is the very heart of the "working class Democrat" vote. The only other Democrat to do that since FDR was Jimmy Carter, who also won. Winning the Ohio valley is the ticket to victory for Democrats. That's not hagiography. It's the way to win. What's more, it's the RIGHT way to win.

The question for Democrats is this: Do you still want to be the party of the working class? Under the current DNC leadership, I'd say that question is very much in doubt.


1992 Election results by State:

Ohio: Clinton 40%, Bush 38%, Perot 21%
WV: Clinton 48%, Bush 35%, Perot 16%
KY: Clinton 45%, Bush 41%, Perot 14%
MO: Clinton 44%, Bush 34%, Perot 22%

2004 Election Results in those four states:
Ohio: Bush 51%, Kerry 49%
WV: Bush 56%, Kerry 43%
KY: Bush 60%, Kerry 40%
MO: Bush 53%, Kerry 47%

You really think it was all Clinton's brilliant progressive spirit and amazing political mind that carried him into the White House? John Kerry, who couldn't have run a more elitist campaign if he tried, polled higher in OH and MO than did Clinton. He lagged Clinton in MO and KY by only 5% points -- and that was in an expanded electorate.

Also, there is compelling evidence that the working-class white vote has not changed its affiliation nearly as much as you consistently argue. It's not working-class votes that have shifted that much (they've been remarkably loyal to the Democratic party). It's exurban suburbanites with two incomes combining to push them above the median who have swung presidential elections to the Republicans in the last few election cycles.

If you truly believe that Senator Obama doesn't want to lead the party of the working class, then I don't think you're paying very close attention to him. Maybe you should stop spending so much time on internet politics sites and go out and spend some time with his foot soldiers. Down here in NC, those are the folks working like crazy to get Obama elected so we can do more for folks with no health insurance and no safety net and no good jobs.

Also, while we're on the subject of Obama's need to reach out to secure his base, do you really think the rate at which we retire Hillary's debt is a sign of anything? Because I have a limited budget, and giving money to someone who's not even in the campaign anymore -- when the polls are razor thin and I've got a senatorial and gubernatorial candidate to support, as well -- is definitely not on my priority list.

If the positions had been reversed, Hillary wouldn't have wanted to divert money to Obama's debt, either. That's just bad economics when you're running a campaign.


Oh, and while we're at it? Folks were accusing Clinton of abandoning the working-class base back in 1992, too. He was the distressing centrist whose triangulation policies were selling out working-class folks: don't you remember the storm that beset him when he agreed that government was part of the problem?

Why you refuse to see the parallels between the campaigns run by B.Clinton and B.Obama genuinely escapes me.


P.P.S. If you think Obama isn't running like crazy to win Ohio and Missouri, think again -- get off the internet and talk to the foot soldiers in those states. They know they're the battleground and they're fighting like crazy to win it. Where has Obama spent all his time in the last month? Right in that heartland you keep saying he's abandoned.

John Petty

I get around quite a bit, Jody. I think I know Democratic circles pretty well. There is certainly an intense effort here in Colorado.

The bottom line is that Clinton won those states and Gore and Kerry did not. It's the difference between winning and losing.

Exurban suburbanites tend to be evangelical Christians. Somehow I don't see that as being quite as fertile a possibility as working class voters. I do agree with Obama's moves to lower his negatives with exurban voters, by the way. If you can whittle the margin down from 70-30 to 60-40 that's a big shift.

The Hillary's debt thing is one of a pattern--not big in itself, but consistent with other actions. As for Bill Clinton, you could check the record on jobs and income. That's the bottom line, not whether or not he toed the left-line on everything, as defined by the Nation magazine.

Good luck in NC. We're on the same side.



I know we're on the same side.

If I understand you correctly, you are arguing that Clinton ran a better campaign among white working-class voters, and that this explains his victory in 1992 (and 1996, although the incumbency factor becomes important there, too). I am arguing that, if you look at the poll numbers, there's no evidence that Clinton ran a better campaign than Gore or Kerry among the core constituency of the Democratic Party. That he won was a function of Perot, not of some special ability to reach the Democratic base.

If you look specifically at Ohio, Clinton won the 40% of folks who identify consistently as Democrats. Perot won the independents, and his Ohio numbers were among the best in the country.

Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2006 held onto the solid Democratic base, and then divided the Perot vote with Bush. Bush did not win because working-class white voters abandoned the Democratic party -- he won (a) because the Florida election was fraudulent; and (b) because independents were evenly divided between the two parties.

The fact that Gore and Kerry lost their campaigns is not a reflection of their failure to rally the base, then, or a sign that the Democratic party has turned its back on some winning strategy that only Bill Clinton (and now Hillary Clinton) knew how to execute -- on the contrary, turnout set records in both of those years. Gore and Kerry polled as well as, if not better than, Clinton among white working-class voters.

It was among the middle, those suburbanites you think we cannot win -- btw, precisely the group that B.Clinton himself sought to win over in 1992 and 1996 -- that the elections from 1980 onward have been decided.

I was not talking about Clinton's governing record in this thread -- I was talking about the explicit attacks that he made against the party orthodoxy in 1992, and in 1996, as part of his critique of the Mondale Democratic Party who had lost its ability to rally, NOT white working-class voters, but the new suburban majority. Bill Clinton was a direct forerunner and one of the most articulate formulators of the electoral strategy Obama is now pursuing.

Just as Obama and H.Clinton's policies were negligibly different, so are Obama and B.Clinton's campaign strategies.

I truly believe that it's only in Internet Land that these divisions are creating so much anger. I'm not hearing from a lot of folks in the real world asking why Obama isn't doing more to raise money to pay back Hillary, when McCain puts another ad on the internet and on TV every three hours.

I have subscriptions to four magazines: the New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, and Reader's Digest. I don't read a single political blog (although the mommy bloggers sometimes quote Katha Pollitt, and I guess Bitch PhD is political -- although I read her for the academic parenting stuff). I seriously think you have me confused with someone else, if you think I care two hoots about what The Nation writes.

John Petty

OK, I'm starting to become clearer about where you're coming from. A few quibbles: The polling data that I've seen says that the Perot vote came equally from Clinton and Bush. I know that's not the conventional wisdom--the GOP likes to peddle the line that Clinton only won because of Perot--but that's the numbers.

I agree with you about suburbanites. Clinton made real inroads there, but Kerry got wiped out by the EX-urbanites in 2004. I do question, however, that Gore and Kerry scored better with the working class than Clinton. I'd have to see some numbers on that one. The fact still remains: Clinton carried OH, KY, MO and WV. Gore and Kerry did not. (Incidentally, RFK Jr. makes a good case that Kerry really carried OH in 2004.)

I'm responding more to Donna Brazile and Howard Dean than I am Obama. They seem a little too willing to cast off the working class and go for the big bucks held by white suburban professionals.

If the day ever comes that the Democratic Party no longer can plausibly speak for the working class and the poor, that is the day I will rethink my allegiance to the Democratic Party.


We're talking about whether the Democratic party is abandoning the working class, and it appears that you're using Clinton's victories in those states to suggest that he did better among those voters than other candidates the party has nominated.

That makes no sense, because Kerry and Gore both polled higher numbers.

As for the breakdowns, I don't have them by state at my fingertips, but I do have them nationally:

Here are the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 numbers polled by the Democrat (Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Kerry) for different household income brackets:

Under 15K: 58, 59, 57, 63
$15K-$29999: 45, 53, 54, 57
$30K-$49999: 41, 48, 49, 50
Over $50K: 39, 44, 46, 43
Over $75K: 36, 41, 45, 45
Over $100K: --, 38, 43, [42/42/35]*
* The poll data was further divided in 2004 for the upper brackets

In every election, the Republican candidate only began to win demographic brackets among voters in households with more than 50K.

Look at those numbers, John. Clinton did NOT poll better among low-income voters than Gore or Kerry. He just did not.

As for Perot, here are his 1992 and 1996 numbers by income bracket:

Under 15K: 19, 11
$15K-$29999: 20, 9
$30K-$49999: 21, 10
Over $50K: 17, 7
Over $75K: 16, 7
Over $100K: --, 6

In 1996, making the somewhat improbably assumption that Perot held onto all his former voters and gained no new ones (improbable but the best I can do on short notice),

Perot voters broke for Bush only in the Under 15K bracket, were evenly divided in the $50K to $74,999 category, and broke for Clinton in every other category. That tells me that those are the voters the Democratic Party needs to win elections -- and as far as I can see, every election since Clinton came on the scene has been an election designed to hold the base and expand into the middle.

I couldn't tell you one thing Brazile or Dean has said since ... I don't know, when was Dean last on The Daily Show? I couldn't possibly care less, either.

John Petty

You make a good case--and persistently too!

I'm mentally throwing out 1992 because I don't know how to think of that relative to the other numbers in light of Perot. So you're saying that Clinton did not do quite as well with working class voters as Kerry/Gore? What's your view on why Clinton won the Ohio valley and Gore/Kerry lost?


Look at the numbers -- Clinton won because Bush I and Dole polled lower than Bush II. Why? Ross Perot.

Clinton won Ohio in 1992 with 40% of the vote. Kerry lost it in 2004 with 49% of the vote. What was the difference? Perot, siphoning away enough Republican votes in 1992 to have a dramatic effect.

A third-party candidate polling at 20%? That's simply unheard of.

The polling numbers in 2004 are enough to make you wonder whose votes weren't being counted, btw. (But of course the pollsters just got it wrong....)


Also -- the polling numbers for the lowest income brackets are all, I believe, within the statistical margin of error. (Of course, so have the election results been.) The notable exception is the swing in under-$15K voters from 1992 to 2004.

Clinton probably polled so much lower than Kerry because lower-income people have really felt the pinch under Bush, and because the health care crisis just gets worse by the second. But in general, I would argue that folks under $50K have been consistently Democratic voters. The Democratic Party has NEVER abandoned them, and they haven't abandoned the party.

National elections get decided now by suburban/exurban residents in swing states, folks whose voting habits look remarkably like their church-going habits: driven by personality and individual appeal (what are you doing to serve my specific needs today? -- I'm not saying this is bad) rather than long-term loyalty to a larger group.


Oh, I keep forgetting to write this -- that book, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" If you look at the numbers, the central thesis is just plain wrong.


Ack, one more thing!

If you look at the numbers, and you consider that the median US household income is somewhere between $50K and $60K, it becomes depressingly obvious that the reason why the Republicans keep winning is because they vote, and Democrats don't. There are far more folks in those low-income brackets, but their turnout levels just are not as good.

It would just be depressing if there weren't so much evidence that Republicans work hard to perpetuate that fact. That makes it infuriating.

John Petty

I think you're assuming--too much--that Perot took more votes away from Bush than Clinton. Most info I've seen shows it about 50/50.

Incidentally, RE: Thomas Frank. I agree with you. He's a good writer, and good at coining a phrase, but seems clueless as to why people vote against their own interests, other than to say that some awful evangelicals hood winked 'em.


No, I'm not saying that Perot took more votes away from Clinton than Bush -- after all, Clinton gained more votes in 2006, as Perot lost votes, than Dole did.

What I am saying is that if Perot hadn't been in the race, Bush would have polled higher. How much higher? We can't know for sure.

What we do know is that Clinton won Ohio with 40% of the vote in 1992, but Kerry lost it with 49% of the vote in 2004. However you spin the numbers, that tells me that the Democrats haven't gotten WORSE at appealing to that section of the country.

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