Are Democrats helped or harmed by the “primary from hell”?

Has the agonizing, prolonged battle between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama helped or harmed the Democratic brand name? This has become a hot topic of debate at dinner tables, in bars, and in car pool across the nation. But mostly the debate has been fueled by a seemingly endless parade of political pundits.

One side—the pessimists—argue that irreparable harm has been caused by elevated rancor and even the use of Rovian tactics by the campaigns. The other side—the optimists—argue that the media attention, fanaticism, and fevered pace of campaigning ultimately benefits the Democrats.

I fall in the optimist camp, but I am always more comfortable having empirical verification of my opinion. And empirical evidence there is.

Every month, Rasmussen Reports releases a new partisan trends report based on monthly interviews of a huge number of people:

…the Democrats now have the largest partisan advantage over the Republicans since Rasmussen Reports began tracking this data on a monthly basis nearly six years ago.

During the month of April, 41.4% of Americans considered themselves to be Democrats. Just 31.4% said they were Republicans and 27.2% were not affiliated with either major party.

April was the third straight month that the number of Democrats topped 41%. Prior to February of this year, neither party had ever reached the 39% level of support.

The partisan gap now shows the Democrats with a 10.0 percentage point advantage over the Republicans. That’s the largest advantage ever recorded by either party. In fact, before these past three months, the previous high was a 6.9 point percentage point edge for the Democrats in December 2006.

Here is a graph showing how the trend in party affiliation has changed over time for the U.S.:

US Party Identity -- May 2008

Republicans reached their peak numbers of 37.3% in September of 2004, and have been on a slow decline since.

Until about six months ago, the Democrats were holding steady at about 37% Democratic voter identity. The rise since December has been nothing short of stunning. Democrats had 36.3% identity in December and shot up to 41.5% in February—just about the time that the race started heating up.

The data don’t tell us what this increase is all about. (Although…the correlations among the groups suggest that a shift from “Other” identity to Democratic identity explains about 2/3 of the recent variation). No doubt non-primary things like ongoing Republican scandals, a tanking economy, a dragged-out occupation of Iraq, soaring fuel prices, and the fact that George Bush and Dick Cheney call themselves Republicans have helped swell the ranks of Democrats.

A cautious statement would be that any damage done by the primary contest is minor at worst, as the damage has been more than offset by the Republican collapse, resulting in a net gain for Democrats.

An alternative explanation is that the primary-from-hell really has been a good thing for Democrats.


  1. 1

    JamesA spews:

    I think in the long run, this campaign has helped Obama. Nothing can prepare you for the brutal attacks that will be launched by the GOP except maybe a constant brutal campaign of attacks from The Clinton Machine. Hillary has probably done him a huge favor in getting a lot of these issues out on the table now, so the MSM will be little less likely to jump on them when the GOP tries to bring them up over and over again from now until November.

    I’m still not convinced she’s dropping out though…. It’s like one of those really bad slasher flicks where you think the movie is over, but then the bloody hand reaches up from the grave for one last scare.

  2. 2


    Another likely factor in the December-February jump is the economy. I’d have to do some digging to find the numbers again, but I saw polls that showed large drops in the approval ratings for Bush’s handling of the economy among conservatives and independents at the beginning of this year. I think the myth of the fiscally responsible Republican is finally starting to show some signs of bursting.

  3. 3

    Tlazolteotl spews:

    I’m starting to look for this to wrap up, am getting a bit tired of the primary race, but that’s only because I’m one of those junkies that pays attention. Most people don’t pay that much attention, so I don’t see the race in the dire terms that some of the Hillary-haters have been casting it.

  4. 4

    The Real Mark spews:

    There is a difference between self-identification by party and for whom that person will ultimately vote. The Ron Paul people say they’re Republicans, but many won’t vote for McCain (though I doubt they’d vote Obama, either). Both Hillary and Obama’s people are going to answer a survey as Democrats, but a not-insignificant percentage (I’ve read between 9% and 27%) of Hillary’s people have said they’ll vote McCain.

    On a more local level, the D’s and R’s didn’t mean a whole lot when people voted for McKenna or Sonntag. And a “Big D” Dem in Olympia, Lynn Kessler, the state House majority leader, has said she will not endorse Ladenburg.

  5. 5

    JamesA spews:

    It may be that more and more Americans are finally realizing that they can’t continue ignore our basic infrastructure and still compete in a global economy. As a person that considers himself fiscally conservative, I understand that an investment in such basic items as roads, education and healthcare, will more than pay for itself over the long run. If you have an uneducated workforce, not healthy enough to work, and a transportation infrastructure that makes delivering goods and services expensive and inefficient, we will never be able to compete with the EU… not to mention China and India.

  6. 6



    “I think the myth of the fiscally responsible Republican is finally starting to show some signs of bursting.”

    But, but, but the Republicans ARE fiscally responsible:

    • fiscally responsible for turning a budget surplus into record budget deficits
    • fiscally responsible for the world’s largest debt
    • fiscally responsible for growing the government beyond anyone’s wildest imagination
    • fiscally responsible for spending 1/2 trillion dollars on a war built on lies
  7. 7


    The Real Mark @ 4,

    “There is a difference between self-identification by party and for whom that person will ultimately vote.”

    Of course…a poll is always just a poll. But, there were people who voted against their own party self-identity in the past as well.

    We now have a 10% spread between D and R instead of a 2.7% spread in May 04, 1.9% in May 05, 2.8% in May of 06 and 5.5% in May of 07. That spread is enormous by past standards.

    Even if an additional couple percent of folks vote against party self-ID, the Republicans are going to get creamed like never before…worse than 2006, worse than 2007, and possibly as badly as the recent special elections in Republican strongholds in IL, MS, and LA.

  8. 8

    Steve spews:

    @4 “I’ve read between 9% and 27%”

    Where’d that come from? Out of your ass? How very Republican of you.

    I’m looking forward to your head exploding come November.

  9. 9

    Jim, (a genuine musician) spews:

    Do you mean somebody is whining about the measly 63% increase in the federal debt under the Smirky McFlightsuit administration?

  10. 10

    Steve spews:

    @9 When was the last time a Republican administration didn’t bring us massive federal debt?

  11. 11

    Richard Pope spews:

    So why did the gap narrow a few points in November 2007? Perhaps some disillusionment blame being placed on the Democratic majority in Congress not doing as much as originally expected?

    I guess the voters are over that now, and expecting to accomplish something with a Democrat in the White House in the near future. So the gap may widen a couple more points, when folks realize that Democrats will be able to do something come January 2009.

  12. 12

    Richard Pope spews:

    Darryl @ 6

    Haven’t we spent a LOT more than half a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq?

  13. 13

    ewp spews:

    It’s only the “Primary From Hell” if you happen to be the one coming up short at the end. This close primary race between Obama and Clinton no more hurts the Democratic party than counting the votes after Florida 2000 would have hurt our nation. We don’t stop baseball games in the 7th inning because one team has a big lead do we? Then again for the sake of the Mariners perhaps we should.

  14. 14

    uptown spews:

    Has the agonizing, prolonged battle…

    Yea, it’s terrible when we actually give the voters of all states a chance to vote. Let’s just go back to the insiders only picking candidates, not so messy. Then we can all complain that our voices aren’t being heard (hmmm…sounds familiar?).

    The convention is for picking the candidate, let the delegates do their job.

  15. 15


    According to veteran Democrat insider, Ted Van Dyke over at, there are some problems:

    In 1968, following Humphrey’s narrow defeat by Richard Nixon (in an election in which George Wallace also drew millions of votes), post-election data showed his defeat not to be due to defection of peace voters — most returned to Humphrey by election day — but to the loss of traditional Democratic white voters in northern industrial states who identified Democrats with such unpopular measures as busing. Those voters have never fully returned to the Democratic Party. After Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign victory, they came to be called Reagan Democrats.

    Reagan Democrats remain a challenge to national Democrats. In the present nominating contest, some have voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton; few have voted for Sen. Barack Obama. If, as anticipated, Obama becomes the nominee, he will have an uphill task in trying to reclaim them, given his associations with his controversial pastors and a 1960s radical bomber. These voters are not racist. They reject people and ideas they believe are outside mainstream values.

    (Citing the link prevents the comment from getting posted, but you can go to Crosscut and find the article)

    Van Dyke’s article on the damage done by forced busing to, among others, Democrats is worth a read even as most of the HA Happy Hooligans will probably reject it since it falls outside your rigid and narrow orthodoxy.

    As the national campaign unfolds, will Barack Obama be outed as too liberal? Will the residual nastiness of the campaign so far come back to haunt him? To what extent will the race for the White House be de-linked from local and Congressional races?

    Charts and graphs and carefully calculated computer programs are nice, but elections have a way of making them look ridiculous when actual votes get counted.

    Experts get confounded all the time – “Dewey defeats Truman…”

    The Piper

  16. 16

    Steve spews:

    @15 “your rigid and narrow orthodoxy”

    Delusional twit. You just keep on believing that bullshit. All the better for readying your head for an exposion come November.

  17. 17

    proud leftist spews:

    Regardless, I think I’d much rather be a Democrat than a Republican right now. Is it possible the Mariners will turn it around and make the playoffs this season? Yeah, but I don’t think I’d bet my home equity on it. McCain’s chances are in that category.

  18. 18

    correctnotright spews:

    Darryl – this is about people waking up and realizing that the last 8 years of republican Presidential rule has been an unmitigated disaster. Now that gas prices are up, the economy and jobs are down and the average working Joe is making less than ever – the waste, fraud and abuse of Iraq, Katrina and Abramoff highlight the prevailing republican ineptness and corruption.

  19. 19

    Tlazolteotl spews:


    Nobody cares about the ‘Reagan democrats’ anymore. They made their excuses for voting Republican a long time ago, and if the current mis-administration doesn’t convince them to vote Democratic this fall, nothing will.

    And, what ewp said at lucky number 13.

  20. 20

    correctnotright spews:

    @15: Pipers pathetic musings: “Will Barack Obama be outed as too liberal?”

    The more likely scenarios:
    McCain goes off the deep end again.
    McCain identifies terrorists in the wrong country again.
    McCain hugs Bush again.
    McCain keeps trying to justify the Iraq war, again.
    McCain tries to walk in Baghdad without a flak jacket – for the first time.
    McCain has a week long memory lapse during the debate or forgets his medications.
    McCain reminds the country again how the economy is “in good shape”.
    McCain says that gas prices “have peaked” again.
    McCain claims that the “surge is working” again as Sadr city erupts again.
    McCain claims to be “for veterans” while voting against them again.
    Gee, Scott McClellan, Gen. Ricardo Sandchez, Richard Clarke and the former Treasury seretary ALL must be confused – because the bush insiders say they are all wrong about Iraq and how bush operated…hmmm.

  21. 21

    Tlazolteotl spews:

    Oh, and Piper, go read this and then tell me how proud you are of that GOP platform on immigration, eh?

  22. 22



    I’m no Panglossian optimist, and I recognized that in a lot of places the GOP is in a deep hole of its own making.

    But that shouldn’t be confused with a love fest for Democrats, nor should obvious problems with Democrat postions be given a pass.

    My point is that the HA Happy Hooligans need to shelve their fear and loathing of all things Republican and take a look at their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Self-awareness is a virtue, not a vice.

    Today’s Rasmussen tracking polls has the presidential race pretty much a dead heat – it’s anyone’s game to win or lose.

    A mistake commonly made by those of us who are on the ends of our respective ideological spectrum is to assume those closer to the middle share our zealousness. I shed that notion a long time ago, but I don’t see many of the HA Happy Hooligans willing to do the same.

    It may come as a surprise to them that theirs isn’t the POV shared by most Americans.

    Oh well…It will be both interesting and entertaing between now and November, won’t it?

    The Piper

    The only governmental institution with lower approval ratings than President Bush is the Democrat controlled Congress.

  23. 23

    Steve spews:

    @22 “The only governmental institution with lower approval ratings than President Bush is the Democrat controlled Congress.”

    Indeed. Like many others, I am hugely disappointed in their failure to impeach Republicans.

    “need to shelve their fear and loathing of all things Republican and take a look at their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses”

    The priority now is to remove Republicans from office.

    “the GOP is in a deep hole of its own making”

    You got that right.

  24. 24



    Hey! If the uber-liberal 9th Circuit won’t even side with the asylum petition, who am I to criticize.

    The law is the law, and if the law isn’t in their favor, do we ignore the law based upon feelings?

    Tough break for the kid, but life is full of tough breaks.

    For every story like the one you cite, I can cite several like that of Jamiel Shaw, Jr., who was gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a long record whose name was never referred to ICE because of a sanctuary city policy.

    Jamiel’s mother was serving in the army in Iraq when she was notified this past March that her son had been murdered by an illegal alien gang-banger.

    I’m sure Sgt. Anita Shaw would be moved by the story you cite. Perhaps she would consider the murder of her son an acceptable price to pay for the lax enforcement of even existing immigration laws.

    Would you care to advocate that position to her?

    The Piper

  25. 25



    You better care about the Reagan Democrats because without them liberals can’t get a majority – you need them to win, yet you go out of your way to diss them.

    Proves once again that the HA Happy Hooligans have an ill-disguised contempt for all who are not mirror image clones of themselves.

    Have to love diversity like that!

    The Piper

  26. 26

    Steve spews:

    @25 If there’s anything worse than lying to Americans in order to start an unnecessary war, it’s losing the damned thing. What Reagan Democrat buys into that bullshit? Republicans are toast. Deal with it.

  27. 27

    YLB spews:

    Obama becomes the nominee, he will have an uphill task in trying to reclaim them, given his associations with his controversial pastors and a 1960s radical bomber. [See guilt by association/McCarthysim] These voters are not racist. [yeah right] They reject people and ideas they believe are outside mainstream values.

    Gee I wonder who defines or at least helps define those “people and ideas” for the so-called Reagan Democrats?

  28. 28

    Puddybud spews:

    Golly ewp@13 is another history revisionist: Gore decided not to count all the votes. Go back and check out the unrevisionist truth.

  29. 29

    Puddybud spews:

    Uptown@14: Florida and Michigan were warned by the DNC not to move their primaries. Heilary and Barack agreed with the DNC decision.

    More revisionist history? YES!

  30. 30

    Steve spews:


    The votes were never counted. But you’re OK with that as long as an activist Supreme Court hands you the election. You’re a typical Republican bitch.

  31. 31

    Steve spews:

    @29 When Goldberg induldges in revisionist history and equates libs with fascism, well, you’re OK with that. Hypocritical bitch.

  32. 32

    Puddybud spews:

    To Steve the Biggest ASSHOLE on EARTH#30

    Al Gore had the chance to count all the votes MORON. He chose to cherry pick the 4 most populous donkey counties. He chose not to count all the votes. What a jackASS you are. You are just like HAs clueless idiot@27 and you drink the man-made white sticky warm kool-aid pumped every .8 seconds. Search Google and you’ll find Al Gore admitted his mistake. The Supreme Court by law had to stop the vote count because the Electoral College vote had to ratified by the December 18. The Florida delegation had to be ratified by law December 12th. If you understood the truth maybe a debate could occur. Instead you are a donkey stooge and a pawn.

  33. 34

    Puddybud spews:

    BTW Steve what does Goldberg’s book have to do with the DNC agreeing to penalize Florida and Michigan for breaking primary rules? They should fire the state donkey parties. Yeah that won’t happen.

    Moe-ron (props to my good friend MLF)

  34. 35

    Steve spews:

    @32 “To Steve the Biggest ASSHOLE on EARTH”

    You got that straight. To shits like you I am the biggest ass on earth.

    I’m not talking about Gore, you twit. The votes WERE NOT COUNTED. As an American that pisses me off, no matter who wins. You being a fascist bitch, you’re obviously not bothered.

  35. 36

    Puddybud spews:

    Earth to Steve, earth to Steve, Blame Al Gore. The votes were not counted because he chose not to have them all counted. Al Gore accepted the blame. You seem to miss this small fact.

  36. 37

    Steve spews:

    @34 It has to do with your being a fucking hypocrite. Christ, you’re dense, even for a fascist bitch.

  37. 38

    YLB spews:


    Long time no see. Take a reading vacation? What right wing bullshit do you have to share with us?

    Do you have any new orders for me? What’s the tally up to?

    Re fascism: fuck you.

  38. 39



    Perpetually stuck in 2000 – At the rate you’re going, your great-great-grandchildren will end up fighting the 2000 count as if it were yesterday.

    Isn’t this how bitter feuds like Orange v. Green in N. Ireland get started?

    Again…adjust your meds! Being so anti-social isn’t good for your mental health.

    The Piper

  39. 40

    Puddybud spews:

    And Steve: I admitted here on HA if Al Gore counted all the votes he wins. But I also asked on HA why did his home state Tennessee reject him? He wins Tennessee he is president.

  40. 42

    Puddybud spews:

    So now we know… Florida and Michigan deciding to screw the donkey people because they wanted to move their primaries ahead of their original schedule and screw their voting populace is MY FAULT.

    Yes Steve you do donkey good.

  41. 44

    Steve spews:

    @40 They probably rejected him because they knew the pompous ass better than others did. Must I explain everything to you? Do you fascists take stupid pills or something?

  42. 45

    Steve spews:

    @39. Stuck in 2000? Hardly. I’ll leave that for libs. But please remind me of that when your fascist head explodes in November.

  43. 46

    Puddybud spews:

    Ahhhh yes Steve you admit Gore is a pompous ass too? Good for you. We on the right have said this for many years so you are NOT explaining anything to me. Good try dunderhead. His pomposity cost him the 2000 election. So is his Inconvenient Truth pompous too?

  44. 47

    Steve spews:

    @43 “But facts hurt the liberal mind.”

    I wouldn’t know. I’m not a liberal. But I do hate fascists. Is that gonna be a problem for you?

  45. 48

    Steve spews:

    @46 Yeah, yeah, whatever, but he’s no fascist. And he would have been a far, far better president than Bush. You, on the other hand, are a fascist bitch. You know it. I know it. Up yours.

  46. 50

    Steve spews:

    @49 I knew the drugged out, drunken Bush kids years ago – shared a house with one of them in Boulder in the early 70’s. I would have had to have been insane to vote for him after what I saw. No, I voted for Gore -not that I was thrilled. If I must have a label, you can call me a Bobby (not Teddy) Kennedy Democrat.

  47. 51

    Steve spews:

    I’ll say this for the Bush kids – they sold very good coke back then. But the constant name-dropping they were into was irritating, to say the least.

  48. 52

    RonK, Seattle spews:

    Caveat: Most perturbations in partisan self- identification are just that — changes in identification with no underlying change in affiliation.

  49. 53

    Richard Pope spews:

    Puddybud @ 40

    Good points. Al Gore is probably the only unsuccessful presidential candidate in the history of the United States who would have been elected if only he had been able to carry his home state (Tennessee).

    It always was interesting to me that Gore didn’t carry Tennessee. I lived in Tennessee briefly during the 1980’s and happened to vote in the election where Gore was first elected to the U.S. Senate. I was pretty young back then, but definitely considered myself a Republican at the time. I ended up voting for Gore because I thought the Republican was way too extreme and Gore seemed to be pretty moderately conservative.

    Tennessee voters elected and re-elected Gore to the U.S. Senate by comfortable margins, and twice elected him Vice-President (1992 and 1996). So it has always been a mystery why they suddenly decided to reject him for President after supporting him all those years.

    The other big mystery in 2000 was why George Bush did not do a LOT better in Florida. Bush officially won by only a few hundred voters. Due to ballot design issues, several thousand more people actually intended to vote for Gore than intended to vote for Bush (especially considering all the precincts where poorer and less educated votes mistakenly cast overvotes when presidential candidates were printed on two pages).

    In 2000, Florida was by far the most heavily Republican state in the entire South. 2/3 GOP majorities in both houses of the legislature, large GOP majorities in the congressional delegation, and a GOP governor (Bush’s brother!) who had been elected by a wide margin.

    But Florida was also the worst state in the entire South in voting for Bush for President in 2000 — less than 49% of the vote.

  50. 55

    Puddybud spews:

    And Richard Pope, if your memory serves you I brought these facts up many a time over the past years.

    I guess Steve had his head UP HIS ASS……

  51. 56

    Puddybud spews:

    Richard Pope:

    Remember when I put forth the study on HA which concluded approximately 40,000 snow birds double voted in NYC and again in Florida in 2000 and 2004?

    Remember the ridicule from the left-wing donkey idiots when I put that fact on the board?

    Well if you take 40,000 snow birds who come from blue states and they flock to FL before the election this could be one of the reasons Bush had FL issues.

  52. 57

    Daddy Love spews:


    “Reagan Democrats” are nowadays called “Republicans,” or as no one really called them at the time, “racists.”

    We don’t need Republican votes to win when the party ID is ten points in our favor. It’s clear from all measures of opinion that Americans are sick to death of the corrupt, lying, hyper-partisan, seeking-office-for-their-own-gain Republicans. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. And I’m not really sorry.

    Meet President Obama.

  53. 58

    Steve spews:

    @54, 55 I can only conclude that you will continue babbling until your head explodes in November. If it’s an Obama/Clinton ticket, your head just might explode sooner than later. Either way, I hope I get to witness it.

    Are the Democrats helped or harmed? A better question might be, after all they’ve drug us through, after all the damage they’ve done, why would anybody vote for a Republican in the year 2008?