Despite Pennsylvania Win, Clinton and Obama Have Similar Chances of Beating McCain

Going forward, state demographics could matter more to primary results than campaigning.

People cheer as they wait for Sen. Hillary Clinton to appear during her primary night celebration party in the Park Hyatt Philadelphia.

People cheer as they wait for Sen. Hillary Clinton to appear during her primary night celebration party in the Park Hyatt Philadelphia.

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The dominant theme that has emerged in recent weeks from Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is that she has the best shot at defeating Republican John McCain in the fall. And Clinton has used her convincing win in yesterday's Pennsylvania primary to amplify her claim—both in her victory speech last night and during appearances today.

But her assertion, Gallup Poll analysts said today, doesn't stand up—empirically speaking. In fact, Frank Newport, writing for the polling firm, said that Gallup's data show that Clinton and opponent Barack Obama perform almost identically in hypothetical match-ups against McCain, the presumed GOP nominee. In Gallup's ongoing presidential race tracking (updated with interviews last Friday through Tuesday), McCain held a 1-point lead over both Dems; another survey, conducted by the firm for USA Today last Friday through Sunday, showed both Obama and Clinton slightly and almost identically ahead of McCain.

"In neither instance is there any meaningful difference in how the two candidates stack up against McCain," Newport wrote. The pollsters further found that Clinton and Obama perform almost identically against McCain in big swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Clinton has argued only she can win in November. Their analysis shows that Obama, in fact, did slightly better against McCain in "both reliably Democratic and reliably Republican states."

What Clinton's Pennsylvania win showed, Newton wrote, was that she benefited from the state's demographic composition, just as Obama does in states with different economic, religion, race, gender, and education factors. Clinton appealed to women in Pennsylvania, who constituted nearly 6 of 10 voters yesterday, Gallup reports, and to older voters, whites, Catholics, lower-income voters, and those with less education. So who wins the upcoming primaries? That, Gallup analysts say, depends more on the types of voters in the remaining states than on campaigning.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in Democratic circles over whether the long and bruising primary battle will permanently hobble the party and its eventual nominee. Democrats are divided on the issue, Gallup reports. But, predictably, more Obama supporters (58 percent) say the long race is hurting the party than do Clinton supporters (36 percent). The Gallup analysis, however, does confirm one worrisome-for-Democrats trend that exit polls yesterday suggested is growing: A "sizable majority" of both Clinton and Obama supporters say they would vote for McCain if "their" candidate doesn't secure the nomination. A Gallup tracking poll shows that 28 percent of Clinton supporters say they would cross party lines to vote for McCain; 19 percent of Obama supporters say the same.

The threat to cross party lines on Election Day can dissipate, Newport says, citing Gallup's historical final pre-election polls from 1992 to 2004 that show 10 percent or fewer of voters from either party typically vote for the other party's presidential candidate. But, he cautioned, the number of Clinton supporters who now say they would not vote for Obama "suggests that divisions are running deep within the Democratic Party." And a bitter fight to the August convention could have consequences that may prove troubling come November.