Pennsylvania Speaks: The Democratic Contest Will Continue

William A. Galston
Bill Galston
William A. Galston Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow - Governance Studies

April 23, 2008

In last night’s Pennsylvania primary, Hillary Clinton won a sweeping if not quite overwhelming victory, receiving 55 percent of the vote and reducing Barack Obama’s overall popular vote edge by more than 200,000. Because of the Democratic party’s system of proportional representation, she netted fewer than 15 pledged delegates. These results have quieted calls for her to leave the race and will probably slow the steady flow of superdelegates to Obama. Nonetheless, her path to the nomination remains steep.

The demographics of the Pennsylvania vote followed a now-familiar pattern. Obama won among voters younger than 40, while Clinton prevailed among older voters. Obama won in big cities and some inner suburbs; Clinton carried suburbs overall while winning more than 60 percent of the small town and rural vote. Clinton did 9 points worse among men than among women, who constituted 59 percent of last night’s voters. She received 62 percent of the vote from gun-owning households and almost three-fifths of the vote from union households. Obama carried voters from families making less than $15,000 and more than $150,000; Clinton carried everyone in between. She received 64 percent of the vote from high school graduates but only 48 percent from college graduates. Obama won 55 percent of the vote among those who consider themselves “very liberal,” while Clinton got 60 percent of the vote among self-described moderates. Clinton took 56 percent among long-time Democrats, while Obama took 62 percent of new Democratic primary voters—principally Republicans and Independents who registered as Democrats to participate, but also the 4 percent of the primary electorate that previously been unregistered.

There is evidence that religion, gender and race all figured in the results. Clinton received 58 percent of the white Protestant vote and a stunning 71 percent of white Catholics. Obama got 64 percent of those who profess no religion and 56 percent of those who never attend church. Clinton did 22 points better among those who said gender was important than among those who did not. (Intriguingly, men who said it mattered were also more likely to support Clinton.) By contrast, race appears to have been a negative for Obama: whites who said it mattered gave 75 percent of their votes to Clinton, versus only 58 percent for those who said it did not. While nearly half the whites for whom race mattered refused to say that they would be willing to support Obama in the general election, their sentiments may well soften in coming months as differences between the parties come to the fore.

The long campaign mattered, and it left some bruises. 68 percent of the voters said that Clinton had attacked unfairly; 50 percent thought Obama had. Nearly a quarter of the electorate thought that Clinton was solely responsible for unfair attacks, versus only 6 percent who thought Obama was. Only 57 percent of the electorate thought that Clinton was honest and trustworthy, versus 67 percent for Obama. Only 40 percent said they would be satisfied if either candidate won; 32 percent wanted only Clinton, and 23 percent only Obama. But however negative the contest may have turned, it appears to have worked to Clinton’s advantage: she received 57 percent among voters who decided during the last week before the primary, 5 points better than she did among those who decided earlier.

The results also confirmed the surge in concern about the economy. Fifty-five percent of the voters regarded the economy as the top issue, versus only 27 percent for the war in Iraq and a modest 14 percent for health care. Obama prevailed only among voters who gave top priority to Iraq, while Clinton received 54 percent of the health care voters and 58 percent of the economy voters.

Attention now shifts to the May 6 primaries in North Carolina and Indiana. Obama is expected to prevail in North Carolina, but Indiana offers a level playing field. A split decision would be likely to prolong the race, while an Obama sweep might well induce many undecided superdelegates to declare for him and bring this protracted contest to an end. In addition, Obama’s fundraising edge is becoming increasingly important. Not long into her victory speech, Clinton made an urgent pitch for new contributions. Facing a mounting debt and dwindling cash on hand, her ability to continue on until the end of the primary and caucus season in early June may well depend on the size and speed of her supporters’ response.