Analysis: Why Hillary Won

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. acknowledges supporters during a primary night rally Wednesday March 5, 2008 in Columbus, Ohio. Clinton is the projected winner of the Ohio primary. Chelsea Clinton is in the background. AP

CBS News Political Consultant Monika L. McDermott analyzes Sen. Hillary Clinton's victories on Tuesday.

Senator Hillary Clinton pulled out victories in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island tonight showing the same strengths she has throughout the electoral season among the Democratic Party's base voters. She stopped an 11-state winning streak by her opponent, Senator Barack Obama, by trumping his inspirational advantage with her message of policy.

Inspiration Versus Details

Clinton's recent emphasis on portraying Obama as an inspired speaker of little substance, compared to her depiction of herself as a serious policy wonk, appears to have paid off tonight. While voters saw Obama as the more inspiring of the two, he gained little, if any, electoral advantage from it.

Ohio voters chose Obama as the candidate more likely to inspire them about the future of the country - 32 percent said only Obama inspired them and 26 percent said only Clinton did. Another third of voters said both provided them with inspiration. In sum, 64 percent of voters rated Obama as inspirational and 58 percent rated Clinton as such.

Obama's inspirational advantage, however, did not translate into a proportionate vote advantage. While Obama won 64 percent of those voters rating him as inspirational, Clinton won 80 percent of those who thought she was inspirational.

Texas' Democratic primary voters showed the same attitudes and behavior - 64 percent rated Obama as inspirational and 59 percent rated Clinton so. Among the former group Clinton won 34 percent of the vote, and among the latter she received a disproportionate 76 percent.

In contrast, Clinton's successful promotion of herself as having a clear and detailed plan to solve the country's problems did translate into an electoral advantage. In Ohio, 28 percent said that Clinton was the only one of the two candidates offering such a plan, while 15 percent said Obama was the only one, and another 40 percent said both had offered clear problem-solving plans.

Overall in Ohio, 68 percent felt Clinton had offered clear plans and 55 percent felt Obama had. Similarly, in Texas 66 percent said Clinton offered a clear plan and 53 percent said Obama had. In both states, each candidate won roughly two-thirds of those rating them as having problem-solving plans, providing Clinton a mathematical edge overall.

The Issues

Specific issues on which the candidates campaigned had little power in March 4th's voting. One key example was international trade, and the arguments over the candidates' positions on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Much was made of it by the media and the candidates, but little came of it in the end.

Voters in Rhode Island and Ohio - each with roughly one-third union households in the primaries - expressed overwhelmingly negative sentiments toward international trade, saying that it takes more jobs away from the country than it provides. Eighty percent of Ohio voters and 63 percent of Rhode Island voters expressed this sentiment.

These negative views did not help either candidate, however. Among Ohio voters who expressed that trade takes jobs away, 55 percent supported Clinton - the same proportion that supported her among all Ohio voters. Among those who felt that trade adds jobs, Clinton won an equal 57 percent. Clinton also won equal proportions among these two groups in Rhode Island.

In Ohio and Texas, most important national issues were a wash. On the economy - the issue chosen as most important by 59 percent of Ohio voters and 50 percent of Texas voters - Clinton beat Obama by the same margin she did overall in each state. On health care Clinton had a 14 point lead in Ohio and a larger 21 point lead in Texas. Among those who chose the war in Iraq as the most important issue facing the nation (19 percent in Ohio and 25 percent of Texans), the vote split between Clinton and Obama.

The Voters

Clinton's base came through for her strongly today, as it has at other times in the past. She enjoyed solid support among women, older voters, the less educated and less well-off, and those who consider themselves Democrats. Obama demonstrated his base support among the wealthier, African-Americans, independents and liberals, and the young.

In Ohio, Clinton won 58 percent of the vote of women, including the votes of 68 percent of white women. She also won 59 percent of the white male vote. Obama won black women and black men with 84 and 87 percent respectively. In Texas Clinton won 55 percent of women's votes, while Obama won 50 percent of the votes of men.

In Texas, Clinton won another important constituency - Latinos. Clinton won 67 percent of the Latino vote, compared to 31 percent for Obama.

Age provided a sharp division in the vote as it has throughout the primary season. In Texas, the vote divided around the age of 40. Obama won solid majorities among all age groups under 40, while he and Clinton split the 40 - 49 year-old vote, and Clinton easily won voters 50 years and beyond. Ohio voters showed the same divides.

The coveted vote of labor - an important Democratic constituency - was no different than popular vote overall. Clinton held this base group despite Obama's pickup of multiple union endorsements, including that of the powerful Service Employees International Union in February. In Ohio Clinton won 55 percent of the vote among those in union households, and in Rhode Island she won 59 percent.


Looking Forward

Clinton's victories mean a continued battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. But while some argue that an extended the race only stands to harm the eventual candidate and tear the party apart, the exit polls say otherwise. Voters still see both candidates as acceptable party nominees, despite the long campaign to date.

On Super Tuesday, February 5th, 72 percent of Democratic voters across the country said they would be satisfied with Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee, and 70 percent said the same about Obama. In Ohio and Texas four weeks and a lot of campaigning later, the numbers are virtually unchanged. Seventy-one percent of Ohio voters and 70 percent of Texas voters said they would be satisfied with a Clinton nomination. Sixty-nine percent of Ohioans and 66 percent of Texans said the same of Obama.

Additionally, there has been little change in perceptions of the negativity of the campaigns. In the Super Tuesday states, 50 percent of voters felt that Clinton had attacked Obama unfairly, and 38 percent felt Obama had attacked Clinton unfairly. Four weeks later, the numbers are 54 percent and 37 percent respectively in Ohio, and 52 percent and 35 percent in Texas.



The CBS News / National Election Pool Exit Poll was conducted by Edison/Mitofsky. Voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primaries in Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas were interviewed as they exited the polling places. 964 voters were interviewed in Rhode Island, 1,612 in Ohio, and 2,048 voters in Texas. The surveys each have a margin of error of + 4 percentage points.


Monika L. McDermott is assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches and conducts research on voting behavior and public opinion. Before joining the University of Connecticut, McDermott worked in election polling for CBS News and the Los Angeles Times. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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