Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser: the Barr vote in North Carolina

The big news, I suppose, is that Public Policy Polling's latest estimate (July 1) shows Senator John McCain maintaining a four-point lead (45%-41%) over Senator Barack Obama, even with Libertarian Bob Barr pulling 5% that most analysts have long believed would come almost entirely out of the GOP vote:

One of the most interesting findings in the poll is that while McCain leads 49-36 among life time residents of North Carolina, Obama has a 46-40 lead with those voters who have moved to the state from somewhere else.

“The race continues to be tight in North Carolina,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “This may not be the year Democrats win the Presidential contest here, but the data showing Obama leading among non-natives is an indication that this state could become bluer as more and more people move here in the coming years.”

Obama is still only getting the support of 67% of self described Democrats, while 83% of Republicans intend to vote for McCain. Boosting those numbers will be the key to Obama having any shot of taking the state this fall.


That's not what fascinates me about this poll, however. I find the Barr numbers really interesting, in the ongoing search for the so-called "Barr Effect" or possibly (hold my nose) "Libertarian effect."

Remember that the base number for Bob Barr is 5%; when you break it down by different groupings of voters it gets interesting.

Not surprisingly, Barr gets more men than women: 5% women as compared to 6% men.

Intriguingly, the poll suggests that Barr's candidacy is hurting the Democrats and Republicans almost equally. Among both Dems and GOPers, Barr polls at 4%, but among self-styled Independents he gets a strong 12%. My suspicion here is that many of the thousands of Libertarians whose party lost ballot access two years ago chose to be counted as Independents rather than Demopublicans. This is important (and bad) news for Senator Obama, because he is still not polling very high among NC Democrats (only 67%) and that 4% hurts; also, he has to get the independent vote to beat Senator McCain, and Barr's current 12% is way too high for comfort in that regard.

What truly blew me away was the ethnic breakdown. Among white voters Barr only scores 4%. But when you look at African-Americans he is getting an astounding 7%, which is huge when you consider that Senator McCain is only drawing 16% of the Black vote. Equally fascinating (and frustrating) is the fact that Barr is listed as claiming a full 16% of the "other" vote. The poll doesn't say, but this is presumably a group mostly composed of Hispanics and possibly Native Americans. What the hell is going on here? Possibly these results are an artifact of the survey (distortion due to sample size), but if they are not....

This suggests that--as expected--Senator McCain's message is not resonating with African-American voters, but--far more importantly--many of those African-Americans who reject Senator Obama are trending toward Barr(!?). Why? I don't know, and at this point I am not ready to speculate. I need more data, either better numbers or some qualitative data from people who know North Carolina.

Barr's numbers in age-wise terms suggest to me that--at least in the Tarheel State--he's making some inroads at picking up the Ron Paul vote. By the numbers in the age groups (remembering that the base is 5%), he's getting:

Age 18-29: 7%
Age 30-45: 3%
Age 46-65: 6%
Older than 65: 7%

I can't cite the quotation, but this distribution looks a lot to me like other distributions I've seen for Ron Paul, especially the valley in the 20-45 age bracket.

How Barr polls among his voters when they are asked to identify their most important issues is also telling (not to mention perplexing). Realizing that with Barr polling only 5% there is an inherently larger fluctuation in these particular numbers than there would be for Obama or McCain, but I still find this amazing.

Among voters who said that each of the following was their most important issue, this is the percentage favoring Bob Barr:

War in Iraq: 5%
Education: 2%
Economy and Jobs: 3%
Taxes: 12%
Moral and Family Issues: 6%
Health Care: 8%
Immigration: 18%

First a few caveats. Some specifically strong Libertarian issues aren't listed here at all: privacy, government regulation, same-sex marriage. So we don't know about them. I am also partly mystified that in NC there was not a 2nd Amendment question. Take that all for what it's worth and you still get some surprises.

The tax thing is not one of them: people who want lower taxes would either be Libertarian or Conservative (and Senator Obama only gets 5% of these people, while Senator McCain racks up 78%).

That Health Care shows up at all for Barr is perplexing, since he really hasn't said much about it.

His War in Iraq stance seems actually to be helping Senator McCain. Presumably, since Barr has issued his most Libertarian pronouncements on foreign policy, and since he is in favor of a withdrawal, talks with Iran, and a retreat from American imperialism, his foreign policy voters would have to be coming more out of the Democrat camp than the GOP. And the survey data suggests this is true. Senator Obama gets 48% of the "War in Iraq" vote and Senator McCain only gets 42% of it. Which means that, so far, in NC you've got a 53%-42% tilt against the War in Iraq, with Barr taking votes from the Dems.

[It also means that, if NC is in any way representative of trends in the nation as a whole, the war issue is not going to play as strongly for Obama as a lot of people think. McCain loses to Obama by 6 points on the war (and loses to Obama/Barr by 11 points), but for all that he still has a 4 point overall lead in the State.]

Finally, there's Barr's astounding strength (18%!!!) among voters who say their primary concern in immigration. McCain destroys Obama 68% to 6% in this category, and given Barr's recent comments on immigration you'd have to see him as taking votes away from McCain. Clearly, in North Carolina, McCain owns the immigration issue, and equally clearly a lot of people see Bob Barr's position quite differently than most of the Libertarians who trashed his position papers as racist. (Note for truth in advertising sake: I was one of those Libertarians who recoiled from Barr's position.) Obviously, at least in the Tarheel State, Barr had a sound tactical reason to take his stance on immigration, even if the position seems cynical and opportunist to a lot of us.

[Just a note for my Demopublican readers: these issue breakdowns go badly for Obama's chances to win the state. Of all these issues, he wins only the War in Iraq narrowly (48-42), Economy and Jobs by little more (49-38) and Education more broadly (66-28) as well as Health Care (52-22), but Senator McCain is beating Obama handily among voters whose primary concern is Taxes (78-5!!!), Moral and Family Values (71-12!!!), and Immigration (68-6!!!).

In other words, even in the categories he loses, Senator McCain manages respectable showings that range from 22-42% of the voters. but when Senator Obama loses a category he only scores 5-12%. This means that to win NC Obama either has to roll up comparable margins against McCain on his signature issues (which so far does not appear to be happening), or make significant progress against overwhelming GOP support for Taxes, Moral and Family Values, and Immigration. Given than Libby Dole has opened up a 5-37 lead against Karen Hagan, it's difficult to see this happening. The bright spot for the Dems here, however, is that 47% of the survey sample selected Economy and Jobs as their number one issue, and 20% selected the War in Iraq. So it ain't over till it's over.]

Lacking in this particular poll is gubernatorial data, but I understand that PPP will be publishing that soon. Then it will be interesting to see if the Mike Munger effect there has any parallels to the Barr effect here.

But right now, the surprising conclusion is that if the election were held today, as the pundits like to say, in North Carolina it actually appears possible that Bob Barr's candidacy would hurt Barack Obama as much if not more than it hurts John McCain.

There is food for thought here, but I'm still not sure what it tastes like.

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