Michigan’s “Hidden Election”

Much has already been said about the “Uncommitted” vote in the recent Michigan Democratic Primary. Almost a quarter of a million Obama and Edwards supporters braved the lousy weather on the day of the Michigan Primary just to vote “Uncommitted.” The Detroit Free Press, for instance, was one of many sources pointing out that when asked whom they would choose if all the candidates were on the ballot, 35% of Primary voters would have chosen Obama, compared to 46% for Clinton. Edwards would have finished third, at 12%. This is the “Hidden Election” of the last week – a glimpse revealed by the Michigan exit poll into what might have happened in Michigan if the Democratic Party had not taken away all of Michigan’s delegates for scheduling their primary before February 5th.

Given the significant number of Obama and Edwards supporters who did brave the weather to cast their vote for…well…no one, it is worth a deeper look at this “Hidden Election.” If we recast the data using the “who would you choose if all the candidates were on the ballot” question, we do see some parallels between Michigan and the previous contests in New Hampshire and Iowa:

  • Obama would have beaten Clinton with 18-29 year-olds and 30-44 year olds. Clinton continues to win 45+.
  • Continuing another pattern from prior contests, Obama would have won with college graduates, while Clinton would have won with lower income voters. Obama also would have tied Clinton with voters living in households earning more than $50,000 per year.
  • Independents would have voted for Obama, while, again, Clinton wins with Democrats.
    Women would still have voted overwhelmingly for Clinton; however she would have split the male vote with Obama.
  • 55% of Rural/Small City voters would have voted for Clinton, compared to 22% for Obama. But Obama would have taken 55% of the vote in cities with populations greater than 50K.
  • Finally, in the most “hidden” data point of this hidden election, 20% of the voters who actually did vote for Clinton would have chosen another candidate if all were available (with 11% of the total actual Clinton Vote going to Obama.)

All of these points from the exit poll should be taken with a grain of
salt since the Democratic Primary turnout was less than would have been
normally seen in a competitive Democratic Primary. Just under 600,000
people voted in the Michigan Democratic Primary on Tuesday, compared with
more than one million who voted in the last competitive Democratic
Primary in Michigan – the 2002 Democratic Primary for Governor.

But even with that caveat the results for the “hidden election” question
are comparable to the horserace numbers that we have seen in recent
post-New Hampshire national polling. A Gallup poll released the day
before the Michigan Primary showed a 12-point Clinton national lead over
Obama – 45 to 33 with 13 percent for Edwards. The “hidden election” in
Michigan was very similar –46% for Clinton, 35% for Obama and 12% for
Edwards — and may be an indicator of how the Democratic primaries may
look when we get to the many big states voting on February 5th.