Ballot Box

Turning the Tables

Can Kerry stop the bleeding from his Wisconsin wound?

Edwards: most likely to succeed? 

The pundits are at it again. They’re impressed that John Edwards took John Kerry to the wire in Wisconsin. They’re surprised that Edwards defied polls suggesting Kerry would blow him out. They’re intrigued that Edwards beat Kerry among independents. But a win is a win, they say, and Kerry has won nearly every contest.

Among self-identified Democrats, that’s true. But among independents and Republicans who have chosen to vote in Democratic primaries, the record is very different. In 10 of the states that have voted so far, the media have conducted systematic exit or entrance polls that clarified how independents voted. In seven of those states, exit polls have also measured how self-identified Republicans voted. What percentages of these voters have Kerry and Edwards won, respectively? Let’s look at the numbers:


Table 1IndependentsCrossover Republicans
Iowa2534 N/A N/A
N. Hampshire1337929
Arizona633 N/A N/A
Delaware1242 N/A N/A
S. Carolina48225416

Among independents in the exit-polled states, Kerry has beaten Edwards in six contests; Edwards has beaten Kerry in four. This month, the candidates are tied with four wins apiece. Since Feb. 10, Edwards has won two primaries to Kerry’s one.

The pattern among crossover Republicans is more lopsided. Kerry has won one contest; Edwards has won six. This month, Edwards has beaten Kerry among Republicans in all six states in which Republican votes were measured.

Remember, Democrats are as likely to vote for Edwards against President Bush as they are to vote for Kerry against Bush. It’s far more likely that independents and crossover Republicans will determine the outcome. In states where the choices of these groups have been measured, Edwards is matching Kerry among independents and beating him among crossover Republicans.


Fine, you say. But independents and crossover Republicans don’t control Democratic primaries. Democrats do, and they’re voting for Kerry.

That’s true. But the exit polls show that, by and large, Democrats aren’t voting for Kerry because they prefer him on the issues. They’re voting for him because they think he’s the Democrat most likely to beat Bush. What happens if they find out he isn’t? What happens if they realize that Edwards is doing as well as Kerry among independents and is doing better than Kerry among crossover Republicans?


Again, the numbers tell the story. In nine states, voters were asked in exit polls to clarify whether they chose their candidate primarily because he “agrees with you” on the issues or because he “can defeat Bush.” Here’s how Edwards and Kerry performed, respectively, among the “can defeat Bush” voters and the “agrees with you” voters.


Table 2“Can defeat Bush” voters“Agrees with you” voters
N. Hampshire11561429
S. Carolina42424822

Among “agrees with you” voters, Kerry has beaten Edwards in five contests; Edwards has beaten Kerry in four. This month, they’re even at four apiece. Since Feb. 10, Edwards is ahead, two contests to one. Consequently, if “agrees with you” voters continue their February pattern, and if “can defeat Bush” voters begin to split evenly between Kerry and Edwards, Edwards will beat Kerry in half the remaining states. But if “can defeat Bush” voters discover that Edwards is more electable and begin to vote for him instead of Kerry, Edwards will beat Kerry in most states, and the delegate count will turn.

From a horse-race standpoint, I’d rather be Kerry than Edwards tonight. But if I were, I’d be praying that the folks in Table 2 don’t find out about the folks in Table 1.