Change vs. Experience, ad Nauseam

While MSNBC shoved campaign narratives down my throat last night, I heard very little about the fabled change vs. experience debate . The story line that was all the rage in Iowa and the days after had suddenly evaporated from the collective consciousness of the punditry. For some reason, nobody thought to mention what Hillary Clinton’s strong early returns might mean: that New Hampshire voters might have chosen experience over change.

Granted, this storyline is as exhausted as John Edwards on a 36-hour campaign marathon , but it’s still the defining tension of this election (on both sides). The stats coming out of the exit polls show more people care about change than experience for the Democrats ( as we’ve discussed before ). But the interesting bits are one level deeper:

  • Of the 54 percent who chose change, 55 percent supported Obama, 28 percent Hillary, 14 percent Edwards.
  • Of the 19 percent who chose experience, 71 percent supported Hillary, 16 percent Richardson, 5 percent Obama.

Note the drastic difference in support among experience-minded voters. That suggests that not only is Obama’s experience message not getting through, but voters may not even think he has any experience in the first place. Still, in the above breakdown, Obama comes out on top since so many more voters care about change.

Obama’s camp should be much more concerned with this datum: 

  • Among the 16 percent of voters who cared most that the candidate “cares about people,” Clinton beats Obama two to one. Edwards polls nearly as well as Clinton, much better than Obama.

This can be interpreted in two ways—both of them bad for Obama. First, New Hampshire voters might have thought Obama was full of it: All hope and no compassion. Or, and this is worse news for Obama, his middle-class message may not be getting through. Since Edwards mini-surge in Iowa, Obama has made it a point to remind voters that he shops at Target to prove his working-class bonafides. Yet Clinton trounces him here.

Given that Obama can’t break through Clinton’s blockade on experience and that she already has some advocates in his “change” territory, Obama’s poor returns on the “care” metric aren’t good. With the change vs. experience battle looking more and more like a war of attrition, both candidates would be wise to focus on other fronts.