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Tuesday, June 03, 2008
On Facts and Primaries

Has Sen. Clinton won "the big states"? What does "winning the big states" mean?

Kwame mused: "Between the start of the primary season and February 6th the nine largest primaries, based on turnout, were held in CA, NY, IL, MA, NJ, GA, SC, AL and MS, with Obama winning five of the nine."

Really? What an odd way to construct the category of "big states". Big states usually means either:

(1) the bell-weather electoral vote rich states that pass between Democratic and Republican presidents to determine elections, also known as "swing states" or,

(2) the electoral votes/ states that almost any Democratic president will need in her column to reach the White House.

Concerning (1), I'll turn to Gallop:

Clinton's popular-vote victories thus far include the three biggest Electoral College prizes: California (a solid Democratic state), New York (another sure bet for the Democrats), and Texas (a solid Republican state). (Although Obama won more delegates in Texas, Clinton's vote total exceeded Obama's by nearly 100,000 votes.) However, her victories also include several of the largest swing states that both parties will be battling to win in November: Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as wins in the disputed Florida and Michigan primaries. As a result, Clinton's 20 states represent more than 300 Electoral College votes while Obama's 28 states and the District of Columbia represent only 224 Electoral College votes.

(Note that the findings with Michigan and Florida data removed are virtually identical to those shown above. Clinton performs five percentage points better than Obama versus McCain in the states she has won (51% vs. 46%), excluding Michigan and Florida; Obama has virtually no advantage over Clinton versus McCain in the states he has won.)
Thus, when Clinton says "I've won the big states" she sometimes means that she believes that her popular vote victories over Obama in states that encompass three-fifths of national voters augurs better for a Democratic victory with Clinton as the standard bearer than with Obama.

Concerning (2), the Clinton campaign suggests that Clinton does not put in play (against John McCain) states crucial to a Democratic victory: Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, West Virginia, and New Hampshire, with the first three being the 'big states.'

Now the big states don't include the total universe of swing states. Swing states are those that favored neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election by more than five percentage points. Missouri is also considered a swing state because it has switched sides in the three most recent national elections, voting Democratic in 1996, and Republican in 2000 and 2004. (Bush's lead, if I recall, was about 7% in 2004.) Clinton's 2008 swing-state victories include Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Florida and Michigan. Four of those are delegate rich.

Additionally, Clinton suggests that she puts into play 'red' states that Obama does not: North Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

Now. Obama's swing-state victories include Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Note, however, from a strategic perspective that (1) only 3 of them were primaries, and (2) collectively they are worth about 50 electoral votes less than Clinton's.

Of Obama's swing states, Clinton only seem to be competitive in Oregon and Missouri. Of Clinton swing state, Obama only seem to be competitive in Nevada and Pennsylvania.

So to return to Kwame's list, only CA, NY, IL, MA, and NJ count as 'big states' for Democrats in the early primary. Of those Clinton won 3 and Obama won 2. If we exclude home state advantage, Clinton won 2 to Obama's 1.