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Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Spec: punditry that's worth what you're paying for it

Posted By on Sun, Feb 10, 2008 at 7:23 PM

This wouldn't be a politics blog without some pointless speculation about the upcoming presidential campaign. And anyway, there's been some speculation that Pennsylvania might actually matter this year, at least as far as the Democrats are concerned.

But when you look at the polling -- a dubious idea, I know -- it's hard to see much of a contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Two recent and well-known statewide polls show a commanding lead for Our Lady of the Pantsuit.

A Quinnipiac University "Swing State" poll carried out in December shows Clinton over Obama by a 43-15 margin. A Franklin & Marshall College poll from last month shows a similar 40-20 margin. The F&M poll suggests nearly half of Democrats are still unsure of their choices, and Obama's recent momentum gives him a shot to change some minds. But so far, the numbers have been pretty stable: An F&M poll from August 2007 shows a statistically identical margin.

Why are Clinton's margins so large in Pennsylvania, even as polls show the race tightening nationally? This is Pittsburgh City Paper, so the answer is ... it's the class distinctions, comrade.

According to F&M, Obama does best among Pennsylvania voters 18-34 years old, with college degrees and incomes of more than $75,000 plus. In each of those groups, Clinton gets around 35 percent of the vote, with Obama trailing by between 5 and 8 percent. Clinton, meanwhile, trounces Obama by margins of three-to one in voters ages 55 and over, with high-school diplomas and less, and among those earning less than $35,000 a year.

Noted revolutionary, and New York Times columnist, David Brooks recently argued that states like Pennsylvania tend to have a higher pecentage of working-class Democrat, who support Clinton's message that voters "need someone who'll fight tougher, work harder and put loyalty over independence." Obama's loftier, more visionary approach appeals "if you've got a basic level of security in your life, if you're looking up, not down." Pennsylvania and Ohio are "Hillary-friendly" states, Brooks says, in part because they rank low (32nd and 40th, respectively) in college education per capita.

In Pittsburgh, I'm guessing this will mean a reprise of the class/cultural distinctions everyone is already sick of me talking about in local races. I expect city councilor Bill Peduto and his tribe -- knowledge-working East End types -- to get behind Obama. Older-guard Dems like county exec Dan Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will back Clinton.

Both sides may take the opportunity to mutter about who the REAL Democrats are (again). I hate to see that happen, since one way Dems can tear victory from the jaws of defeat this year is through that kind of identity politics. My colleague John McIntire contends that the sniping between Obama and Clinton has been a nice change of pace for us white males. But I think the white males who stand to benefit most by such divisiveness will be the GOP nominees for President and Vice President.

Then again, most Dems I know will be happier voting for Obama OR Clinton than they were voting for white male John Kerry in 2004. And I expect at least one difference between 2007 and 2008: I doubt any Pittsburgh Democrats will be threatening to support the Republican in this year's general election.

So what have I proved here? Nothing much ... except that anyone with access to some online polling data can play at being a pundit. Try it yourself by posting a comment below.

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