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Obama TANKING with Independents, Losing Moderate Voters


In the last six weeks, Barack Obama has been losing support in virtually every key demographic category when matched against John McCain, while Hillary Clinton has gained support. Perhaps most disturbing is Obama’s decline among Independent voters: Between late February and mid-April, in 9 key states for Democrats

    · Obama lost an average 4.2% of his support among Independents
    · While Obama was losing support among Independents to McCain, McCain was also picking up new support from previously undecided Independent voters, resulting in major decreases in Obama’s margins against McCain among Independents.
    · In February, Obama led McCain among Independents in 5 of the 9 states, By mid-April, Obama was leading in only one state – by only 2%.

    · Clinton has held her own among Independents during this period, and as a result Obama’s relative advantage over Clinton among Independents has been cut by two thirds.

But Independents are not the only category that Obama is doing poorly in. In February, when matched against McCain, Obama was doing better among Moderates and Liberals. In mid-April, Clinton was doing better. And Clinton has increased her relative advantage over Obama among Democrats.

These conclusions are drawn from an “apples to apples” comparison of Survey USA polling done April 11-13 in nine states (California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin) with similar polling done in late February as part the SUSA 50 state poll (conducted Feb. 26-28).

This is the third of a multipart series examining the polling data in these states. Part One provided an overview of the polling results, and showed how Clinton was doing better than Obama in 8 of those 9 states. Part Two provided an overview of key demographic categories, and took a close look at male and female voters. Part Three will examine the “Party Identification” and “Ideological” demographic breakdowns, with an emphasis on the “Independent” and “Moderate” subcategories.


Moderate voters make up a much larger percentage (9 state average =39.8%) of the overall electorate than do Independent voters (9 state average = 23.7%). While “Independent” tells you nothing about an individual voter other than their “unaffiliated with either the Democratic or Republican” party” status, “Moderate” tells us what people’s political views are – i.e. Moderates are voters who consider themselves neither “Conservative” nor “Liberal”. In general, “Indepenndent” does not mean “Moderate” – while many Independents are “Moderates”, many are “Conservative” or “Liberal” as well.

Chart C-0 shows the demographic breakdown by party and ideology for each of the 9 states surveyed in April, along with the 9 state average. While “GOP” and “Conservative” percentages are pretty close in most states, “Liberal” is always considerably smaller than “Democratic”, and “Moderate” is always larger than “Independent”.

“Independent” is probably the single most volatile of all the major demographic categories. “Moderate” contains large percentages of people who consider themselves Democrats (and some Republicans as well), and is far less volatile as a result – but because of its size, relatively small changes in the Moderate vote can have a significant impact on overall margins.


In these nine states, Independents make up an average of 23.7% of registered voter. While the Obama campaign has been emphasizing how much better their candidate would do than Clinton among “Independent” (non-party affiliated) voters when matched against McCain, in the past six weeks Clinton’s independent support has increased while Obama’s has been falling.

In these nine states, Obama’s advantage over Clinton in support among Independents was cut by nearly two thirds. In February, Obama was able to attract an average 10.4% more Independent when matched against McCain than Clinton. In April, Obama’s advantage over Clinton had shrunk to 3.8%.

    · In 7 out of 9 states, Clinton’s support among Independent voters has increased.
    · Clinton saw significant increases in support from Independents in 5 states: California (+9%), Minnesota, (+5%), Missouri (+5%), New Mexico (+6%), and Ohio (+6%).
    · Obama’s Independent support increased in only 2 of 9 states (WI, MO). Only in Missouri was the increase over 2% (+10%)
    · Clinton lost Independent support in two states, Massachusetts (-9%) and Wisconsin (-3%)
    · Obama lost Independent support in 7 of 9 states. In 5 of those states, the loss of support was more than 2% (CA –9%; IA -10%, MA –3%, MN –7%, NM –6%, OH –13%)
    · Overall, Clinton’s nine state average gain in support among Independents against McCain was 2.4% (from 37.0% to 39.4%). Obama lost an average 4.2% of his support among Independents (from 47.4% to 43.2%).

While Obama was losing support among Independents to McCain, McCain was also picking up new support from previously undecided Independent voters, resulting in major decreases in Obama’s margins against McCain in this category.

    · In February, Obama lead McCain among Independents in 5 of 9 states. He now leads in only 1 state, Ohio, where he leads McCain among Independents by 2%, a 30 point reduction in his Independent margin in that state.
    · Obama’s margins against McCain among Independent fell in 6 of the remaining 8 states, usually by very high percentages.
    · In four of these states, the loss was so severe it resulted in McCain taking over the lead from Obama among Independents: California (-22 points, from +20% to –2%), Iowa (-22 points, from +14% to –8%), Minnesota (-19 points, from +12% to –7%), and New Mexico (-11 points, from +7% to –4%).
    · And, in Massachusetts, Obama’s disadvantage among Independents by -10 points, going from –4% to –14%.
    · Obama saw a significant improvement in his margin against McCain among Independents only in Missouri, where he gained 12 points (-12% to 0%).

When comparing Clinton’s Independent support to McCain’s, the results were mixed.

    · Clinton improved her margin among Independents against McCain in 4 states.
    · In three states, Clinton’s independent margins increased by more than 3%: California (+10 points, from 0% to +10%), Missouri (+4 points, rfrom 13% to –9%, New Mexico (+12%, from –29% to –17%).
    · Clinton lost ground to McCain among Independents in 4 states overall, and in 2 states by more than 3% Massachusetts (–25 points, from +3% to –22%) and Wisconsin (-4 points, from –13% to –17%.

The overall average margin among Independents for Clinton remained unchanged, at –12.7%. At the same time, Obama’s average margin went from +7.0% to –4.4% against McCain. As a result, Obama’s relative margin advantage over Clinton fell by almost 60%, going from 19.8% to 8.3%.


While Independents are considered a key demographic, strength among Democrats, and “cross over” voting – Republicans voting for Democrats, are also factors.. Here again, while the news for Clinton is mixed, the news for Obama is pretty bad.


    · Only in Iowa did Obama’s (light blue bar) margin among Democrats improve, (+18%) going from 50% to 68%. But his gains’s among Iowa Democrats were offset by losses among Republicans and Independents.
    · Obama’s margins among Republicans (pink bar) improve in Minnesota (+3) and Massachusetts (+10), but were offset by losses among Independents and Democrats.
    · In 4 of 9 states, Obama’s margin among Democrats decreased by more that 3 points: Massachusetts (-7 points, from +44% to +37%), Minnesota (-6 points, from +70% to +64%), Missouri (-14 points, from +51% to +37%, and New Mexico (-9%, from +44% to +35%).
    · Obama’s cross-over appeal is fading as well, as his margins against McCain eroded further in 6 states, IA (-7%), MO (-9%), NM (-17%), OH (-16%), OR (-10%), and WI (-17%).
    · Overall, Obama’s margins among Democrats against McCain decreased by an average 2.1%, despite no change in the percentage of “undecided” Democrats, which indicates a net loss of support among Democrats for Obama when he is matched against McCain.
    · Obama’s 9 state average margin against McCain among Republican voters fell an additional 7.0%, while undecided Republicans declined by an average of 3.7%, indicating a net loss of support among Republicans for Obama.

There was far less volatility in Clinton’s margins among Democrats and Republicans, and the results were mixed.

    · Clinton’s margins improved among Republicans in two state (MA, OR), and decreased further in the other seven, but in only 4 states was the decrease greater than 3% (CA, MO, OH, WI).
    · Clinton’s margins among Democrats improved in 4 states, and declined in 4 states.
    · Overall, Clinton’s margins against McCain among Democrats was reduced by an average of -1.1%, and among Republicans by –0.2%

Chart C-6 shows how Clinton and Obama did relative to each other against McCain within the “Party” demographics between late February and mid-April in these 9 states. Unlike the previous charts, this data is weighed to show the impact* of each Party on the overall (green bar) outcome.)

    · Clinton outperformed Obama among Independents (purple bar) in 6 of 9 states.
    · Clinton outperformed Obama among Republicans (pink bar) in 7 of 9 states.
    · Clinton outperformed Obama among Democrats (light blue bar) in 5 of 9 states.
    · As a result, when matched against McCain, Clinton outperformed Obama overall** (green bar) in 8 or 9 states between late February and mid-April.


The picture is mixed for both Obama and Clinton as as far as Moderates are concerned. Clinton maintained her levels of support among Moderates, but her margin against McCain fell among Moderates as the percentage of undecided Moderates went down. Obama’s overall support among Moderates declined, and his margins among Moderates declined even more than Clintons.


    · Clinton lost support among Moderates in 4 states (CA –4%, MA –6%, MN –7%, WI –3%).
    · Clinton gained at least 3% more support among Moderates in 3 states (MO +3%, OH +9%, OR +7%).
    · Obama gained support among Moderates in three states (IA +4, MO +3, OR +3)
    · Obama lost support among Moderates in 6 states (CA –10%, MA –10%, MN –4%, NM –8%, OH –3%, WI –3%)
    · Clinton’s nine state average of support from Moderates when matched against McCain remained steady (at 53.4% a +0.1% gain).
    · Obama’s nine state average dropped by 2.9 points, going from 55.9% to 52.6%.

In February in these nine states, Moderates supported Obama over McCain more than they did Clinton. Obana’s loss of moderate support means that now, more Moderates support Clinton than Obama when each is matched against McCain.

In terms of margins, both Clinton and Obama lost ground to McCain among moderates between late February and mid-April, but Obama did significantly worse than Clinton.


    · McCain now leads Obama among Moderates in 2 states, Obama’s margin dropped 21 points in Massachusetts (from +13% to –8%) and dropped 18 points in New Mexico (from +12% to –6%).
    · Obama’s Moderate margins also decreased by 20 points in California (from +21% to +1%), by 11 points in Minnesota (from +29% to +18%), by 8 points in Ohio (from +21% to +13%), and by 10 points in Wisconsin (from +21% to +11%)
    · Obama improved his support among moderate by 3% or more in only two states, Iowa (+6 points, from +23% to +29%) and Oregon (+10 points, from +17% to +27%).


    · In 4 states, Clinton improver her margin among Moderates against McCain by 3% or more, Missouri (+3 points, from +16% to +19%), New Mexico (+3 points, from +5% to +8*), Ohio (+16 points, from +19% to +35%) and Oregon (+11 points, from +3% to +14%)
    · Clinton’s margin among moderates dropped by 3% or more in 4 states: California (–10 points, from +17% to +7), Massachusetts (-17 points, from +24% to +7%), Minnesota (-20 points, from +25%to +5%), and Wisconsin (-6 points, from +17% to +11%).
    · Clinton still leads McCain among Moderates by at least 5% in all nine states. Obama leads by 5 points or more in only 6 states.

Clinton 9 state average margin among Moderates against McCain dropped by -2.3% (from +15.2% to +12.9%. Obama’s average dropped by -7.8%, from +20.2% to +12.4%. In February, Obama did better than Clinton against McCain among moderates by 5.0% overall. In April, Clinton is doing slightly better (0.5%) than Obama among Moderates.


While the moderate demographic is considered the “swing” Ideological category, changes in support also occur among Liberals and Conservatives that can have an impact on elections.


    · Clinton’s overall average margins against McCain among Liberals and Conservatives changed even less that her margins among Moderates. Overall, her average margin among Liberals dropped by -0.7 points (from +61.9% to +61.2%), while her average margin among conservatives improved shightly (by +1.2%, from –64.8% to –63.6%).
    · Clinton’s margins among Liberals against McCain increased in five states (CA, MA, MN, OH, and WI) and decreased in 4 states (IA, MO, NM, and OR).
    · Clinton’s margins among Conservatives also improved in 5 states (IA, MA, MO, NM, and OR), and got worse in 4 states (CA, MN, OH, WI)


    · Obama’s average margins among Liberals against McCain decreased by almost as much (-7.7 points, from 64.1% to 56.4%) as his margins decreased among Moderates.
    · As a result of these decreases, while Obama was doing better against McCain among Liberals in late February (by 2.2%), Clinton’s average Liberal margin against McCain was, by mid-April, better than Obama’s (by 4.8%).
    · Obama’s margins among Liberals against improved in only one state (MA). In California, they were unchanged, in the other seven states, his margins decreased.
    · Among Conservatives, Obama’s margins improved in two states (CA, NM), were unchanged in Ohio, and got worse in the six remaining states. Despite that, Obama’s margins among Conservatives are still slightly better (by 1.2 points) than Clinton.


Chart C-12 shows how Clinton and Obama did relative to each other against McCain within the “Ideology” demographics between late February and mid-April in these 9 states. As with Chart C-6, this data is weighed to show the impact* of each Ideology on the overall (green bar) outcome.)

    · Clinton outperformed Obama among Moderates (purple bar) in 7 of 9 states.
    · Obama outperformed Clinton among Conservatives (pink bar) in 5 of 9 states.
    · Clinton outperformed Obama among Liberals (light blue bar) in 8 of 9 states.
    On average, Clinton outperformed Obama in all the Ideological categories***, including the crucial “Moderate” demographic.

Obama’s supposed vastly superior appeal for Independents may turn out to be a myth, at least when it comes to a Presidential contest against John McCain. In six weeks, Clinton reduced Obama’s advantage among Independents by two thirds. Clinton’s Independent margins against McCain held firm, as previously undecided Independents split their votes between McCain and Clinton. But when considering an Obama v McCain match-up, previously undecided Independents chose McCain, while some of Obama’s Independent support from February had fallen away by April.

Obama still does better than Clinton among “Conservatives” and Republicans, but as with Independents, Clinton is holding her own in those categories while Obama’s margins deteriorate.

Moreover, in late February Obama’s margins against McCain among both “Moderates” and “Liberals” were better than Clinton’s, by mid-April that situation had been reversed. And Clinton expanded her advantage over Obama among Democrats during the six week period.

All this does not bode well for Obama’s electability, despite Clinton’s high negatives, she outperformed Obama against McCain over a six week period in 9 key states – states that a Democrat could/should win in 2008.

Data tables used for this post can be found at

* Weighing is the process by which percentages within demographic groups are used to show the impact on overall totals. For instance, in April in California, where Independents made up 18% of voters, Obama received 43% of the Independent vote against McCain. By multiplying Obama’s 43% of Independents by that 18%, you find that Obama’s Independent support constitutes 7.7% of all voters. Rounding errors make these numbers imprecise, but they give a good approximation of how each demographic contributes to the overall totals. All data used for this table can be found at
** The Party averages are weighed data. Overall, Clinton outperformed Obama among Democrats by 1.0% (0.5% of all voters), among Republicans by 6.8% (1.9% of all voters), and among Independents by 11.4% (1.7% of all voters).
*** The Ideological averages are weighed data. Overall, Clinton outperformed Obama among Liberals by 7.0% (1.3% of all voters), among Conservatives by 3.6% (08% of all voters), and among Independents by 5.4% (2.1% of all voters).

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myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

Mr. Hope Change Unity is going to cause a major paradigm shift in American politics and we'll all be post-partisan and live happily ever after.

He promised me a pony!

Real Democrats aren't afraid of democracy

48 + 2 = legitimacy

Submitted by lambert on

She certainly seems to be doing something right...

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Is that people like fighter's and she's gained respect for hanging tough. The way the GOP beat Gore and Kerry was to build a narrative that they were weak, effete wimps. Whatever else Hillary Clinton may be, she isn't that. And if my Kentuckiana upbringing is any indication there are men who wouldn't normally support a woman for the president or like Hillary Clinton who could nevertheless be won over by her grit. Think Joe Scarborough, idiot sexist Republican asshole, but he practically gushes over her these days. I don't think it will last, but I think he is genuinely impressed she's turned out to be so hard to beat (and I think as someone who has run for office, he was amazed at her win up against Obama's cash advantage). Hey, Americans like their politicians tough. Look at the image (false in many cases, *cough*W*cough*) of the presidents over the past half century. And given what we're facing, I think it's probably even more appealing.

I think it's the opposite phenomena as Obama. Obama hasn't been able to find a way to get working class white men to feel comfortable with him. It's no that he can't win more over, it's that he hasn't figured out how to connect and make it happen.

I think in some ways it's the same burden for both, but the very nature of being the underdog and fighting has given Hillary a real advantage. If she's the nominee, I think the primary fight will have made her stronger because even though she's a woman it will be hard to paint her as weak.

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

Two words-- Jeremiah Wright.

The april poll was taken before the debates, and just as the bittercling story was released. Bittercling may have had something to do with it -- but without the Wright controversy, bittercling could not have had an immediate impact.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Wright followed by bittercling has helped prevent Obama from finding a comfort zone with working class whites, although I think it's also his message. As I've said before, I canvassed for Clinton in some low income and working class areas of NH and I cannot imagine knocking on the door of some of those apartments and talking about how Obama was going to change Washington with the uninsured infant screaming in the background.

But I'm not sure that explains why Clinton has gained support from McCain.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

My work place if filled with a lot of sexist men. They are for the most part nice and well meaning, but they buy into very outmoded gender norms and ideas(Hey, it's construction, and they are really nice). Some Reps, few are Dems, most are independent. At the beginning of the primary, they didn't like Clinton, for all the usual ignorant reasons(reminds me of my first wife, she couldn't keep Bill happy, her laugh bothers men, blah, blah, blah). I kept my mouth shut, because I'll talk politics at work, but only if I can talk about dispassionately, and in this particular situation I couldn't. I'd point out that those were factors none of them would ever use in choosing a male candidate, and leave it at that.

But as the primary has worn on, they have warmed up to her. Seeing her campaign for herself, has allowed to her to be more honest, I think, than when she was in the eye as the President's wife.

They might not vote for her in Nov, but the possibility is there, where at first it wasn't.

Wright closed Obama's possibilities down. I live in the largest metro area in KY, and the AA population is larger than national average, with a rising Hispanic population. AA Housing is still segregated for the most part, the AA populations traditionally live in their historic communities, while the Hispanic population is decentralized living in small communities dotted all over the city. Many white people here have this entrenched idea, that there are places still unsafe for white people, though that is lessening as the AA's move into suburbs, and the growing exposure to the Hispanics.

So while they are open to voting for black candidates, there is still a fear of black people, irrational though it is. And Wright scared them, because the fear of black people comes from what white people see is a completely valid place, a desire for retribution. Jesse Jackson never gained traction here, because he was seen by many as speaking only to the AA community. Obama has been able to transcend that, but Wright is now in Obama's background, as he doesn't seem to like white people that much.

Paul, I don't remember if you have addressed this, but why did you choose these nine states?

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

Obama is a fad, the political equivilent of the "Achy-Breaky Heart."

Fads and infatuation never last. It isn't that Hillary is gaining, it's that Obama is fading.

I've said for a few months that what Hillary needs to do to win is not quit.

"Slow and steady wins the race."

Real Democrats aren't afraid of democracy

48 + 2 = legitimacy

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

he comes off as abstract--if INDs are almost all men (as i believe), they want a tougher person, and not a passive-aggressive guy who isn't in control.

And he's contracdicting himself, lying and whining all the time now-- PA -- "... As the senator's campaign train wound from one speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics to the next speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics, his campaign hosted a conference call to engage in the practice the candidate was busy denouncing. I suppose it would have been an even greater act of chutzpah for the Obama campaign to host the conference call while Sen. Obama was denouncing that kind of behavior, but not much more of one.

Obama campaign aides scheduled the call to talk about Hillary Clinton's fantastical story about her breakneck race to shelter under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia. You might think this would be the last story the Obama campaign would be pushing because in Wednesday's debate, the senator mistakenly suggested his campaign had only discussed the issue because reporters had brought it up—not because they were trying to take advantage of Clinton's extended work of fiction. To push the story again now would make Obama look even more insincere about that claim. ..." --

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

INDs, but when it turns out it had no meat to it, why should they keep believing? "Changing the broken system"--without actual explanations of how entrenched and powerful interests would act differently with him as opposed to other Dems--is meaningless.

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

I didn't choose them. SUSA did. I went looking for recent SUSA polls to see there was any changes in the gender gap since the 50 state poll was done -- and SUSA had just released these nine state polls.

I prefer doing apples to apples comparisons -- and SUSA uses the same methodology in all their polls.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

-- "... But more important than the Wright comments — and sundry gaffes by Mr. Obama himself, his wife, Michelle, and campaign aides — has been Senator Obama’s strange reluctance to fight harder in public for the nomination. He may feel he doesn’t need to, that he has the nomination wrapped up. But there is such a thing as being too cool.

Hillary Clinton may be behind, and she may lose. But she is now widely seen as the tougher of the two candidates, the one who is more resolute, who will fight harder and longer (and, yes, more unscrupulously) to achieve her desired ends.

An edge in toughness is hardly a good quality to cede to your opponent.

The big issue in this campaign is the economy and jobs. But if you were to ask most voters how Senator Obama plans to fight for them on this crucial matter, you’re likely to get a blank stare. ..."

white_n_az's picture
Submitted by white_n_az on

nowhere is it more evident than in this primary. When Obama was the new kid in town, he got the free ride and Hillary had to take the pounding.

Once he became the front runner and his denials that his campaign wasn't doing the bitter divisive things that they were doing, the press turned on him.

I think that to hang tough as Hillary has been doing, despite the massive ramp up of calls for her to quit after OH/TX and then in the face of being outspent 3:1, to win in PA by 9.54% has won her the grudging admiration of many people including the press.

Obama peaked at 45% - he goes no higher - it isn't about Hillary...he peaks at 45% against McCain too...that's why we lose if he gets the nomination.

Davidson's picture
Submitted by Davidson on

Obama is a fighter, a ruthless one who only attacks people who cannot fight back on equal footing (e.g., his pattern of dividing the left while appeasing the right, Alice Palmer). Even if he's exposed for the polarizing, smear campaign he ran against Hillary Clinton I doubt people would take to his fighting style since it reeks of cowardice and hypocrisy.

Clinton is truly the tougher fighter, taking on rabid bigotry, the media, and an Obama campaign so hellbent on taking her out they've become the political version of Tonya Harding (e.g., the nuclear option: race).

I agree with others about men and their lowering level of anti-HRC hatred. My grandfather's friends laughed that while Obama has his balls tucked in his purse, Clinton's are so big she has to waddle. However, I fear the opposite is true amongst male Obama supporters, especially the younger ones (cue cries of "She's destroying the party!" and 2012 conspiracy theories).

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

he could never be fiery or angry or else he'd be painted as Jesse or Al.

and by staying cool while his campaign does his fighting for him, he comes off as wimpy.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

INDs are cynical overall, no? His campaign was built on cynicism of DC--but with the cure being unity/bringing all together/magic/unicorns/ponies.

Davidson's picture
Submitted by Davidson on

He's allowed to be fiery and angry (e.g., SC debate, PA "Fuck you" to Clinton) because the media lets him get away with it by not only failing to cover it but by also accusing Clinton, without basis, of being the ruthless asshat. Remember, anything Obama says or does against Clinton is framed as "fighting back."

jeqal's picture
Submitted by jeqal on

I think that as people were challenged and had to find arguments to prove that their candidate is correct, then with Obama it was not as easy as it was with Hillary. Hillary has been consistent in what she says and what her peeps can prove. Obama on the other hand, one finds a lot of um....interesting stuff about him that is not really that great. His books are really stretching it when they call themselves autobiography's. More like pieces of autobiography/memoirs Revisions. Hillary's auto is a bit lengthy, so I'm trying to read it. I wish she had gotten that ghostwriter who did the Left Behind series, he's really good.

Thanks to whoever does these graphs, it is appreciated. You ROCK!

Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other,they'd be Republicans -- Will Rogers