Can Hillary Convince Supporters to Back Obama?

Hillary Clinton’s speech is the big draw tonight at the Democratic Convention.  She’s going to have to convince a lot of people  — perhaps starting with herself — to put aside their grudges and voter for Barack Obama to be the next president.

Matt Yglesias echoes my longstanding view that this will happen organically and notes a recent parallel:

As you may recall, several months ago it looked as if one of America’s two major political parties was going to have a serious “party unity” problem. Their nominating contest produced a winner who’d prevailed against divided opposition without ever proving himself to be a clear majority choice anywhere. What’s more, the party’s base was divided between a substantial element that strongly approved of the party’s unpopular incumbent president, and another substantial element that joined the majority of the public in disapproving of his job performance. What’s more, the winner had a long history of personal and professional tensions with key stakeholders in his party’s political movement and with leading party politicians.

He’s referring, of course, to John McCain.  While a not insignificant number of Republicans still remain less than enthusiastic about him as their standard bearer, almost all have come around to its inevitability.  Few people who voted in the Republican primaries, perhaps excepting the Ron Paul crowd, will seriously consider Obama.

Matt argues that the transformation happened “by shifting attention off the internally controversial of their nominee and his relationship to other party figures and on to the internally uncontroversial subject of how awful the other political party is.”  I would argue that this happened without much help from Team McCain but is the natural state of affairs for partisans.

Slate‘s John Dickerson, likewise, has thought the talk about a lasting riff between Obama and Clinton supporters was nonsense.  But, he confesses, “I’m getting wobbly. ”

In the two and a half months since Barack Obama won the nomination, he’s been trying to convince Hillary’s supporters—but his standing with them has gotten only worse. Roughly 30 percent of Clinton voters say they won’t vote for him, and this is not a one-poll anomaly. The number is the same in the Pew, ABC, and CNN polls. That’s as bad as it was during the heat of the Democratic primary.


Whatever role these PUMAs (“Party Unity My Ass”) ultimately play, we are learning that Barack Obama’s ability to persuade is limited. This has obvious implications for the coalition he needs to build to win, but it also raises questions about the way he intends to govern. He’s promised he can rally the nation to change, but it may be that he can rally only a certain constituency (and boy can he rally them) rather than being able to sway opinions and emotions across several constituencies.

I must confess, that I thought the healing would have taken place by now.  At times, it does seem like Team Obama has gone out of its way to poke Hillary supporters in the eye, as with the hiring of Patty Solis Doyle or by not even pretending that Hillary Clinton had any shot whatsoever to get the VP nod.

But, seriously, it’s simply bizarre to contemplate that all that many Clinton supporters are going to vote for McCain in a huff.  The amount of public policy light between the two Democratic contenders was miniscule, whereas McCain is a rock solid Republican on all but a handful of issues.  One can’t imagine, for example, partisans of Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee flocking to Obama in a huff.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tlaloc says:

    I very much doubt that many Hillary supporters will vote for McCain, a few, but not enough to matter. What might very well matter would be them just sitting out.

    I don’t really consider myself a Hillary supporter since she’s not even close to a top100 list I might compile of people to be presiddent. That said I probably would have voted for her. It’s very unlikely I’ll vote for Obama. But I see no reason to vote McCain either.

    Enough people like me will make things hard for the dems in November.

  2. vnjagvet says:

    The primaries in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania and provide ample evidence that a very left-leaning legislator with little heavy hitting experience is unattractive to a significant portion of the Democratic Party (ethnic European Americans — primarily pro-union and Catholic) which normally votes overwhelmingly Democrat.

    That is why Biden is the VP candidate.

    But he is from Delaware, not Pennsylvania or Ohio, and although Catholic, he is “pro-choice”.

    We will see how they plays in those normally blue states with a high proportion of ethnic European Americans.

  3. Bithead says:

    But, seriously, it’s simply bizarre to contemplate that all that many Clinton supporters are going to vote for McCain in a huff.

    I still think you under-estimate this one, James. But you know, I wonder how we’ll ever know if they do. Would such people actually tell the exit pollsters?

  4. A lot of those Hillary voters were persuaded by Hillary pointing out the emperor had nice clothes but little experience. And he hasn’t gained any substantive experience since then. So if a voter is not blinded by party affiliation, really cares about the countries leadership, then why should they vote for an inexperienced pretty suit?

    They were cheering when Hillary pointed this out during the primary so why should they be cheering Obama now?