Who Will Edwards’ Voters Support?

Dana Goldstein has a timely piece in the American Prospect regarding the composition of John Edwards’ supporters, which might help to answer the question of whether Obama or Clinton will gain by his depature from the race:

Intuitively, it makes sense that Edwards supporters would trend toward Obama. Both candidates ran as the anti-Clinton. Edwards even spoke about his own affinity toward Obama’s “change” message at the last New Hampshire debate.

But some polling suggests otherwise. A Jan. 24 Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News poll found that nationally, Edwards voters prefer Clinton to Obama by a slight margin. She could have an edge among those who are attracted to Edwards’ focus on the economy. “Hillary talks about the economy more than Obama, and she’s connected to the Clinton presidency, which people view as successful on the economic front,” Teixeira said.


“John’s views on trade and tax fairness are just different than what the Clinton administration’s were, so there will be a credibility issue on these matters,” said Leo Hindery, a former telecom executive and the senior economic policy adviser to the Edwards campaign. But most voters don’t have a grasp of the finer policy differences between the Democratic candidates, and low-income voters — those who would be most helped by Edwards’ populist policies — are especially loyal to Clinton. In recent weeks, she has doubled down on that appeal, speaking often about pocketbook issues such as the sub-prime mortgage crisis and health-care costs.

The economy has now eclipsed the Iraq War as voters’ number one concern. It’s a public-opinion shift Edwards partisans believe would have benefited their candidate had it occurred earlier in the primary cycle. They see Obama, too, as a poor general election nominee when it comes to addressing economic insecurities. Working-class voters are skeptical of a message attuned to the outlook of elite young adults, Edwards supporters say. “Barack Obama is talking about hope, but who is he talking to?” noted a senior union official with close ties to the Edwards campaign. “College kids and college-educated people already have hope. The politics of hope is tricky for 37- to 57-year-old working class men.”

Read the whole thing, as I think it’s a pretty good analysis of both who Edwards’ supporters are, and, more importantly, why his campaign failed to catch fire.

Personally, I’m inclined to think that Edwards’ dropping out of the race will give Clinton a slight advantage, which should make next Tuesday a very good day for her, alas.

It’s starting to look like my poor political prognostication powers are in full swing now, because I don’t think that Obama has enough time to campaign enough to make a real difference on Super Tuesday, especially with Edwards now out of the race. With less than a week to go until February 5, the last thing that Obama needs is a whole day of the news cycle devoted to an Edwards post-mortem and Clinton’s Florida victory.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Michael says:

    It’s all up to how Obama plays it now, and whether Edwards will support either candidate before Feb 5. It’s possible to swing the majority of Edward’s supporters to Obama’s camp if his campaign is smart enough.

  2. Whom Edwards himself chooses to endorse will make all the difference. If Edwards endorses and campaigns enthusiastically to his supporters for one candidate or the other, many will likely take him at his word. They wouldn’t be supporting him now if they didn’t respect his opinion. Since Edwards like Obama has run as a populist, anti-establishment, anti-Hillary candidate, the Obama camp would seem to be the natural place for him to go. To do otherwise at this point, given the Clintons’ increasingly tarnished reputation, would look like a sell-out.

  3. ken says:

    Alex, don’t feel alone about lack of predictive ability. Even the professional pollsters have been way off when compared to the actual election results.

    That said, an exit poll is more reliable than a pre-election poll. On that basis I would day that Dana has a point and that Clinton will benefit from Edwards dropping out.

    This makes some sense because she is hitting hard on the economic pocketbook issues that most voters care about. Fewer voters understand or care about post-partisan politics (whatever that means) when faced with economic uncertainty.

    The upcoming debate will give both HRC and BHO a chance to play populist for a day. The winner will be the one who can pull it off most convincingly. My prediction: slight advantage Hillary.

  4. If race and gender plays into this, I’d say most of Edwards’ support goes to Hillary since in many of the contests they split the same segments of the population such as white males. If ideology is more of a factor, then Edwards’ voters go to Obama over Hillary. Neither of them are big “class warriors” like Edwards, mind you, but Obama seems closer to Edwards overall.

  5. Tongue firmly in cheek… if many of Edwards’ voters could support themselves, much less anyone else, then they probably wouldn’t be Edwards’ supporters to begin with.