Saturday, March 24, 2018

What if he couldn't?

About a week ago, Richard Kahlenberg had a piece in the New York Times in which he held up Robert Kennedy as a model of "inclusive populism."  He concluded by saying "If Robert Kennedy, the civil rights champion, could attract Wallace voters at a time of national chaos, surely the right progressive candidate with the right message could bring a significant portion of the Obama-Trump voters back home."  I had a recent post where I talked about the idea that Kennedy had a special appeal to Wallace's supporters, but in looking back at it I realized I downplayed the basic point.  This table shows it:

                       Humphrey  RFK     McCarthy
Nixon                36.2%      39.7%     39.1%
Democrat          39.0%      35.4%     35.0%
Wallace            16.2%       16.7%     16.0%
Undecided         8.5%         8.3%       9.9%

Wallace got 16.2% in a hypothetical three-way contest with Humphrey as the Democratic nominee, 16.7% with Kennedy, and 16.0% with McCarthy.  That is, support for Wallace was essentially the same with all of the hypothetical Democratic nominees (actually a little higher with Kennedy). 

What if we set the South aside?

                       Humphrey  RFK     McCarthy
Nixon                41.1%      44.4%     42.8%
Democrat          39.9%      37.4%     37.9%
Wallace             10.5%       10.5%     10.3%
Undecided         8.3%         7.7%       9.0%

Once again, Wallace's support was just about equal in all of the hypothetical races.

So there's no evidence that Kennedy actually could attract Wallace supporters any more than Humphrey or even Eugene McCarthy could.  What did seem to matter was the Republican candidate.  In this survey, when they asked about hypothetical races involving Nelson Rockefeller, Wallace consistently did less well than in races involving Nixon.  In a survey taken a couple of weeks before, Wallace consistently did better in contests involving Rockefeller than in those involving Nixon.  I have no idea why there would be a change involving Nixon and Rockefeller in those few weeks, but the pattern suggests that Wallace supporters had become disenchanted with the Democrats, and the only question was whether they would vote for the Republican or for Wallace. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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