The Surge

Real Clear Politics, Democratic primary poll graph, February 2008

In the last few days Barack Obama has been really surging fast. A look at the graph above from Real Clear Politics shows a considerable spike. Talk has been of him closing the gap, but I just got an e-mail alert linking to a Reuters / C-SPAN / Zogby poll showing Senator Obama not only to have closed the gap, but gone up thirteen points (Whitesides, John, “Obama, Romney lead in California on Super Tuesday, Reuters, 5 February 2008).

The problem is that the polls over the last few days have been all over the map. CNN was freaking out last night because they had polls showing that both Clinton and Obama, both McCain and Romney would be winning California. I think that this Reuters / C-SPAN / Zogby poll is probably accurate because it is in keeping with the trend.

There are two interesting things that I see in the Real Clear Politics graph. The first is the real significance of the outcome of Iowa. Senator Obama spikes around 6 January 2008. And it is not a blip. After that he plateaus. The gains he made in Iowa became permanent. This is nothing but speculation, but I presume it was the perceived inevitability of Hillary Clinton that was artificially suppressing Obama support. Once that perceived inevitability had been broken, Obama support broke out and dug in.

The second think I notice is that there are two spikes for Senator Obama. The first spike comes drastically at the expense of Senator Clinton: people were defecting from the Clinton camp to that of Obama — again the end of the inevitability thing. But my second point is the second, more recent jump in support for Senator Obama. It comes at the same time as support for Hillary Clinton is also rising, just not all that much. This second spike suggests an answer for a long standing question: which way will Edwards supporters break after he drops out. The second large spike in Obama support — a ten percent increase compared to only a three percent increase for Senator Clinton — says that the majority went for Senator Obama.

Anyway, stoked by a few such scraps of data, my inclination is to say that tonight will be a big series of upset wins for Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton will continue to fight it out all the way to the convention and hoping to win a convention battle. She will be counting on the see-sawing that has gone on to date to continue and this is not an unreasonable expectation considering the primaries to date. In fact, there is probably some dynamic among bleeding-heart liberal voters of sympathy for the loser buying them a few votes in the next contest. I know that I hate it that one of these two is going to have to lose for good at some point. Whatever the case, I suspect that Senator Clinton is going to look like a real weak horse after tonight.