MATCHING UP AGAINST McCAIN….Is Barack Obama incontestably a better candidate than Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup against John McCain? A couple of days ago Jon Chait called my insistence on questioning this conventional wisdom “maddening,” and maddening it might well be. But the detailed results of the latest LA Times poll have now been posted, and they show that Hillary is indeed the tougher candidate: she does at least as well as Obama against every leading Republican, and in a hypothetical matchup with McCain she wins by 4 points while Obama loses by a point.
How can this be? Well, it turns out that the vaunted independent voters split right down the middle in both matchups. But Republican voters are more likely to jump ship if Hillary is the Democratic nominee and Democratic voters are more likely to stay on board. And that makes the difference.
For what it’s worth, my take is still that these kinds of matchup polls are pretty meaningless this early in the cycle. What’s more, there are lots of undecided voters in both matchups, and there’s no telling which way they’d jump when they finally entered the voting booth. But that said, what the numbers do show is that Obama is no slam dunk. Maddening or not, there are plenty of reasons that Hillary might be a stronger general election candidate than Obama, and plenty of reasons to think she might run a stronger campaign against Honest John in particular.
UPDATE: Just to make this crystal clear, I’m not arguing that Hillary Clinton is a stronger general election candidate than Obama. There’s good evidence in both directions. What I am arguing is that….there’s good evidence in both directions. There’s a strong thread of conventional wisdom saying that Obama is obviously stronger than Hillary in a general election, and I just don’t think it’s that obvious. There’s more to a general election than just independent voters.