Note: I'm the author of a new book, Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest, but I'm not part of the Obama campaign.
Hillary Clinton suffered a huge defeat last night in Mississippi, and now faces an insurmountable pledged delegate lead by Barack Obama. But what most pundits missed was the fact that Obama’s victory would have been even more overwhelming in Mississippi (and he might have won the popular vote in Texas) if not for the "Limbaugh effect": Republicans voting in the Democratic primary in order to undermine Barack Obama and help John McCain.
Approximately 25% of Clinton’s voters in Mississippi were Republicans voting for a candidate they hate in order to try to undermine Barack Obama. Obama’s 61-37 margin of victory in Mississippi would have been around 70-30 without Clinton’s Republican voters, and Obama would have easily expanded his delegate win there from 19-14 to 24-9.
In this spreadsheet, I analyze the data on party voting from all of the exit polls in the Democratic primaries. The results are striking:
In the voting during January and February, Republicans were an average of 3.8% of the voters in the Democratic Primary, and they heavily supported Obama. But for the primaries in March, in Texas, Ohio, and Mississippi, Republicans have been 8% of the voters in the Democratic primary, and now they heavily support Hillary Clinton. This is definite proof of the "Limbaugh effect" coming through. Overall, 1.36% of the voters in the January and February primaries were Republicans who marked their ballot for Clinton; yet, 5.67% of the voters in the March primaries were Republicans voting for Clinton. Barack Obama’s Republican numbers in the March primary showed only a modest increase, probably from moderate Republicans who shifted their support to Obama once John McCain’s campaign was assured of victory.
In Ohio and Texas, 9% of the voters were Republicans, and they split almost evenly between Obama and Clinton. These votes, more than doubling the percentage of Republican voters in earlier primaries, gave Hillary Clinton a big advantage since Obama typically won more than twice as many voters as she did in previous primaries. In other words, about 3% of the voters in Ohio and Texas were Republicans newly voting for Hillary Clinton out of purely tactical reasons, to try to ruin the Democratic race.
The "HillPublicans" (insincere Republicans voting for Hillary) became a much larger force in the Mississippi election. Fully 9% of the people voting in the Democratic primary were Republicans voting for Clinton. That means that almost one-quarter of Clinton’s votes in Mississippi came from Republicans, nearly all of whom hate Clinton but wanted to distort the results of the Democratic primary. By contrast, Obama’s Republican vote, at 3%, was similar to his historical average throughout the primaries.
The exit polls in Mississippi proved that these "HillPublicans" are not sudden converts to the Clinton campaign. As this diary noted, 70% of those who have a strongly favorable opinion of McCain picked Clinton. In addition, 6% of the voters in the primary voted for Clinton and said they would be dissatisified if she won the nomination; only 1% of the primary voters went for Obama and said they would be dissatisfied if he won.
According to a Pew Research Poll in February, substantially more Republicans would support Obama (8%) rather than Clinton (5%) against McCain, so we know this voting is tactical.
Hillary Clinton’s loss in Mississippi would have been far more dramatic if not for the concerted efforts of Republicans to save her campaign and damage Barack Obama. Of course, some Clinton supporters might claim that these numbers simply reverse what was happening earlier in the primary, when Obama had the support of Republicans and independents. However, this is highly doubtful. Obama’s support came from moderates who are likely to switch parties in the fall. The votes he got came consistently during the early primaries when the Republican nomination was a hotly contested battle. It is unlikely that many Limbaugh supporters were voting for Obama back when they were so busy trying to deny McCain the nomination.
The "HillPublicans" had a dramatic effect on the analysis as well as the results. Pat Buchanan declared during the MSNBC coverage of the Mississippi vote, "Apparently Clinton’s voters don’t like Obama." That’s probably because more than one-quarter of Clinton’s voters were Republicans, and nearly all of them were voting in an effort to hurt Obama.
Rarely in American politics have so many people ever intentionally voted for a candidate they hate so much. Approximately 40,000 Republicans in Mississippi decided to vote for Hillary Clinton in order to help her destroy the Democratic Party this year with a divided convention. Hillary Clinton’s "big wins" in March failed to help her close the delegate gap, and she cannot possibly win the pledged delegate race against Obama. The only hope for Hillary Clinton is that Republican voters will help her reduce the gap against Obama, and that the superdelegates will somehow be convinced to obey the will of Rush Limbaugh and his acolytes by stealing the election from the legitimate voters.
Crossposted at ObamaPolitics.