Bringiton (BIO) over on Corrente has posted an excellent article for those of the blogosphere who are unclear on Electoral College math. There are a few great charts there that demonstrate the allocation of supporters by Electoral College - and shows that Hillary won majorities in states with the most EC votes.
What does primary strength show? It is a representation of what is motivating the Democrats and Democratic leaning voters of a specific geographical location. Combined with exit polling and other surveys, you can make some educated projections of how a particular subset of voters is likely to vote in the general. The key that is being left out of the analysis in most situations is what is the balance between Democrat and Republican within a given geographical area?
Here's an example.
If 65% of Democrats in state X vote for candidate #1, this is a clear indication that they are motivated (a social scientist doesn't really care why they are motivated, only that they are) by whatever candidate #1 presents to them. The 35% who were not motivated by candidate #1 may or may not be sufficiently motivated by candidate #1 and/or party affiliation to provide a vote in the next round of elections. Again, we're not really concerned with why, only that an unknown percentage of that 35% will probably defect from candidate #1.
The degree of the defection is something that must take into account why a voter will persist in a preference even when the preference is no longer a low-barrier choice (i.e., on a ballot vs. a write-in). A preference is what is expressed through a direct choice (a conclusive preference) or through the absence of a choice (an inconclusive preference). Thus, someone who did not vote for candidate #1 in the first round can vote for that candidate on the second round, cast a vote for a different candidate on the ballot (low barrier), write in the name of a candidate not on the ballot (high barrier), or else refrain from expressing a preference at all (leaving ballot blank or not casting a ballot). The impact of a defection is made greater if the defection is defection to the opposition, rather than simply withholding support from Candidate #1.
If 55% of all voters in state X are Democrats, then there is a statistical advantage, and the threat of defection from the 35% is reduced in importance - the winning candidate can afford to lose people. With a majority advantage, the strategy for that state can turn to trying to sway unaffiliated and loosely affiliated voters who would otherwise vote Republican. How effective those appeals will be are uncertain and are not monolithic - an effective appeal to one group of swing voters may be ineffective with another.
However, if 55% of all likely voters in state X are Republican, then threats of defection are magnified in importance because now there are two vote deficits to make up. The majority strategy I described above kicks into operation for the Republicans as the majority.
Let’s put some numbers behind this. This is exaggerated in order to demonstrate the concept of relative advantage. I am not trying to represent the effect of converting non-voters into voters:
100, 000 Democrats in state X
Candidate 1 = 65,000
Candidate 2 = 35,000
If Democrats are 55% of all voters (I'm rounding to whole numbers):
Total voters = 181,818
Dems = 100,000
Reps = 81,818
Advantage = 18,182
Thus, candidate #1 would have to lose almost 52% of the first round voters who did not express a preference for them in order to have that defection erase the second round voting advantage. That is an unlikely figure in most elections, even highly divided contests. Defections of double digits are always troublesome.
If Democrats are 45% of all voters:
Total voters = 222,222
Dems = 100,000
Reps = 122,222
Disadvantage = 22,222
Okay, we're talking a whole 'nuther kettle of fish. In this case, any defection from the 35% of first round voters magnifies the existing electoral disadvantage, even if it is single digit defections. Put another way - you can't afford any defections in a state where you aren't the majority, which is why states that are strongly dominated by one party are bad places to invest political resources because there always are defections from your own side. Only if dominance in the other geographic zones is overwhelming can you afford to expend resources, and even then it is usually done so for future strategic advantage.
The short story is that when a party enjoys a strong statistical advantage over another within a state, then the level of defections by the other party does not matter very much because the dominant party's defections won't make a difference. Conversely, the strength of the subordinate party's candidate is also diminished because even low defection rates will not overcome the numerical advantage. Thus, winning a primary in a state where your party is in the minority is not an electoral advantage, even in a landslide win, because that does not change the relative strength of your party in comparison to the dominant party.
The point of a swing state is that neither party enjoys a strong advantage over the other, and thus defections are magnified for each side. In those cases, it matters that the candidate who won the primary is the nominee because of the reduced likelihood of intra-party defection, and because of way in which a winner represents the motivations of voters in that region and may thus attract voters from the opposition whose motivations are most similar to the motivations of their own supporters.
Huh? OK, let me try an example. If the motivation of the voters in state X is the desire to see the economy stabilized, then a candidate who is judged as someone who can stabilize the economy can get the votes from their own party and might be able to peel away similarly motivated voters from the other party if their own candidate is not convincing them on that issue. A swing state becomes swingable only if you are already contesting from a position of strength and can minimize your own defections.
This is at base why Obama is not able to make his primary support - which is roughly equivalent to Hillary's - morph into general election strength. His electoral support comes disproportionately from states where the Republicans are in a clear majority or from swing states where the motivations of his supporters diverge significantly from the motivations of Republican participants and thus he is at a disadvantage for pulling over voters. Trying to make up both the electoral advantage of Republicans and to overcome what looks like an increasing problem with intra-party defection is not a good situation to be in. As I pointed out in yesterday's post, claims that support to overcome both of these vote deficits will come from heretofore non-participating "new" voters doesn't pass the sniff test.Being the preferred candidate of party strongholds increases general election viability because of a reduced likelihood of party defections.
Being the preferred candidate of your party in opposition strongholds carries little advantage unless you can demonstrate (through primary votes) that you can cause significant defections from the other party. Being the preferred candidate of your party in swing states is important because of the ability to motivate greater defections from the opposition while holding on to your own base.
At the end, the question comes down to who will have the least defections from the Democrats while attracting the greatest defections from the Republicans.
Note: Post edited to remove typos and add another sentence to the paragraph discussing types of preferences.