Was the Pennsylvania Campaign Irrelevant?

On March 7, more than six weeks ago, I predicted that Hillary Clinton would win Pennsylvania 55%-45%. Last night, she won by about 55%-45%. I point ...
by | April 23, 2008

On March 7, more than six weeks ago, I predicted that Hillary Clinton would win Pennsylvania 55%-45%. Last night, she won by about 55%-45%.

I point that out not to prove how smart I am, but actually the exact opposite. I was just guessing.

My prediction wasn't based on any reporting, inside information or complicated formulas. I just figured that since Ohio and Pennsylvania have similar demographics, my best guess was that they would have similar results.

Which raises a question: Does the campaign matter at all?

It's possible that everything that occurred in the Democratic race in the past six weeks -- from Rev. Wright, Bosnia and "bitter" to the endorsements (Bob Casey) and the television ads -- happened to balance out perfectly, so that the result was exactly what someone would have expected before the Pennsylvania campaign began. Or it's possible that all that stuff was irrelevant.

In fact, most political scientists believe that presidential campaigns don't really matter much -- for general elections anyway. Most think that election results are determined by the popularity of the incumbent president, the state of the economy and the partisan affiliations of the electorate. Whistle-stop tours and Willie Horton? Overrated.

However, it's rare that you hear a similar argument about primaries. When everyone shares the same partisan affiliation and there is no incumbent (usually), the candidates and the campaign almost have to matter.

But what if a primary campaign goes on so long that voters already know everything they need to about the two candidates? In that scenario, you can imagine demographics being destiny.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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