Hillary's Support: Hard or Soft?

This post, written by Chris Bowers, originally appeared on MyDD

I wanted to try and clear up some confusion I have seen in the comments about the impact of "hard" and "soft" supporters in the Democratic nomination campaign. Some commenters have noted, correctly, that virtually every single poll shows a smaller percentage of Clinton supporters indicating that they might change their minds than supporters of other candidates (apart from an old Pew poll, I can't find many links on this right now, but I'm sure georgep and Robliberal can help out in the comments). This does in fact mean that Clinton has a higher percentage of "hard" supporters than any other candidates. When one considers the lengthy, fifteen-year relationship Hillary Clinton has had with the Democratic rank and file this makes perfect sense. Candidates such as Edwards, Obama and Richardson have had national profiles for much shorter time spans, and a longer term relationship will necessarily create support with greater depth than will a shorter relationship.

At the same time, it is also true that Clinton is the candidate who benefits most when polls push basically undecided leaners to make a decision. I first pointed this out nearly three months ago, and the recent YouGov poll that was released on MyDD demonstrated that thesis quite nicely. This means that she has the highest percentage of "soft" supporters of any other candidate. This is further emphasized when one considers that Obama performs better, relative to Clinton, among voters whoa are more engaged in the campaign than he does, relative to Clinton, among voters who are less engaged (source).

So, what does this all mean? How can Hillary Clinton have both the highest percentage of "hard" supporters who are unlikely to change their minds, and "soft" supporters who are basically undecided? It may seem like a contradiction, but I assure you that it is not. The key is to understand that there is more than a simple binary of "hard / soft" support, and instead a continuum of "hard" and "soft" support. Right now, voters fit into many different points along the continuum. It seems simply that Clinton's supporters tend to cluster near both extremes of that continuum--thus giving her both the hardest and softest supporters--and that supporters of other candidates tend to cluster more toward the center. In other words, Clinton seems to have a relatively lower percentage of supporters who, while decidedly leaning in her direction, are still keeping an open mind about the campaign. By way of contrast, that may be the most common profile of Edwards and Clinton supporters.

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