One of my first jobs in politics–decades ago–was to analyze the “undervote” in uncontested primaries. An undervote happens when a voter fails to register a vote in a particular primary contest when there is only one candidate on the ballot. In essence, the voter simply skips over the race. It happens either because the voter hasn’t heard of that candidate or they have some basic opposition to that candidate. Our general rule of thumb was that a candidate who had more than 10% undervote was in serious trouble. In many counties in the recent Pennsylvania primary, Obama’s undervote was 30% or higher.
The Pennsylvania primary was in April, but detailed primary information is only now available. This is significant, though, because the primary was before the recent dismal jobs report, Obama’s campaign missteps or the aggressive tactics of the Romney campaign. Keep in mind, also, that these numbers are based solely on Democrat primary voters. There are no Republican or Independent voters in this. This is Obama’s base. That said, look at the map above, in only about three counties is he winning the support of more than 90% of Democrat voters in an uncontested primary. In over 27 counties, he is winning less than 70%. In a few counties, he is winning 55%.
Our old rule of thumb was that any undervote more than 20% was a reason to go to DefCon 1. It signaled a serious problem with the base and would necessitate our adapting campaign strategy and tactics to shore up our support. I have never seen a situation where a candidate had an undervote of 30-40% and went on to win the general election. In fact, in such situations, we would often pull out of the race entirely.
I realize recent polls in Pennsylvania show the race to be tight, with a decided edge to Obama. But, I also realize that if he is losing 30-40% of the vote in a Democrat primary he is in serious trouble. That this result happened before the recent downturn in the economy is even more telling. Obama is in trouble in PA. And, if he is in trouble there, he is well on his way to being a one-term President.