Poll Positions

How McCain Supporters Skewed the Democratic Primary Results


In the aftermath of the Democrats’ huge primary, which broke a 36-year-old turnout record, the media was full of speculation about whether the results had been tainted by Republicans encouraged by Rush Limbaugh to vote in the Democratic primary for the candidate they hoped would be weakest in the general election.

To test this question, we surveyed 2,500 voters, half of whom had never participated in a primary until 2008 and the other half voters who participated in previous Republican primaries but this year voted in the Democratic primary. We asked them whom they support now, and whether their feelings have changed since the March primary. We also sought their feelings about the presidential campaign and about issues of concern to Texas.

First-time primary voters and crossover Republicans (those who had previously voted with the GOP) surveyed by the Observer between May 8 and May 19 preferred Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton by small margins. But John McCain also claimed a significant share, and about one of seven remained undecided.

March Democratic Primary Voters

McCain supporters, our poll revealed, made up 9.4 percent of the total vote in the Texas Democratic primary. Clinton’s margin of victory was only 3.5 percent. (The poll has a margin of error of 2.7 percent.) We can’t say that the McCain ringers in the Democratic primary changed the outcome, because we don’t know for whom they actually voted in March. But it is clearly possible.

Who supported McCain? About a third of the crossover Republicans said they will vote for the GOP presidential nominee, and four out of five of those said they supported McCain at the time of their vote in the Democratic primary.Surprisingly, almost 14 percent of the new primary voters said they support McCain, and the vast majority of those said they supported him at the time they voted in the Democratic primary. Forty percent of these voters had never voted in a general election.


Age appeared to be the biggest factor on the Democratic side, with voters 55 and over more likely to support Clinton, and younger voters leaning toward Obama. Voters between 34 and 44 were Obama’s strongest group.

The poll also revealed that about a quarter of Texas’ new primary voters couldn’t name any important state issues. Almost half of the new primary voters and over a third of the Republican crossovers said the economy was an issue for them, and transportation and highways were identified by about one in five of both new primary voters and Republican crossovers. Immigration was also a significant issue, especially among the crossovers.

Texas Issues of Importance

Leland Beatty is a Democratic campaign-targeting consultant. His Web site is www.findyourvoters.com