It's understandable why the Clinton-Obama drama is getting so much play here this week. From "fairy tales" to Florida, from superdelegates to Solis-Doyle, the soap opera that is the Democratic primary has been irresistible. Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech on Tuesday night was widely regarded as a successful attempt to bring the team together and bring closure to her disappointed supporters. That there are many Clinton voters who remain committed to their candidate and crestfallen is indisputable. But is there really deep "disunity" among Democrats that needs to be healed? The empirical evidence says no.
Let's look at where other Democrats have been at this point in the campaign. In the run-up to the 2004 convention, according to NBC/Wall Street Journal polling, 77 percent of Democrats said they were supporting Sen. John Kerry, 6 percent chose President Bush and 17 percent were other/undecided. Al Gore had about the same showing before his 2000 convention in Los Angeles: Seventy-seven percent of Democrats picked Gore, 9 percent chose Bush and 14 percent were undecided/other.
And today, is doing just as well among Democrats as the two previous Democratic nominees. The latest NBC/WSJ poll showed 79 percent of Democrats saying they were voting for Obama, 8 percent going for , and 13 percent in the undecided/other category.
What makes this even more noteworthy is the fact that, according to the latest Pew Research Center study [PDF], more voters than ever identify themselves as Democrats. Four years ago, 35 percent of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and 33 percent identified as Republicans. Today, the margin is 37 percent Democrat to 28 percent Republican.
This is why it's very dangerous to interchange the term "Hillary Clinton voter" with Democratic voter. Much has been made of the fact that there are lots of folks who say they voted for Clinton in the primary who won't vote for Obama in the fall. Yet just because someone voted for Clinton in the primaries does not mean that they identify themselves as Democratic. Many of the primaries were "open" -- meaning that independents and Republicans were allowed to vote.
This isn't to say that Obama doesn't have trouble with groups of voters that have traditionally been a part of the Democratic coalition (older women and blue-collar workers). But it is also misleading to focus exclusively on this group of voters instead of looking at the Democratic base vote as a whole.
To be sure, independents are an important constituency group that both candidates will be fighting hard for. But how Obama is doing among independents is a very different question than how he's doing among his base.
Today, according to the latest Diageo/Hotline poll, Obama is trailing McCain slightly among independents, 32 percent to 33 percent. When those who "lean" to either candidate are included, McCain's lead is 38 percent to 36 percent.
Obviously Obama wants Democrats to leave Denver energized and unified, especially since he'll be forced to the sidelines almost immediately with McCain's Aug. 29 VP announcement. The Clinton-Obama drama will continue to entice many in the press corps. But for Democrats, it doesn't seem to be making much impact.