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Three Things We've Learned

We've learned a number of fascinating things from the early primaries. Here are three.

1. Often a successful presidential candidate is defined in direct opposition to a predecessor with highly salient characteristics, and unifying candidates are now being taken as a most refreshing change from the last years. Negative campaigns often work well, but more than at any time in memory, the electorate is in the mood for candidates who are unifying rather than polarizing. The success of McCain, Obama, and to some extent Huckabee must be understood in this light.

2. Notwithstanding 1), the Clinton name continues to be magnetic to many Democratic voters (and magical to some). Sen. Clinton's surprise victory in New Hampshire, and her not-foreordained victory in Nevada, had a lot to do with the simple fact that many Democrats have fond memories of the Clinton presidency, and they are entirely comfortable, even enthusiastic,  about the idea of another one.

3. Race is turning out to be far less important to white voters than many insiders anticipated. When Obama announced his candidacy, those who did not know much about him focused on what they did know about, which was his skin color. They believed that white voters would think of this as a race about race. In the last few weeks, there was some effort, by some members of the media (and others), to understand the contest in racial terms (compare the candidacy of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988). That effort has failed, for two reasons: the current candidate and the current electorate. (It's worth remembering, for a long time, the chant at the Obama rally after the South Carolina victory: "Race doesn't matter! Race doesn't matter!")

 --Cass Sunstein