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Is Wisconsin Good For Obama?

Responding to my post last night about how the upcoming primary terrain favors Obama, a couple of commenters wondered why I was so high on his prospects in Wisconsin. I concede that the state's by no means a gimme for him. As Harold Meyerson points out, both Obama and Clinton have paths to victory there:

Wisconsin Democrats have a long reformist tradition, as current Senator Russ Feingold could attest, and it is also home to a large white working-class vote as well. In short, it could provide the major showdown of February between Clinton and Obama, and gives Obama the opportunity to break through among the white working class voters he'll need to win in subsequent contests.

Be that as it may, the reason I'd be somewhat optimistic if I were Obama is that Wisconsin is similar to Iowa in most respects, except it's younger and less white. In CNN's 2004 entrance/exit polls (see here and here), about 32 percent of the Iowa electorate was under age 45 while 27 percent was 65 and older. In Wisconsin, by contrast, 36 percent was under age 45 while only 20 percent was 65 and older. That strikes me as pretty significant.

Also important, if slightly less significant, the 2004 exits showed the Democratic electorate in Wisconsin to be about 6 percent African American and 3 percent Latino. CNN didn't include a racial breakdown in its 2004 Iowa numbers, but the numbers for this year were 4 percent black and 3 percent "other." (I suspect "other" is mostly Latino.) Given that the number of African Americans voting in Iowa was probably somewhat higher this year than in 2004 thanks to Obama, it's probably safe to say Wisconsin will end up having about twice the number of black voters as Iowa and the same number of hispanics.

The third thing is that while Iowa's Democratic electorate was actually much more liberal than Wisconsin's was in 2004 (57 versus 43 percent self-described liberal, though some of that was probably people who turned out for Dean in Iowa but not Wisconsin), it also had a significantly smaller share of self-described conservatives (6 versus 15 percent). If you look at the results from, say, Missouri (the most culturally/demographically similar state that had a close race last night), you find that Obama cleans up among both liberals and conservatives, while Hillary comes out slightly ahead among moderates. Which is to say, the ideological diffrences between the states are very close to a wash.

Finally, don't forget that, like Iowa, Wisconsin borders Illinois and hosts what looks like an open primary.

--Noam Scheiber