Voters in today’s South Carolina Democratic primary are not following the script. They’re not playing their part. And it’s confusing pundits and pollsters to no end.
In American politics, endorsements by celebrities, politicians and organisations (including unions) are supposed to be vital for a campaign. And dollars buy votes, so the candidates who spend the most money win the elections. And of course the mainstream media controls everything, so if they write off a candidate as being “not serious”, that candidate will be effectively out of the race.
But as South Carolina is now showing, none of that is actually true. Since early in the week, public opinion polls have been showing a steady decline in strength for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The petty squabbling between the two has turned off many voters, and there is now a fairly large block of voters who are undecided.
But the real change — noted by all the major surveys — is the rise of John Edwards.
Edwards, whose political obituary was written weeks ago by the mainstream media and who has been outspent many times over by Clinton and Obama, has been soaring in the South Carolina polls, and according to the Zogby/CNN polling on Thursday, actually surpassed Clinton for second place and is within striking distance of defeating Obama for first. In only a few days, Edwards has moved from a distant third to a possible winner.
This is so totally unexpected, that the mainstream media will have difficulty coping with it should it happen. And even if Edwards does poorly in his home state, the question of why there was an Edwards surge in the polls may trouble pundits for some time to come.
There are lots of possible reasons for this. Obama and Clinton have done a fine job of painting each other as thoroughly rotten, dishonest and corrupt politicians. And Edwards has shown the kind of commitment in South Carolina that he did in Iowa, campaigning on the back roads and small towns of the state where he grew up.
But there’s another reason as well to explain the change in the polls. In the end, class trumps gender and ethnicity. Everyone is feeling the effects of Bush’s failed economic policies, and Americans worry about a recession, about losing their jobs and homes. When women workers and Black workers start voting in their economic interests rather than because they’d like to see “one of their own” in the White House, you’ll get the kind of results pollsters are now predicting in the Palmetto state.