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While North Carolina may well have clinched the Democratic nomination for Sen. Barak Obama, exit polls there show him losing the Independent vote to Sen. Clinton by a 44 to 48 margin. Doing well with Independents throughout the campaign, Obama scored above 60 percent with this group in the mid-February primaries of Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin. His margins with Independents in the March 4 Texas and Ohio primaries, however, shrank to 52 to 46 and 54 to 46, respectively. While his 53 to 47 win among Independents in Indiana held at this level, his 44 to 48 loss in North Carolina may have been his first loss to date. (NB – Pennsylvania was a closed primary and there is no available data on Independent voters in that state.)
In six of the seven primaries noted above, exit polls put Independents at between 20 and 28 percent of those voting. This number is consistent with exit polling since the beginnning of the campaign and is on an order of magnitude with that of nationwide polling where 25 to 30% of respondents routinely self-identify as politcally independent. Making up approximately one quarter of the voting public, Independents will be key to victory in November. Interestingly, both Obama and Sen. McCain have been the preferred choice of Independents voting in their respective party primaries.
And how have the Independents been voting overall, i.e., between Republicans and Democrats? In a February 26 posting (Independents in the Primaries), it was noted that of 24.5 million votes cast in Republican and Democratic primaries through that date, exit polls put 4.9 million as Independents. And how did they vote, Repubhlican vs. Democrat? Of the 24.5 million votes cast, 15.5 million were in the Democratic primaries and 9 million in Republican primaries, a margin of more then 3 to 2. (NB - Primary voting after February 26 is not relevant in this because Sen. McCain had by then won a majority of delegates needed for nomination and Independents no longer had a meaningful choice between voting in a Democratic vs. Repubican primary.) Using this 3 to 2 margin as a proxy as to which way Independents leaned in the primaries, and may again be inclined in November, Sen. McCain would appear to have his work cut out for him this fall.