Posted March 11, 2008

Temple University political experts look toward Pennsylvania primary

Michael Hagen says that as the campaigns move forward, they will likely conclude from results in Ohio and Texas that aggressive attacks were successful. “The democratic candidates are likely to attack one another more aggressively than earlier in the primaries.”

“As is so often the case,” Hagen added, “the Philadelphia suburbs will be critical, as the many suburban residents who are both economic conservatives and social liberals choose between Senators Clinton and Obama — and McCain.”

Michael Hagen
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

“The City of Philadelphia will certainly be even more important in the primary than in general- election campaigns, because nearly one in five registered Democrats in Pennsylvania lives in Philadelphia,” says Hagen.

A new poll sponsored by Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs looks toward the general election. “The belief that a lengthy contest between the democratic candidates would benefit the Republican nominee is not being borne out in Pennsylvania,” noted Hagen.

“Our findings demonstrate that Senators Clinton and Obama would both beat Senator McCain in a head-to-head matchup today, but that Clinton’s advantage is larger,” he said.


Robin Kolodny
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

Associate professor of political science

Robin Kolodny agrees that the excitement is mounting. “It is historically unprecedented for the Pennsylvania primary to have a significant impact on presidential selection,” she said.

“The question is whether or not we will still be looking at the issue of superdelegates at the end of the day,” she added.

Another big factor will be turnout. “Even in hotly contested primaries, the turnout has not been high—it has hovered at roughly 30 percent. That’s high for a primary, but it’s really not high,” Kolodny said.

In that case, according to Kolodny, an important question becomes: Can the candidates set up their organizations quickly enough to mobilize voters and, in particular, college students, who may play a major role in this election?

Professor of social administration and co-director of the Center for African American Research and Public Policy

Thad Mathis says that Pennsylvania will probably split, although right now he doesn’t have a feel for how close that split will be. Anyone who tells you differently, he says, is just guessing.


According to Mathis, whether or not Hillary Clinton wins the state will depend on

how she does in the outlying suburbs of Philadelphia. The city itself, he says, “is split down the middle. There are heavyweights [working] on both sides.”

Barack Obama has a chance in Pennsylvania if he can take advantage of the split in Clinton-supporting African American voters and manages to maintain some momentum, Mathis says.

“I don’t know if he has a chance to win, but he will keep it close,” he said.  “He could win if he continues to pick up momentum. The Clintons are fairly popular here in Pennsylvania with blacks, but the split in the city can help Obama.”

Thad Mathis
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University
Professor of history and acting dean of Ambler College
James Hilty
courtesy TU Ambler

Offering the historical perspective, Jim Hilty explains that the primary process is fairly new — maybe 100 years old — and we are still learning.

“Right now, the general public believes that they are voting for a candidate when they vote in a primary; instead, they are registering a preference. In the future, Americans are likely to demand a more direct role in the process,” said Hilty.

“We are witnessing what may be a turning point in the way Americans choose their presidents,” he said.


According to Hilty, not since the conventions of 1952, when Eisenhower became the Republican nominee, and perhaps 1968, when Humphrey won the Democratic nomination without running in a single primary, have we had a convention as open as this year’s democratic convention promises to be.

“At this point, the Democrats run the risk of splintering their party and embarrassing themselves,” he said.

Laura H. Carnell Professor of Educational Psychology

Frank Farley argues that while the Pennsylvania primary will be influenced by the candidates’ stances on the issues, psychological factors may play an even more significant role.

“On the issues, Senators Clinton and Obama differ mostly at the margins. When two candidates do not differ dramatically on the issues, then psychology — our perceptions, our affections — becomes a key factor, the psychology of our relationship to the candidate,” said Farley.

Frank Farley
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University


“For example, in considering the psychological and personality qualities we look for in our heroes, one of them could be labeled ‘affection’—we want to feel something emotionally positive toward our heroes,” Farley explained.

“To date, the consensus seems to be that Obama edges Clinton on this one.

However, if the economy continues to crumble, with recent talk of the biggest recession since World War II, then a perceived personality factor of aggressiveness coupled with at least some White House leadership experience could come to the fore,” he added.

Christopher Harper
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

Associate professor of journalism

Commenting on the influence of digital media in the election process, Christopher Harper points out that the Internet is having a huge impact. “The Web is playing a far greater role in terms of the youth vote, and Obama has clearly used the Web far more effectively than any other candidate,” Harper said.

“Obama has broken through to how college students really get their information: it’s not in the Philadelphia Inquirer or on MSNBC. It’s what I call ‘electronic word’ of mouth. For young people today, the mainstream media are irrelevant,” he added.

“We may, in fact, be witnessing a transition of power. It looks to me as if the baby boomers, the generation currently holding the reins, are passing from the scene,” he said.