Is a Vote for Huckabee a Vote for McCain?

Several political commentators and blogs have stated the view that a vote in the Republican primaries for Governor Huckabee is effectively a vote for Senator McCain. For instance, The Conservative Post blog told Huckabee supporters on January 29 before the Florida primary: “you are throwing away your vote if you vote for Mike”.  I’d like to analyze this view below.

I would first like to say that there is no such thing as “throwing away” or “wasting” a vote. People vote to express their preferences on candidates and issues, not necessarily to vote for the winner.  In many Congressional two-person races, the district clearly favors the Republican or Democratic candidate and the result of the election is obvious before anyone votes; but, people in that district’s minority party should still vote for their candidate so that shifts in voter sentiment can be registered.  Voters who believe strongly that Huckabee or Paul are the best candidates for President should vote for them if expressing their opinion is more important than the ultimate outcome. That being said, it does make sense for voters who care more about the outcomes of elections to consider whether or not their preferred candidate can win the election itself or at least win some delegates (in primaries and caucuses) when more than 2 people are running.  Some might argue that “making a statement” instead of focusing on the outcome is a stupid way to vote, but that is a choice each voter is free to make.  

Another point I want to make is that people who state the view that a vote for Huckabee is really a vote for McCain are obviously making the following assumptions:

  1. Huckabee supporters are conservative and want a conservative to win the Republican nomination.
  2. Romney is more conservative than McCain.
  3. Huckabee supporters would vote for Romney if Romney and McCain were the only choices left.

While the first of these assumptions is clearly true, the second is debatable and the third is quite possibly false.

In the case of the winner-take-all Republican primaries, the situation was ambiguous. In the Florida Republican primary, McCain won with 36% of the votes, Romney came in second with 31%, Guiliani came in third with 15%, and Huckabee came in fourth with 14%.  McCain won all 57 delegates.  Given that Romney and Huckabee were competing for conservative voters, it is tempting to combine Romney’s and Huckabee’s numbers and argue that Romney could have beaten McCain 45% to 36%.  Of course, this leaves out the voters who voted for Guiliani, Thompson, and Paul. If one assumed that Guiliani and Paul supporters would have voted for McCain and that Thompson supporters would have voted for Romney if their preferred candidates had not been on the Florida ballot, one would end up with McCain beating Romney 54% to 46%.  So, one could (somewhat simplistically) argue that McCain would have beaten Romney if all the second-tier candidates had dropped out.  If that were the case, then people who voted for Huckabee did not waste their vote any more than people who voted for Romney.  McCain still would have won all the delegates.

Note that the assumption above about how Florida Republicans would have voted if some candidates had not been on the ballot is actually quite simplistic.  CNN’s exit polls asked Republicans about their second choice preferences. The numbers are a bit tricky to interpret since they show second choice preferences amongst all the voters rather than broken out based on voters’ first choice.  But the numbers do show that 24% of voters whose second choice was McCain voted for Huckabee while only 19% of voters whose second choice was Romney voted for Huckabee.  Since almost equal numbers of voters picked McCain and Romney as their second choice (20% and 19% respectively), this suggests that more Huckabee voters would have gone over to McCain than to Romney if Huckabee had dropped out of the race before the Florida primary.  So, the argument that voters who voted for Huckabee cost Romney the election in Florida is quite weak.

As we move toward Super Tuesday and beyond, the current polls show that Huckabee leads Romney in many of the Southern states while trailing McCain.  Certainly, Huckabee voters should vote for Huckabee in those states.  In fact, one could argue that Romney supporters in those states who don’t want McCain to win should vote for Huckabee to make sure that McCain doesn’t win the delegates from those states. On the other hand, Huckabee supporters in states like California where he is far behind both McCain and Romney should probably vote for their second choice candidate (if they care more about the outcome than in making a statement) since Huckabee is very unlikely to win any delegates in those states. But voters who do not have a preference between the alternative candidates should vote for their first choice even if he has no chance of winning any delegates.

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4 Responses to “Is a Vote for Huckabee a Vote for McCain?”

  1. joshbmack Says:

    I say vote for the person you want to elect, end of story. But since Romney himself stated that a vote for Huckabee is a vote for McCain, he could do the honorable thing by dropping out, endorse Huckabee, and prevent John McCain from getting the nomination by uniting the conservative base. If John McCain is really as bad as he says, then he should have no problem doing this. But that is not his goal. His is personal ambition.

    I like the way Huckabee joked about it, “A vote for Romney is a vote for Hillary.” The mockery is clear, Romney doesn’t really want to prevent McCain from getting the nomination because he is too liberal. This is just his latest strategy to get it for himself. Huckabee appears above this foolishness. Mock it he will, but he knows that a vote for him is a vote for him. And any politician that feels he needs to get votes with twisted logic must not feel very good about his own campaign. I would respect him more if he just said, “Vote for me because I am the best candidate running.” Rather than continuing, “and John McCain is a liberal and if you vote for anyone but me you are voting for McCain. Do you really want to do that? Then vote for me or he will win.” It’s pathetic!

  2. MDnGA Says:

    Good insight!! We the people of the United States are free to vote for whomever we desire with no regards to how others want us to vote. Huckabee will be competitive and fight to the very end. He has my vote and confidence for POTUS. Huckabee is the only TRUE CONSERVATIVE LEFT IN THIS RACE!!

  3. acptulsa Says:

    The horse race rhetoric has certainly gotten out of hand. If everyone who has gotten familiar with Ron Paul’s positions since the media turned his middle name to “Longshot” would forget about the prognostications and just vote their consciences, that would simply be that. It certainly plays against candidates who have ideas that are good, but take some getting used to. By the time brave new concepts have been digested, the candidate has been declared “also rans” even if the first primary has yet to happen.
    The media pronounced The Giants as unable to win, too. Good thing THEY didn’t listen!

  4. rwb82 Says:

    Very good analysis. I had seen some other polling that indicated the same movement of Huckabee supporters (should he drop out).

    Taking the data out and looking only at gut reaction, there may be good reasons for this. While Romney and some talk show hosts are claiming that Mitt is the more conservative candidate, I’m not sure how many people buy this. Particularly the evangelical and pro-life issue voters may be less willing to vote for Romney. Remember, he is (sincerely or not) a recent convert to many socially conservative issues.

    Further, from my brief discussions with Mike supporters, many appear to be less concerned with policies and stances than they are with character and personality. Even ardent Romney supporters would agree that McCain’s character and ability to connect with voters outweighs Romney.

    I believe many pundits who see a Huckabee to Romney shift of voters base their decision on Iowa and SC. It may be true that in those two states Huckabee helped McCain’s campaign. But this is an oversimplification. Iowa, in particular, based their decision on a single and unique issue…farm/ethanol subsidies. In SC, McCain had a group of veterans that weren’t moving regardless of who the 3rd candidate was. If Huckabee had dropped before SC, I would have expected most of his voters to go to Thompson.

    Anyway…Thanks for the solid analysis.

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