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Exit Poll: Undeclared Candidate

CNN on Tuesday night published results of its Democratic exit polling in New Hampshire. In addition to posing the standard demographic questions–showing younger voters tended to vote for Obama, older ones for Clinton, for instance–the pollsters asked the following: If Bill Clinton had been running, who would you have voted for–him or your candidate? (It’s the fourth question listed; the results table doesn’t give the exact wording.)

Overall, the response seems to have been that people would have stuck with their candidates by a large majority: 61 percent said they’d vote for that candidate, 37 percent said they’d vote for Bill Clinton. Of those who said they’d stick with their candidate, 47 percent voted for Obama yesterday and 27 percent chose Hillary Clinton. Of those who said they’d vote for Bill Clinton instead, 58 percent voted for Hillary Clinton yesterday and 24 percent voted for Obama.

In other words, a majority of Hillary Clinton voters in this New Hampshire sample–note all the qualifications there–would vote for her husband instead if given the chance.

How big a majority? That’s a little hard to quantify exactly, since I’m not sure how percentages were rounded up or down and I can’t find a place right now to pose questions to CNN, but let’s try: The reported sample population is 1,955. Assuming every member of the group answered this question, 1,193 people said they’d vote for their candidate instead of Bill Clinton; 723 said they’d vote for Bill over whoever they voted for yesterday; and 39 apparently didn’t answer.

Among the 1,193 voters in the “I like my candidate better than Bill” group, 27 percent, or 322, voted for Hillary Clinton; among the 723 people in the “I like Bill better than whoever” group, 58 percent, or 419, voted for Hillary Clinton. (For comparison: 561 Obama voters said they’d stick with him, 173 said they’d vote for Bill instead.)

If I’ve got those numbers right — and if is the operative word here — 56.5 percent of the Hillary Clinton group said they’d vote for Bill Clinton if he was on the ballot. I find that shocking. Maybe the result is meaningless, a quirk. But maybe it shows that Hillary Clinton’s voters, to some extent, view her as a surrogate for the ex-president (and saying that, I’m shocked again: It flies in the face of one of her main appeals, which is, as Gloria Steinem reminded us yesterday, that she’s a history-making woman). It may also show that the former president is still a powerful draw for Democrats

In any case, I’d love to see the results if the same question were posed in the primaries to come. Go read the poll yourself and tell me whether I’ve got it right.

[Later: MSNBC, which published the same poll, focused on this finding last night. They report the full question as, “If Bill Clinton were eligible to run for a third term and had been on the ballot today, who would you have voted for?”]

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