January 28, 2004,
In the end, after all the polls and all the double-digit leads that disappeared, Howard Dean couldn't even win the angry vote.
A look at exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool (NEP) shows the former Vermont governor, who placed a distant second to Sen. John Kerry in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, was not only not able to broaden his message to gain new supporters but was unable to hold on to the core constituency that accounted for his earlier strength.
For example, in interviews with NEP poll-takers, 46 percent of voters described themselves as being angry with the Bush administration. Of that group, 35 percent voted for Dean fewer than the 37 percent who voted for Kerry. An additional 37 percent of all voters described themselves as "dissatisfied, but not angry" with Bush. Kerry beat Dean handily among that group, winning 44 percent to Dean's 20 percent.
Dean also underperformed among voters who oppose the war in Iraq. Forty-one percent of voters told NEP they strongly disapprove of the U.S. decision to go to war. In that group, Kerry beat Dean, 40 percent to 36 percent. Among the voters who said they somewhat disapprove of the war decision, Kerry won far more decisively, 43 percent to 19 percent.
Even among his core-core constituency, voters between the ages of 18 and 29, Dean turned in a lackluster performance, edging Kerry by the smallest of margins, 34 percent to 33 percent. In every other age category, Dean lost by double-digit margins.
All of which leads to the question: If Howard Dean could not do well among voters who were young, angry, and strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, to whom might he appeal in future primaries?
The answer is: Probably no one. With a still-sizable store of campaign cash, Dean can go on, and perhaps do well in a state or two, but after losing badly among the liberal voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, it is hard to see how he can save his candidacy.
To be fair, the NEP results show a few bright spots for Dean. He beat Kerry, 41 percent to 30 percent, among those voters who described themselves as very liberal (although he lost, 33 percent to 39 percent, among voters who called themselves somewhat liberal). He beat Kerry, 37 percent to 34 percent, among voters who want to repeal all of President Bush's tax cuts. And he beat Kerry, 47 percent to 21 percent, among voters who believed the most important attribute a candidate can have is the determination to stand up for what he believes (as opposed to voters who most wanted a candidate able to defeat Bush a category Kerry won by 62 percent to 10 percent).
Lastly, Dean won, 35 percent to Kerry's 30 percent, among those voters who are not worried that there will be another major terrorist attack in the United States.
In light of the New Hampshire results, Democrats might well wonder whether a candidate who can at best eke out a narrow victory among the small subset of Democratic voters in a small northeastern state who are 18 to 29 years old, who call themselves very liberal, who want to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts, and who aren't particularly worried about terrorism how that candidate might win the nomination of a national party and go on to be elected president.
And the answer is: He can't.