Tension Remains Between Clinton, Obama Camps, Prof Says

Published Aug. 28, 2008 on assignment for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel blog in Denver, Colo. at the Democratic National Convention.

Whether inside or outside the government, change is the word of the political season.

Michael Heaney, from the University of Florida, is gauging the drive for change from both sides: protesters outside the convention and delegates inside.

He’s been surveying these groups since the 2004 Republican National Convention, continuing this week in Denver and next week at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn.

These are the first surveys of their kind since the 1970s, Heaney said, but he and his colleagues agree that getting out of the office and into the streets is the most effective way to take a pulse of the populace.

For protesters, questions focus on their identity, political leanings and approval of governance.

For delegates, the survey focuses on, among other things, the extent of their involvement in the party and whether the rifts that developed in the primary election have healed. Early results say they have not.

“There’s actually still quite a bit of tension between the two camps,” Heaney said. If either group feels alienated it could mean trouble for time to come, he said.

“If Hillary Clinton and her supporters don’t get fully behind Barack Obama, and that costs him the election, the bitterness will carry on for generations and may prevent Democrats from being able to elect a president any time soon,” the professor said.

Other determinants:

  • Obama delegates are more than likely to say that Clinton delegates haven’t shown him respect. The feeling goes both ways, Heaney said.
  • One of the questions asked is whether Obama should have selected Hillary Clinton as his vice president. Obama delegates overwhelmingly say no, but Clinton delegates are split 50-50.
  • Social networks are influential. For example, a person who has friends supporting both candidates is more likely to embrace Obama than those who have friends supporting only Clinton.

“I would have to say the way to heal the rift is through personal networks,” Heaney said. “You become persuaded when you see the people like you, people that you can relate to, think a certain way.”

Surveys taken today and Thursday will show whether Clinton’s speech unified the party.

Low turnout at demonstrations was primarily caused by poor organizing by Denver groups.

“Once the new president is inaugurated in January, that will provide a new opening for the anti-war movement to begin again, a push to bring people home from Iraq,” he said.

Heaney is working with student volunteers and professors from the University of Minnesota and University of Denver.

As of mid-day Wednesday Heaney and his team had questioned 350 Democratic delegates and about 450 protesters.

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