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The Clinton Voters who won’t vote for Obama, Part II

No general election polls today, but Rasmussen finds Obama up 56-33 in the North Carolina primary. The arguably more interesting finding is that 56% of Clinton voters report they are not likely to vote for Barack Obama in the general election. As Rasmussen reports, “A month ago, 45% of Clinton voters said they were not likely to vote for Obama against McCain.”

So should this trend be troubling for Obama?

It’s not good news, certainly. There are some Clinton supporters who won’t vote for Obama in the general election — and there are also some Obama supporters who won’t vote for Clinton in the general election. However, there is no evidence from this poll that their numbers are increasing.

Let’s do some simple math. A month ago, 40% of North Carolina voters supported Clinton in the primaries, according to Rasmussen, and 45% of those voters said they wouldn’t vote for Obama in the general election. That means that 18% of likely primary voters in North Carolina both intended to vote for Clinton in the primaries and intended to vote for McCain in the general election:

40% x 45% = 18%

Now? 56% of Clinton’s supporters say they won’t vote for Obama in November. But — and this is the important point — the percentage of Clinton supporters has gone down, from 40% to 33%. If we multiply 33% by 56% we get…

33% x 56% = 18%

…we get 18%! (Technically 18.48%). In other words, exactly the same fraction of the electorate are Type 3 voters (Clinton-McCain-Obama) as we had before.

Here’s the general rule to keep in mind: when a candidate is gaining support, their support tends to be soft. That means the candidate has a lot of newly-minted support, fresh out of the oven, and such support inherently tends to be soft. Conversely, when a candidate is losing support, their support tends to be hard. Clinton now has the support of only 33% of North Carolina primary voters. But those people who are left in her camp are hard-core; all the soft support, the swing support in the state, has swung over to Obama. And it’s not surprising that her remaining supporters have strong preferences for Clinton over Obama — enough so that many of them insert McCain’s name somewhere between the two Democrats.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.