Matthews, Russert ignored record Democratic turnout in suggesting lack of broad appeal

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

MSNBC's Chris Matthews suggested to Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean that he should be concerned about the party's lack of broad appeal, noting polls showing a large number of "college graduates" and voters of a "high economic and social echelon" voting in the primaries. Matthews added, "I just wonder where regular people are in this." But Matthews didn't mention that, according to CNN, "voters are turning out for the Democratic primaries in number[s] that absolutely shatter previous records." Matthews also failed to mention the record turnout in an earlier discussion on the subject with Tim Russert.

During MSNBC's February 5 coverage of that day's primary contests, on a day in which Democratic turnout reportedly exceeded Republican by 75 percent, co-anchor Chris Matthews suggested that Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean should be concerned about the party's lack of broad appeal.

Matthews said; "You know, Governor, you and I grew up in a party -- watching a party that has basically had its base among labor union people, working people, regular people of average income. And what I'm stunned by, looking at these exit polls across the country -- look at these numbers. I'm sure you'll be surprised, too. The percentage of people who voted in the Connecticut Democratic primary -- 57 percent were college graduates, 58 percent in New Jersey, 60 percent in New York, 61 percent in Massachusetts." Dean later said: "[W]hoever the nominee is of our party -- and I would say this is true of the Republicans as well -- is going to have to broaden their own particular base. And that's part of my job is to help them do that." In response, Matthews asserted, "You might have it cut out for you, based upon these numbers. I just wonder where regular people are in this."

Earlier in the coverage, Matthews said to NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, "I am stunned at the educational level of the typical voter on the Democratic side. You and I grew up in a party -- looking at the Democratic Party as largely a working-class base, but almost in every one of the Eastern states now, three out of five voters who voted in the primaries today are full college graduates. Is that good news for [Sen.] Barack Obama [D-IL]? How do we read that development?" Russert responded: "[I]n a national election, in a general election, the Democrats have to do better than that. They have to get some of those Reagan Democrats back into the fold." During the exchange, neither Matthews nor Russert mentioned the record turnout for Democrats or the fact that Democratic turnout greatly exceeded Republican turnout.

A February 6 entry on CNN's Political Ticker blog reported, "Though the fate of the Democratic race to the nomination remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: voters are turning out for the Democratic primaries in number[s] that absolutely shatter previous records -- which may be a troubling sign for Republicans looking ahead to the general election." That report went on to note the turnout numbers in three of the states where Matthews suggested that Dean would struggle to help the Democratic candidates "broaden their own particular base." In New Jersey, Democratic primary turnout of 1,104,000 was 69 percent higher than the previous record turnout with 99 percent of precincts reporting. In Massachusetts, the turnout of 1,170,000 was 48 percent higher than the previous record turnout, with 98 percent of precincts reporting. In New York, the turnout of 1,744,000 was 11 percent higher than the previous record turnout with 99 percent of precincts reporting. States in other parts of the country also had record turnouts among Democrats. According to the Political Ticker, Missouri exceeded its prior record by 47 percent (and voters in the Democratic primary outnumbered voters in the Republican primary by 200,000. According to the Political Ticker, the prior record for Democratic votes in an Arizona primary was 239,000, a number it had already surpassed by 31 percent with 67 percent of precincts reporting.

A February 6 article in the Hartford Courant reported record-setting participation in Connecticut's Democratic primary as well:

Turnout among Democrats exceeded the previous record of 43.3 percent in 2006, when anti-war challenger Ned Lamont denied Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman the Democratic nomination in a primary. Turnout in the March 2, 2004, presidential primary, when John Kerry cruised through a depleted field, was 20 percent.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said she expected turnout to be around 50 percent.

"I think that the decision to move the primary from the beginning of March to the beginning of February was critical. Connecticut is in the thick of it," she said.

GOP turnout was estimated to be 20 percent to 24 percent, about half the turnout of 40 percent in 2000, when Republicans gave McCain a win over George W. Bush.

In fact, turnout in the Democratic primary in Connecticut surpassed Bysiewicz's prediction of "around 50 percent" -- the final number was 53.4 percent, according to Bysiewicz's office.

From MSNBC's February 5 presidential primary coverage:

MATTHEWS: Tim, I am stunned at the educational level of the typical voter on the Democratic side. You and I grew up in a party -- looking at the Democratic Party as largely a working-class base, but almost in every one of the eastern states now, three out of five voters who voted in the primaries today are full college graduates. Is that good news for Barack Obama? How do we read that development?

RUSSERT: Well, he's been drawing from that universe. But in a national election, in a general election, the Democrats have to do better than that. They have to get some of those Reagan Democrats back into the fold. And I think that's what Hillary Clinton has been trying to do with her campaign.

[...]

MATTHEWS: You know, Governor, you and I grew up in a party -- watching a party that has basically had its base among labor union people, working people, regular people of average income. And what I'm stunned by, looking at these exit polls across the country -- look at these numbers. I'm sure you'll be surprised, too. The percentage of people who voted in the Connecticut democratic primary -- 57 percent were college graduates, 58 percent in New Jersey, 60 percent in New York, 61 percent in Massachusetts.

It just seems like the Democratic Party voters seem to have gone upscale. The neighborhood has been gentrified. And the people who are voting are from a very high economic and social echelon. Is that good news for the Democratic Party that it's gotten so gentrified?

DEAN: Well, honestly I believe that one of the -- there's two reasons for those numbers, I think. One is that you're seeing a lot of Republicans and independents now vote in the Democratic primary where that's permitted because they really believe that you've got to have change, and they don't think you can possibly get it with the Republican primary. The other is, this is in the Northeast, which has got the highest education levels of any place in the country. So, you know, I don't know what to make of those polls.I never think it's a bad thing to have smart people supporting you, but I do think the numbers are probably skewed as, one, they're from the Northeast, and two, I think there are probably significant numbers of independents and Republicans who are voting in the Democratic primary as well.

MATTHEWS: So you're not worried that the college crowd, if you will, gown is overwhelming town, and the support for Barack here, such as it exists, isn't the reflection of a skewed electorate.

DEAN: I think every -- every candidate on both sides has particular niches in the electorate that they appeal to. And whoever the nominee is of our party -- and I would say this is true of the Republicans as well -- is going to have to broaden their own particular base. And that's part of my job is to help them do that.

MATTHEWS: You might have it cut out for you, based upon these numbers. I just wonder where regular people are in this. There aren't -- the average percentage of this country, unfortunately for the country, doesn't include that many college graduates.

DEAN: No, that's right, that's true.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews, Tim Russert
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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