Q: Did 10 percent of Hillary’s votes come from "Limbaugh Democrats" in the Ohio and Texas primaries?
A: According to exit polls, she didn’t get that many of her votes from Republicans, and it’s hard to know how many of those she did get were the result of Rush Limbaugh’s exhortations.
On the "far right" radio talk shows there has been discussion about how 10 percent of the votes for Hillary were created by Republican crossover votes in both Texas and Ohio. I know that Republicans have been doing this for many years, but a 10 percent crossover is a very substantial quantity of votes. Is this a true fact?
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh began suggesting weeks before the March 4 primaries that Republicans vote for Hillary Clinton, because she would be easier than Barack Obama for the GOP nominee to beat in November. Good numbers are hard to come by, though, and we’d take what you’re hearing with a grain of salt. The Ohio Secretary of State has requested data from each county to try to assess how frequently members of either party crossed over and plans to issue a report, but at this point we’ll have to content ourselves with exit poll data and anecdotal evidence.
In Ohio, according to exit polling conducted by CNN, about 9 percent of the Democratic vote came from Republicans. They split their votes, 49 percent going to Clinton and the same percentage to Obama. Since Clinton received 1.208 million votes in that state, that means about 8 percent of her votes came from Republicans. On the other hand, about 10 percent of Obama’s 979,000 votes in that state were from Republicans.
There’s little doubt that turnout in Ohio, some of it due to Republican crossover voting, was high. Some polling stations in Ohio experienced repeated shortages of Democratic ballots due to heavy demand, creating long waits for would-be voters, some of whom gave up. In heavily Republican Clermont County, nearly twice as many people voted in the Democratic primary as there are registered Democrats in the county. Warren County has only 12,440 registered Democrats, but 27,855 Democratic ballots were cast. In Cuyahoga County, 16,000 plus Republicans switched parties when they voted in the primary, some of them adding to their ballot words like "for one day only" or "I don’t believe in abortion." Some Republicans who voted for Clinton freely admitted to reporters that they were doing so to throw a wrench in the Democratic primary process.
Overall in Ohio, the number of voters who chose Democratic ballots increased 76 percent over 2004, while the number picking Republican ballots was up only 11 percent. Other factors, such as the lack of a competitive GOP race in early March, could account for some of the difference.
Poll workers in Ohio are supposed to enforce a rather unwieldy law in connection with election-day party-switchers. If a voter requests a ballot from one party but has voted with a different party in recent elections, poll workers are supposed to make the voter sign a pledge promising to uphold the values of his or her new party. If the majority of poll workers at a precinct doubt the voter’s sincerity, the voter can only cast a provisional ballot. Indications are that the law was widely ignored on March 4, however.
We’ve seen fewer stories out of Texas that deal with this phenomenon, but Republican pollster Mike Baselice has said that a 9 percent to 15 percent crossover vote is typical in that state. That’s what exit polls showed there: Only 9 percent of those who voted on Democratic ballots identified themselves as Republicans. But they didn’t seem to follow Limbaugh’s prescription. According to the exit polls, Republicans preferred Obama over Clinton, 53 percent to 46 percent. Our calculations show that, as in Ohio, about 8 percent of Clinton’s votes in Texas came from Republicans; for Obama, the figure was about 10 percent.
Slater, Wayne and Gromer Jeffers Jr. "Texans for Clinton tended to mark rest of ballot; Obama voters stopped with him," The Dallas Morning News, 9 March 2008.
Garrett, Amanda. "16,000 Republicans in Cuyahoga crossed over and voted Democratic in primary." The Plain Dealer, 9 March 2008.
Brown, Jessica and Barrett J. Brunsman. "Turned away at poll? Click here." The Cincinnati Enquirer, 5 March 2008.