No, there isn't a significant vote against McCain in the primaries

During the last three primaries, some people have begun to focus on the results of the now-moot Republican primaries as a means of determining support for John McCain. Despite the fact that McCain has already clinched the nomination and the motivation for his supporters to vote for him has almost disappeared, pundits insist that McCain has to hit a ridiculously high threshold of votes in order to demonstrate that he can unify the party. Even when he hits the mark, some insist on reporting the rest as an anti-McCain movement. Eric Pfeiffer at CQ Politics reminds them of some recent history:

The Drudge Report provides two links this morning to Republican primary results in North Carolina and Indiana. In headlines meant to convey intra-party dissatisfaction with John McCain, Drudge declares:



A similarly gleeful tone was taken against McCain by liberal bloggers and some in the media after the Pennsylvania primary, in which McCain received 73 percent of the vote, compared to 16 percent for Ron Paul and 11 percent for Mike Huckabee. ….

But the question is, are his primary results really that different compared to what George W. Bush received after effectively wrapping up the nomination against McCain in 2000?

And the answer to that question is … no. After clinching the nomination against McCain, Bush’s numbers bounced around from 64% to 83%. In Pennsylvania, Bush scored an almost identical percentage in 2000 (72.47%) as did McCain in 2008 (73%). No one at the time considered that a protest vote against Bush, even though McCain in 2000 won a much higher percentage of the vote (22%) than did Ron Paul in 2008 (16%).

The only people really pushing this meme are Paul supporters. They want to make an argument that they have a national movement that is gaining momentum and could take McCain off the ticket at the convention. If that were true, their enthusiasm would create a much higher percentage of the Republican vote in contests where McCain supporters have little reason to come to the polls. Instead, in Indiana and North Carolina where Republicans crossed over in large numbers to vote in the Democratic primaries, Paul couldn’t even make it into double digits.

What we are seeing are typical voting behaviors for meaningless primaries. It’s a lot safer to assuage one’s conscience with a protest vote when the results have no impact on the race, and since fewer of the nominee’s supporters vote, the protest contingent tends to look larger than it really is. I suppose it makes for a mildly interesting bit of campaign trivia, but a movement it certainly is not.