March 7, 2008

If you think the superdelegates should support the candidate with the most total votes, do you know whether it is Clinton or Obama?

It's only Obama if you exclude Florida and Michigan. Then, Obama is ahead by 598,266. Impressive! But if you throw Florida and Michigan back in, Clinton wins by 30,657. But that's not really fair. Clinton had name recognition that counted for too much at that early point, especially when they weren't supposed to be campaigning, and Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. Now, there's talk of redoing Florida and Michigan so those states can have delegates, but it's important to see that they will also have an effect on the popular vote totals that will influence the superdelegates.

Another issue raised in the above-linked article (by Blake Fleetwood) is that the popular vote total undervalues the states that had caucuses, since a smaller portion of voters turn out for a caucus. And Obama did so much better in caucuses than in primaries.

I counted the difference:
Using the numbers here, I found that Obama has won 290 delegates in caucuses, and Clinton has won 154. That's 65% for Obama and 35% for Clinton. In the primaries, by stark contrast, Obama has won 1072 delegates, and Clinton has won 1058. (Actually, 1058.5 — she won 1.5 delegates in the Americans Abroad primary.) That's 50% to 50%. You need to go to decimals to show the Obama percentage lead in the primaries: 50.3% to 49.7%.
But if you want to use total popular vote as a basis for argument to the superdelegates, what do you do with this information? You can't say with confidence that Obama really should have more total votes, because it seems to be that Obama supporters are overrepresented among the kind of people who go to caucuses. We can think of some characteristics that may be shared by caucus-goers and Obama-supporters — notably youth and political fervor. So who was "cheated" out of popular votes in the caucus states? Obama or Clinton?

In any event, it's hard to assign value to the popular vote, since the candidates were not playing — at least not early on — for the popular vote. They campaigned for delegates, so they built their strategies on winning a percentage of the votes within any given state. This cumulative popular vote does matter quite a bit more than it does in the Electoral College system in the fall, because these were not winner-take-all states. With the Electoral College, the popular vote is completely skewed, given the huge numbers of people who know their vote won't tip their state one way or another, making the decision whether to vote in California completely different from the decision whether to vote in Ohio.

And yet, the accumulated popular vote seems very important, both in electing the President in the fall and, certainly, in the Clinton-Obama match-up now that we're pitching arguments to the superdelegates. That gives the last few states, including Michigan and Florida if they horn their way back into the process, a whole new dimension of power.

28 comments:

Fen said...

it's hard to assign value to the popular vote, since the candidates were not playing — at least not early on — for the popular vote

Exactly. And thats the logic lost on those who complain about popular vote tallies VS electoral college.

Its like complaining that, while your football team lost on points scored, they really won because they had more total yards. But if both teams knew total yards would determine the winner, they would have played the game completely different.

rdkraus said...

Is this not symptomatic of the whole Democrat / Liberal / Progressive approach to government and life, ie. overanalyzing and overcomplicating everything.

A process that should be simple and straightforward - having people of your own party vote to see who will represent the party, and nominating the one with the most votes, or even the most states, whichever - instead, they have a byzantine set of rules which looks like an invitation to unfairness and litigation.

Worse, it sets up a system whereby the "elite" (LOL) representatives of the so-called party of the people, the little guy, will essentially decide the nomination in a smoke filled backroom (except that since they're all liberal weenies, no one will smoke (inside, they'll all sneak outside)).

age group mom said...

You cannot possibly seat the Michigan delegates. Michigan has an open primary, and lots of Dem voters chose to vote in the GOP primary because Hillary was the only candidate on the ballot. If there was a full slate, the results would have been quite different.

Also, if you wrote in "Obama" your ballot was thrown out as invalid. How many people did that? I'm told thousands and thousands of ballots were tossed in Detroit for that reason.

As it is, 40% of voters chose "uncommitted" over Clinton. That's a lot, and gives an indication of what a real primary might have looked like.

rhhardin said...

power

Remember that it only matters when it doesn't matter, namely when it's about 50% each way. So it's a made-up crisis for democracy, which at that balance point is indifferent to the result, except that the result be final.

The effect of various biases in the system is to make the revolution have to get 52% instead of 50.0001% ; once the popular will goes one way strongly enough, biases don't any longer affect it, and the people have their say.

What undermines democracy is imagining a crisis of democracy when democracy hits the dont-care 50% condition.

Trevor Jackson said...

Fen and Althouse, let me take this opportunity to say I totally agree with you.

The rules is the rules. And Clinton wants to change them after she agreed to them.

There will be no re-vote in Florida, but I'll bet there is one in Michigan. After Puerto Rico. Why should Michigan get to jump the line again?

Trevor Jackson said...

Whoops. I stand corrected. Puerto Rico just moved up to June 1. Montana and South Dakota are the last to weigh in. On June 3. Michigan can have a cheap caucus after that.

Balfegor said...

You can't say with confidence that Obama really should have more total votes, because it seems to be that Obama supporters are overrepresented among the kind of people who go to caucuses.

I think we can say he should have more total votes -- it's just that in many of those caucus states, a primary would close almost all of the gap between Obama and Clinton, and might even flip the totals (as in Texas), so that an Obama win would turn into a Clinton win, with a broader-based primary. So Clinton might gain even more votes than Obama.

For an example other than Texas, we can look at Washington state, which held a primary which Obama won lopsidedly (better than 2-1 overall, 38/39 counties, all 16 legislative districts) then held a primary, which he won by less than 6 points (51.22%-45.67%).

Sloanasaurus said...

Obama is in the right. He is the one sticking to the rules. (Although it is ironic because the Democrats tend to ignore rules).

You can't count Michigan and Florida. Further, a revote at this point is not fair. You can still seat the Florida delegation but it should be done 50-50 for both Obama/Clinton.

No matter how you cut it Obama is ahead in both delegates and the popular vote, and he will be at the end.

That aside, the super delegates are supposed to ignore popular vote and pick the person best able to win. This could be Hillary if Obama crashes and burns in the next 6 weeks. The only way Hillary is going to win is if the black vote doesn't stick with Obama no matter what. Hillary needs to convince the black vote that Obama can't win. If she can't the super delegates will never risk alienating this powreful interest group in the party.

garage mahal said...

As it is, 40% of voters chose "uncommitted" over Clinton. That's a lot, and gives an indication of what a real primary might have looked like.

Obama took his name off the ballot, nobody else. Why? Who knows, but it wasn't because he thought he would win.

age group mom said...

No. All the candidates took their names off the ballot except Clinton. Oh, and Gravel. But there were three choices: Clinton, Gravel, or uncommitted.

herbp01 said...

the super delegate conundrum. Are they in proportion to population by each state? are they proportioned more to how each state tends to vote, (the blue, red, purple state map)

Should they vote according to the will of the people should the Kennedy's and John Kerry then be compelled to vote for Hillary after all she did win Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Trevor Jackson said...

Kucinich was on the Michigan ballot, too. Don't forget Kucinich!

Balfegor said...

the super delegate conundrum. Are they in proportion to population by each state? are they proportioned more to how each state tends to vote, (the blue, red, purple state map)

I think they're geographically biased towards states that tend to vote Democratic, because Democratic office-holders automatically get to be superdelegate votes, as I understand. If they went based on states, I think that would give Clinton a slight edge, just because she has won all the big states (Blue and Red) except Illinois, but not enough to overcome Obama.

That said, they should just vote for whoever they think would be the best President. They have more information about the candidates -- Obama, at least -- than the voters in the earliest primaries/caucuses had, and they should factor that in, rather than just mirroring the primary/caucus results.

garage mahal said...

No. All the candidates took their names off the ballot except Clinton. Oh, and Gravel. But there were three choices: Clinton, Gravel, or uncommitted.

Not very wise was it.

Private said...

Not very wise to put the party above personal ambition? People want to complain about disenfranchisement, why don't they look to their own state party leaders for putting the delegates at risk when the leaders decided to disobey?

Balfegor said...

People want to complain about disenfranchisement, why don't they look to their own state party leaders for putting the delegates at risk when the leaders decided to disobey?

Weren't the primary dates set by the state governments? I.e. in the case of Florida, weren't they set by Republicans?

I don't think this is the fault of the Florida Democratic Party's leaders.

former law student said...

I think Hillary's primary votes where she ran unopposed should count only if she will run unopposed in the general election.

Original Mike said...

rdkraus said: Is this not symptomatic of the whole Democrat / Liberal / Progressive approach to government and life, ie. overanalyzing and overcomplicating everything.

A process that should be simple and straightforward ... instead, they have a byzantine set of rules which looks like an invitation to unfairness and litigation.


I couldn't agree more.

Fen said...

Weren't the primary dates set by the state governments? I.e. in the case of Florida, weren't they set by Republicans?

Yes.

I don't think this is the fault of the Florida Democratic Party's leaders.

Nope:

1) "Florida Democrats argued that... Republicans made it impossible for Democrats to vote against the measure by including language requiring paper voting machine trails in the bill.

2) The national party has suggested that Florida could avoid the penalties by staging its own election, called a caucus, after Feb. 5. The national party said it would spend about $800,000 toward such a vote.

[Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman] said she's still hoping for a compromise before the party is officially penalized. But she acknowledged that the many in the party oppose alternatives."

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/staff/lesley_clark/story/19227.html

I would add that the DNC made it worse by dumping ALL delegates, while the RNC only dumped one-half.

dick said...

If the primary dates were set by the state governments then how could South Carolina republicans vote on one date and South Carolina democrats vote on a different date. That tells me that the primary dates were agreed to by the parties, not the states. The states might have suggested the dates but the parties could still have done them differently.

As to the republicans forcing the democrats to agree on the dates because of the paper trail, that is a non-starter. What was to keep the democrats from attempting to keep the paper trail and change the date. Their option.

Balfegor said...

If the primary dates were set by the state governments then how could South Carolina republicans vote on one date and South Carolina democrats vote on a different date. That tells me that the primary dates were agreed to by the parties, not the states. The states might have suggested the dates but the parties could still have done them differently.

That tells you wrong. Florida's legislature passed a law setting the date for the state's primaries. The South Carolina legislature apparently left that determination open to the parties:

Unlike in many states South Carolina's presidential primaries have in past been party-run affairs3; this has posed a substantial financial and logistical challenge for the parties. However, in mid-2007 the General Assembly passed, over Gov. Mark Sanford (R)'s objections, a bill which requires that for parties wishing to hold presidential primary elections, the "State Election Commission must conduct the presidential preference primary." The General Assembly passed S99 on June 5, 2007, Gov. Sanford vetoed the bill on June 14, and the General Assembly voted to override the veto on June 19. [reaction] The law left determination of the primary dates to the state party committees, and they have opted to hold their primaries on different dates while keeping to the Saturday tradition.

The South Carolina bill involved is here.

Regarding the Florida Democrats' ability to block the Republicans from moving the primary date, Republicans currently appear (based on Wikipedia) to enjoy sizeable majorities in both houses, as well as controlling the governorship. It's not clear to me whether Democrats could actually have done anything to stop the Republicans. True, they didn't have to join the Republicans, and they all did anyway, but still. Wouldn't have been much point in resisting.

The more I read about this, the more amusing it becomes.

Balfegor said...

And for anyone interested, the Florida bill's text can be found here. Uh, somewhere. It's one of those links in there.

caplight777 said...

1. Fen
Your analysis in the first comment was the best I have seen. Great analogy. You should be on MSNBC.

2. I believe based on a taking head from the Kennedy School at Harvard that the states had to apply to the party for early primaries and only so many were allowed at a time so they could be spaced out. That's how South Carolina got that date.

3. Has anybody else noticed that Fox news just doesn't have interesting talking heads compared to MSNBC and CNN?

John Stodder said...

Megan McCardle had a good, nerdy econ term for the primary process: "Path dependent." Reshuffle the primaries' order and you could easily envision different situations in both parties.

Eli Blake said...

John Stodder:

Astute observation.

The real irony of the Florida/Michigan situation is that the guys who really pushed for them to move their primaries forward (Mitt Romney in Michigan and Rudy Giuliani in Florida) both lost early.

Something that bugs me too-- choosing who will run for President in November with primaries that begin in January. It just drags the whole thing out too long.

Blake said...

No kidding, Eli.

I gotta believe the next 8 months is going to see these three candidates crash-and-burn.

Mortimer Brezny said...

This is not a primary versus caucus issue. This is a big state versus small state issue.

Using the raw popular vote re-weights primary states with large populations over primary states with smaller populations, because the population gap is already accounted for in the number of delegates awarded. If the DNC simply wanted a popular vote determination, each voter would be a delegate.

Using the popular vote as the dispositive metric would be as self-serving as having the Big States in the Congress argue that the Senators should be allocated proportional to population, just like representatives in the House.

It would circumvent the rules by subverting the purposes for which they were enacted.

There is no coherent argument in favor of using big states to rack up the popular vote and then crown Hillary Clinton without the perception that the rules were subverted unless Obama goes down in flames in the next 12 contests.

She can capture momentum and win, but she cannot capture momentum unless she wins. She has to start winning, and winning big, no matter what. That is the power of the math.

Angela said...

The Clintons are not the ones inspiring new voters to register and vote. The enthusiasm is for Sen. Obama and the Clintons know it. They are willing to destroy the party to satisfy their own personal greed for power.

All of those new voters will not turn out for Clinton. If they succeed in destroying Sen. Obama there will be a backlash and McCain will win.