Friday, April 25, 2008

What really counts: delegates vs. popular vote vs. superdelegates

feliks at mydd posted a brief diary about the WSJ article below to which one commenter responded with the Clinton meme du jour ... she's ahead in the popular vote and the superdelegate count.

Oh please. Superdelegates as a category don't count for anything.  That's a pretty silly thing to itemize as a positive -- though per DemConWatch, Obama has 234 and Clinton 256. That's a difference of 22 -- a difference which has shrunk dramatically since Jan. 13 per DemConWatch's Superdelegate History Tracker. (The chart is pretty cool if you like numbers and graphs.) And then there are the officially undeclared superdelegates who are known to favor Obama such as Rep. James Clyburn. I know it's not comforting to Hillary supporters to confront these numbers but they're real.

As for the popular vote, NO - she does NOT lead.

I've seen the twisted counting methods by which one arrives at a number that says she has more in the popular vote.  Even 3rd and 4th graders know that something stinks when the methods leave out  people who showed up to be counted in states with caucuses, and include a state in which one of the candidates didn't even appear on the ballot.  But no problem -- go ahead and include that state counting the 238,168 uncommitted votes as Obama's as well as the people from the caucus states (see point #2 below).  Guess what? She still doesn't lead in the popular vote.  [Note that the figures at the top of RCP's chart do NOT include Michigan's uncommitted votes.  Obama leads in 4 of 6 methods of summation without those votes.  When those are added in, Clinton does not lead no matter how one adds up the figures.]

And last but not least, there's PocketNines' insight (h/t to Ben Smith) on the popular vote metric when applied to primaries.  #2 is my particular favorite.

Point Number 1:  If the popular vote determined the nominee, no candidate would ever go to Iowa or New Hampshire.  They'd spend all their time in big urban areas all over the country from the outset of the campaign, racking up raw numbers.  What would be the point of even visiting New Hampshire if you could camp out in Brooklyn?  Concrete Example:  Barack Obama would not have spent only a day and a half in California before the Feb 5 primary.  He would have never gone to Idaho.  Duh.

Point Number 2:  If the popular vote determined the nominee, no state in its right mind would ever hold a caucus, instantly disenfranchising itself.  Concrete example: Minnesota-Missouri.  Minnesota gets credit for 214K votes, and Missouri gets 822K votes, but they each get 72 delegates.  Is Missouri's voice 4 times more important than Minnesota's?

Point Number 3:  The arbitrary distinction between who gets to vote in these primaries is nothing like the general election, where everyone registered gets to vote.  In the primaries, sometimes it's just Dems, sometimes Dems and Indies, sometimes anyone.  Concrete example:  Texas gets a million more votes than similar overall population New York (2.8M to 1.8M), even though New York is far more Democratic, simply due to this arbitrary restriction on who can vote (NY = closed, Texas = open).

Overall point: regardless of the fact that Obama will win the popular vote, it is completely illegitimate in this race.  THIS IS NOT LIKE POPULAR VOTE IN THE GENERAL ELECTION.

I'd also like to point out Elizabeth Drew's thoughtful post which points out:

The torrent of speculation about the end game of the Democratic nomination contest is creating a false sense of suspense – and wasting a lot of time of the multitudes who are anxious to know how this contest is going to turn out.

Notwithstanding the plentiful commentary to the effect that the Pennsylvania primary must have shaken superdelegates planning to support Barack Obama, causing them to rethink their position, key Democrats on Capitol Hill are unbudged. ... Their reasons, ones they have held for months, have not changed – and by their very nature are unlikely to.

Essentially, they are three:

(a) Hillary Rodham Clinton is such a polarizing figure that everyone who ever considered voting Republican in November, and even many who never did, will go to the polls to vote against her, thus jeopardizing Democrats down the ticket – i.e., themselves, or, for party leaders, the sizeable majorities they hope to gain in the House and the Senate in November.

(b) To take the nomination away from Obama when he is leading in the elected delegate count would deeply alienate the black base of the Democratic Party, and, in the words of one leading Democrat, “The superdelegates are not going to switch their voter and jeopardize the future of the Democratic Party for generations.” Such a move, he said, would also disillusion the new, mostly young, voters who have entered into politics for the first time because of Obama, and lose the votes of independents who could make the critical difference in November.

(c) Because the black vote can make the decisive difference in numerous congressional districts, discarding Obama could cost the Democrats numerous seats.

One Democratic leader told me, “If we overrule the elected delegates there would be mayhem.” Hillary Rodham Clinton’s claim that she has, or will have, won the popular vote does not impress them – both because of her dubious math and because, as another key Democrat says firmly, “The rules are that it’s the delegates, period.” (These views are closely aligned with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement earlier this year that the superdelegates should not overrule the votes of the elected delegates.)

Hudson's point about the fallacy of choice being perpetuated by the chattering class and Jack 'N' Jill's highlight of a comment about how persons of color view the Clinton manipulations of the Democratic nomination process underscore the point Ms. Drew and Mr. Henninger both make. The next Democratic party nominee for president will be Barack Obama.

Sen. Clinton's only real choice is how to exit the race gracefully.

UPDATE: I bookmarked this NY Times article the other day but never got it posted. It basically makes the same points along with a little emphasis on Obama's broader appeal.

Yet for all of her primary night celebrations in the populous states, exit polling and independent political analysts offer evidence that Mr. Obama could do just as well as Mrs. Clinton among blocs of voters with whom he now runs behind. Obama advisers say he also appears well-positioned to win swing states and believe he would have a strong shot at winning traditional Republican states like Virginia.

According to surveys of Pennsylvania voters leaving the polls on Tuesday, Mr. Obama would draw majorities of support from lower-income voters and less-educated ones — just as Mrs. Clinton would against Mr. McCain, even though those voters have favored her over Mr. Obama in the primaries.

And national polls suggest Mr. Obama would also do slightly better among groups that have gravitated to Republican in the past, like men, the more affluent and independents, while she would do slightly better among women. [...]

But the Pennsylvania exit polls, conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for five television networks and The Associated Press, underscore a point that political analysts made on Wednesday: that state primary results do not necessarily translate into general election victories.

“I think it differs state to state, and I think either Democrat will have a good chance of appealing to many Democrats who didn’t vote for them the first time,” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster not affiliated with either campaign. [...]

Mr. Hart, as well as Obama advisers, also say that Mr. Obama appears better poised than Mrs. Clinton to pick up states that Democrats struggle to carry, or rarely do, in a general election, like Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Virginia, all of which he carried in the primaries. Obama advisers say their polling indicates he is more popular with independents, and far less divisive than Mrs. Clinton, in those states.


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