Democratic Primary Popular Votes

Josh Marshall argues, persuasively, that the arguments by Hillary Clinton’s about how she would be winning the popular vote if Florida and Michigan are counted or, alternatively, one excludes caucuses or looks at the Electoral College value of the states she’s won are rather silly.

Democrats Delegate CountThen again, so is the idea that the popular vote in the primaries matters. That Barack Obama should be declared the winner on the basis that he has more pledged delegates or has attracted a greater number of voters than Clinton, let alone that Clinton should simply give up on that basis, is a head scratcher.

The rules of the game, which have applied not only since the outset of this contest but for the past several decades, state that the nominee is the person who gets a majority of the delegates at the convention. Because the number of delegates is fixed, we know that this means that the nominee will need at least 2,024 delegates to win. Given the proportional allocation of delegates, we know that Clinton will certainly not arrive at the Democratic National Convention in Denver with that many and that Obama is incredibly unlikely to do so, either.

Why, then, should Obama be declared the winner on the basis of turning out more voters than Clinton? Turnout is influenced by a variety of factors, most of which have nothing at all to do with the candidates themselves. Further, to the extent that Obama turned out more voters, he has already been rewarded with proportionately more delegates.

Despite their name, the Democratic Party has a much less democratic means of selecting their nominee than the Republican Party. They chose years ago to empower party poobahs, via their role as “superdelegates,” to have a large role in selecting their standard bearer. If Clinton can make up her relatively slim deficit in pledged delegates by persuading these superdelegates that she would have a better chance of beating John McCain in November then, per the rules that everyone agreed to in advance, she’ll be the nominee.

If the Democratic rank and file don’t like this process, they’re welcome to lobby to change it. And even to lobby the superdelegates that the popular vote somehow matters. But let’s not pretend that this was the intent of the system.

Graphic via CNN

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Despite their name, the Democratic Party has a much less democratic means of selecting their nominee than the Republican Party.

    Not quite. The whole reason the Democrats are in this position is that they allocate their delegates proportionally, which more closely aligns with the desires of the voters.

    The winner-take-all system favored by the Republicans made it impossible for any of McCain’s rivals to continue the race after Super Tuesday.

    Despite the Superdelegate system invoked by the Democrats, the Republican system is structurally less able to convey the views of voters and, hence, is less democratic.

  2. Triumph says:

    Just to follow up to show the silliness of James’ contention that “the Democratic Party has a much less democratic means of selecting their nominee than the Republican Party.” :

    McCain has received 44% of the popular vote in Republican primaries, but has 66% of the delegates.

    The Democratic front-runner, Hussein, has 50% of the popular vote and 53% of the delegates.

    The latter is due to the proportional system of delegate allocation favored by party.

    I agree that the superdelegate system is problematic from the standpoint of democratic theory, but it seems pretty clear that they are only coming into play because of the closeness of the results thus far. The only reason there is still a close race is because proportional allocation is reflective of party voters’ preferences.

    From a democracy standpoint, proportional representation + the superdelegates trumps the Republican winner-take-all system easily.

  3. James Joyner says:

    From a democracy standpoint, proportional representation + the superdelegates trumps the Republican winner-take-all system easily.

    Debatable, I suppose, although I would still contend that a system wherein the voters pick the nominee trumps one in which voters plus party elders do if democracy is the goal.

  4. Michael says:

    Debatable, I suppose, although I would still contend that a system wherein the voters pick the nominee trumps one in which voters plus party elders do if democracy is the goal.

    But both parties allocate delegates based on population, not actual votes*, so neither is actually representational of the voters themselves, but some combination of voters * population. This is especially problematic when you can have 2 districts with the same population, one where 90% voted for a democrat in the primary, and the other where 10% voted for the democrat, and both districts get the same representation at the convention.

    * To my knowledge only the Texas Democratic party tried to allocate delegates based on voters, but they used previous voter turnout instead of current voters for this, so still not “one man, one vote”.

  5. Triumph says:

    Debatable, I suppose, although I would still contend that a system wherein the voters pick the nominee trumps one in which voters plus party elders do if democracy is the goal.

    I concur–but, of course, the superdelegates haven’t “picked” any candidate yet. I think it will be highly unlikely that uncommitted super Ds will fall in line in such a way as to change the outcome of the popular vote. Most of the questioning right now is being pushed by Clinton since it is unlikely that she can catch up to Hussein in the popular vote.

    If she does catch up and the party essentially has a tie–it will make for interesting theatre.

    When it comes to the question of which is “more” democratic, had the Republicans had a more representative way of allocating delegates, we might be having this discussion about their race as well.

    The fact that the presumptive Republican nominee has a minority of the popular vote and a supermajority of the delegates doesn’t strike me as exceedingly democratic. The structure of delegate allocation developed by the Republican party basically insured that a messy situation where a majority of voters’ preferences are still in play late in the game would be avoided.

  6. Christines says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com

  7. Triumph says:

    Exclusive: Obama Connection to Terrorists Revealed by Talk Show Host

    Dude, you forgot to mention that Hussein also is big fan of kimchee, showing that he has longstanding ties to Axis of Evil member, North Korea.

    As the article mentions, Obama taught at the University of Chicago–this is just MILES away from Northwestern University–the site of the first UNIBOMBER attack. It is pretty clear that Hussein was in on that, as well.

    His penchant for wearing a suit with no tie is a nod to his close relationship with Ahmadenejad and the fact that he is African must suggest that he is a supporter of Robert Mugabe.

    There are also some reports that he has visited Venezuela to train at a camp run by Hugo Chavez.

    oh.. he also speaks French fluently…a dubious trait

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Comment responds to a since-deleted comment.

  8. Obamamania says:

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  9. Al Bee says:

    The DNC threaten Florida and Michigan by withholding conventions rights if the states did not adhere to party rules. The two states did not blink and the Democrat party went through with their threat.

    The party hierarchy well in the Hillary camp never envisioned Barrack Obamer would prove would to be such a lightning rod for dissatisfied party members.

    Too late they got smart and now must find a way to restore Hillairy to the most favored position. Ha ha said she full plain I see we must now count the votes we discounted.

    The suits made the rules and must abide by their decision.

    The importance of which methodology is most democratic is not important in the seating
    of the delegates

    Thank the Democrats for an enjoyable scenario. Where are you Bud and Lou? We need a “Who’s on first”!

    Note As My eyes degenerate I may miss grammar etc. Please bear with me.

  10. Jim says:

    I have seen many revelent comments in this blog for both sides, but I have not seen anyone grasp the true “endgame” for both sides (especially the Clintons).
    Who has been the real power broker and leader of the Democrat party since 1992- Bill Clinton.
    Who has pretty much (over these 15 years) formed the Democrat Party Machine (or the DNC) and everyone in that machine is in his debt for their position- Bill Clinton.
    Now, in 2000 Gore pretty much had to get the nomination because he was the vice and tradition dictated he be given a chance. But really how hard did the machine work for him, hard, but who rarely actively campaigned for Gore- Bill Clinton (of course he was a bit of an embarrassment at that time).
    If Gore won then after 2 possible terms (with HRC in the Senate – getting that experience chip and news coverage) it would now (2008) be HRC turn to take her appointed nomination. But I think the machine really did not want Gore to win too badly you see since Bill would no longer be the power broker running the machine – it would have been Gore (if elected) I wonder how hard they (the machine) really tried, Gore seems quite distant to Clinton ever since- I think he knew the “fix was in”. Who remained the puppet master – Bill Clinton

    Now in 2004 it was dicey, too early for HRC, and Bush was too strong, but if a Democrat won that year then HRC would be out of the picture for good to run for president. What to do? Well, make CERTAIN that a liberal east coast democrat gets the nomination, folks let’s face it, anything is possible except a liberal east coast democrat winning the presidency (that is a fact show many times over). The machine simply maneuvered Kerry in as a “sacrificial lamb” who’s only purpose was to do the assured – LOSE! Who is running the DNC machine – Bill Clinton

    Now, if anyone really doubts that Bill and the machine he built and runs had ever had any other plan than to keep Bill in charge (the machine was built by him- for him, and everyone in it is beholding to him for their position). If Bill is replaced then so are they in time, and they like their power and jobs too. The only way was HRC as president, not anyone else, in fact, it would solidify them in position like no one in history.

    2008- HRC was all but anointed as the “certain” canadate for the democrat party, but the machine had not counted on BHO, that was a situation that was not in the plans – EVER! It was certain to be over by super Tuesday – not even any plans or money contingencies after that. BHO turned all the machine plans upside down- they never “saw the bolt that hit them”. The definitely want HRC to be the canadate and even better the president, but the last thing they want is BHO to be president, Gone will be Bill as the real power of his machine, gone will be the people in the machine — that WILL NOT DO— PERIOD.

    So follow me here, they have little to lose really if HRC or BHO lose in NOV., but the worst case is if BHO wins in Nov. So they will not hesitate to run this primary till the bitter end and get nasty to decrease BHO chances of winning in Nov., so what if the party is split, they are still in charge. They have to stop BHO anyway they can, they can’t be sure that McCain can stop him, but between McCain and the Clinton machine, BHO hardly stands a chance. GIVE THIS SOME THOUGHT!

    I voted for BHO in the primary, by the way.

  11. Michael says:

    folks let’s face it, anything is possible except a liberal east coast democrat winning the presidency

    You mean like a senator from New York?

    Who has pretty much (over these 15 years) formed the Democrat Party Machine (or the DNC) and everyone in that machine is in his debt for their position-

    Howard Dean has been in charge of the DNC for 3 years now, and he’s not exactly been a friend of Clinton’s.

    but the machine had not counted on BHO, that was a situation that was not in the plans – EVER!

    Except for everybody talking about him being a Presidential candidate after his keynote speech in 2004.

    Even as conspiracy theories go, yours is full of holes.

    I voted for BHO in the primary, by the way.

    No kidding. Personally I thought you sounded like a certifiable Ron Paul supporter.