Primary Popular Vote Totals

Matthew Shugart tallies up the popular vote totals from both parties’ primaries and notes that “Obama is closing in on a majority of the popular vote” while “McCain has yet to crack 40% of Republicans.”

While I don’t think there’s any doubt that Obama is more popular among Democrats than McCain is among Republicans, there’s not much to be drawn from that comparison. The Democratic race coalesced around two serious candidates early and neither broke from the pack. The third place candidate, John Edwards, got less than three percent of the vote. By contrast, the Republicans had three candidates who have won primaries and their fourth place candidate, Ron Paul, drew a more substantial number than did Edwards.

The other anomaly, that “Since Romney dropped out, Huckabee’s vote percentage has grown more than McCain’s,” really isn’t that hard to explain. McCain all but mathematically sewed up the nomination when Romney withdrew, so there’s not exactly a lot of incentive for his supporters to turn out. Huckabee, by contrast, appeals to an angry subset of the nominating electorate eager to send a “message.”

Generally speaking, trying to draw much meaning from popular vote percentages in different elections strikes me as, so to speak, fruitless.[*] Republicans who continue to chime on about how “Bill Clinton never won a majority!” while failing to note that Ross Perot won a significant percentage of the vote in both 1992 and 1996 may derive some small comfort but they’re not making a particularly interesting point.

via Steven Taylor

*UPDATE: Shugart explains in the comments that this isn’t what he was trying to do. Rather, this was one of a series of posts examining the differences of the Democrats’ predominantly proportional system vice the Republican’s winner-take-all predominant system.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    Has Paul actually received more votes than Edwards, or just a higher share of his party’s primary/caucus votes? The two are not necessarily the same this year

  2. James Joyner says:

    The comparison is of percentage of the aggregated popular vote.

  3. DL says:

    “McCain has yet to crack 40% of Republicans.”

    Looks like Mc Cain leading the charge on a white horse alright – with many Republicans preferring to vote for the horse.

    Grumble grumble…300 million people…and look what we are forced to vote for..grumble grumble.

  4. MSS says:

    The context in which I pointed out the popular-vote totals was not one of either surprise or comparison of the fields across the parties. Rather, as I develop in the post (and thanks much for the link), and a later one the same day, the point was that the delegate-allocation process has made all the difference. That’s where the interesting comparisons are.

    The Republican race is over, due to the bloc-plurality allocation of delegates (“winner take all”) used in that party. If the GOP allocated its delegates more like the Democrats do, it is highly unlikely that Romney would have dropped out when he did. It would have still been quite close in delegates, as it was in votes. (As an earlier post showed, the vote was a good deal closer when Romney dropped out than it was in the later post you linked to.) And, given recent news, maybe Romney could have capitalized on the obvious discontent in parts of the party’s electorate.

    On the Democratic side, it is interesting that Obama has pulled ahead clearly, even though it has taken some time for the media to get off the mantra of it being basically a tie that might go all the way to the convention.