Friday :: Mar 21, 2008

"The Math" of the Popular Vote in the Democratic Primary

by eriposte

I have always been very clear, ever since the year 2000, that the will of the people is reflected by the popular vote (in my view, many - if not most - "progressive" bloggers and activists also believed that until this primary got heated.) In the Democratic primary, it is a legitimate topic of debate whether the majority vote of Democrats should take precedence over that of Republicans and Independents (more on that in a future post), but let's take a look at the overall popular vote in the Democratic primary to-date to understand where we stand today.

According to the helpful popular vote tally at Real Clear Politics (RCP), here are the leads that Sen. Obama currently has under the following scenarios:

Popular Vote Including
But Excluding
Current Obama Lead
All States
700,000 votes
All States
(incl. estimated count for IA, NV, ME and WA caucuses)
810,000 votes
All States
(incl. estimated count for IA, NV, ME and WA caucuses
and FL primary)
520,000 votes
All States
(incl. estimated count for IA, NV, ME and WA caucuses,
FL and MI primary, and with MI "uncommitted" not
added to Obama's tally)
190,000 votes

Let's dig into these numbers further. First of all, recall that Washington state held both a caucus and a primary and the results were significantly different in terms of turnout and vote margins. As I show in the chart below (this is an updated version of the chart posted earlier; the dashed line is merely intended as a guide to the eye), one of the reasons why Sen. Obama outperformed in many of the caucuses by huge % margins is the generally low turnout in the caucuses compared to the general election turnouts (I discussed this - while giving credit to Sen. Obama for bringing out his voters successfully to the caucuses, sometimes in record numbers compared to previous primaries - in a previous post). This dynamic is even more obvious in the two states which laughably conducted both primaries and caucuses (a complete mockery of democracy, in my view) - WA and TX. The final results from the TX caucuses are pending - so what I show in the chart are the incomplete results (41% of precincts reporting). However, Sen. Obama is heavily favored to win the TX caucuses. In the case of WA, the chart uses the available turnout numbers. Notice that in the caucuses with turnouts approaching that of primaries, Sen. Clinton was able to significantly shrink the gap between her and Sen. Obama (and sometimes win) and in the case of states with both primaries and caucuses, she appears to have done clearly better in the primary, where the turnout was much higher. (Follow me below the chart for more).


The bottom line is that the WA primary is much more representative of the popular vote/will than the WA caucus (even though the caucus is the one formally used by the DNC to award delegates). According to one of RCP's footnotes:

RCP uses the WA Caucus results from February 9 in this estimate because the Caucuses on February 9 were the “official” contest recognized by the DNC to determine delegates to the Democratic convention. The estimate from these four Caucus states where there are not official popular vote numbers increases Senator Obama’s popular vote margin by 110,224. This number would be about 50,000 less if the Washington primary results from February 19th were used instead of the Washington Caucus results.

The second point I want to highlight is RCP's other footnote regarding Michigan:

**(Senator Obama was not on the Michigan Ballot and thus received zero votes. Uncommitted was on the ballot and received 238,168 votes as compared to 328,309 for Senator Clinton.)

To me, Sen. Obama's should technically not get a single vote in MI that was not cast in his name, for a number of reasons. As Jeralyn at Talk Left explained:

By early September, 2007 when Obama took his name off (pdf) the ballot, [he] trailed Hillary in multiple polls.
As Hillary told NPR yesterday about Obama's withdrawal of his name from the ballot:

"That was his choice," she says in an interview with Steve Inskeep. "There was no rule or requirement that he take his name off the ballot. His supporters ran a very aggressive campaign to try to get people to vote uncommitted."

That's being generous. Several media commentators have suggested he withdrew his name was for strategic reasons, wanting to keep Hillary from claiming a win in a race he knew he would lose.

In other words, Sen. Obama voluntarily withdrew his name from the MI ballot even though he did not have to, partly for the same kind of crass political reasons that underlie his intent to disenfranchise MI and FL altogether. However, since there is no revote planned in MI, call me silly but I'm in an overly generous mood today (and only today) - so I'm going to generously award all of the "uncommitted" votes in MI to Sen. Obama and increase his popular vote tally by roughly 238,000 votes.

Third, Florida. Craig Crawford wrote about FL previously at CQ's Trail Mix - "Florida Do-Over Should Not Ignore First Primary Results". Among his observations:

Barack Obama’s team argues that it would not be fair to count the Florida Primary results because both sides agreed not to campaign in the state.

Well, I was here in Orlando for the entire month leading up to that primary, recuperating from a broken ankle and, sadly, watching a lot of television. I saw Obama’s television advertisements every day, several times a day, running on at least two cable news channels. If cable sales procedures really did not allow excluding one state from a national buy, as Obama aides claim, it does not change the fact that the ads were there at saturation levels on screens throughout Florida.

Likewise, Clinton’s labor friends worked the grass roots for her throughout Florida [Eriposte note: I am pretty sure Obama's supporters did the same]. And both candidates played games with the rules by doing photo opportunities or press availabilities while attending fundraisers that did not violate the campaign ban.

While neither ran anything close to real campaigns in Florida, Clinton and Obama did enough to keep it an even playing field and those 1.7 million Democrats who cast ballots on Jan. 29 ought to count for something.

Again, since Sen. Obama has in effect not supported a FL re-vote, it is entirely legitimate to use the results of the FL primary as a reasonable representation of the popular will. The case for this can also be made independently when you read Jon Winkleman and Mary Beth. So, if you take these considerations into account, here is how the popular vote tally changes:

Revised Popular Vote Including
But Excluding
Current Obama Lead (approx)
All States
700,000 votes
All States
(incl. estimated count for IA, NV, and ME caucuses
and WA primary)
760,000 votes
All States
(incl. estimated count for IA, NV, and ME caucuses,
WA primary and FL primary)
470,000 votes
All States
(incl. estimated count for IA, NV, and ME caucuses,
WA primary, FL and MI primary, and
with MI "uncommitted" added to Obama's tally)
428,000 votes

The important number here is the last one - 428,000. To me, this represents a rough estimate of Obama's adjusted popular vote margin given the current state of the campaign (i.e., no re-vote in MI/FL). Why is this number important? As Ben Smith points out in an article asking whether Sen. Clinton can win the popular vote:

In Pennsylvania, for instance, more than 1.2 million Democrats turned out for the last contested Democratic primary, the 2002 governor’s race. Given the higher interest, Democratic operatives there — who declined to be quoted speculating — said they could imagine the vote getting as high as 2 million.

Under that, highly optimistic scenario, an unprecedented blowout for Clinton — a margin of 20 percent, for instance — would give her 400,000 more votes in the state, and still leave her with more than 300,000 to make up.

[Eriposte note: Smith is of course using the 700,000 popular vote gap that excludes FL and MI.]

In other words, given some of Sen. Clinton's current polling leads in PA, it is difficult but not implausible or impossible to see her wipe out Obama's adjusted popular vote lead - including FL/MI, with all of MI's "uncommitted" assigned to Sen. Obama entirely - just in PA alone (setting aside the other contests). She is also on track to end the primary with the popular vote lead amongst primary voters who are Democrats. These are just a couple of reasons why Sen. Clinton is on entirely legitimate grounds in continuing to stay in the primary race and in not listening to the MSM-like blowhards and haters spewing bile at her day in and day out.

In this context, I also recommend Turkana's post "Anything to Win". The post relates to the death of the MI/FL re-vote, Sen. Obama's unwillingness to push for it and the clueless bloggers who suggested previously that Sen. Clinton would be the one against a re-vote, when the reality is that she, the voters of FL and MI and the Democratic party have the most to gain with a re-vote. In fact, it was fairly clear to me that the Obama campaign would have been the one most likely to block or prevent a FL/MI re-vote for 3 simple reasons:

(a) A planned re-vote would destroy the nonsensical assertion that the Democratic primary campaign is over and that Sen. Clinton should drop out.

(b) Sen. Obama will very likely lose MI and FL in a revote and this would result in a significant narrowing of the overall popular vote lead that he has excluding MI/FL. The lack of a revote would take attention away from the 428,000 number and keep the focus on the 700,000 number and it is entirely to Sen. Obama's advantage to portray Sen. Clinton as losing the popular vote, by continuing to disenfranchise MI and FL.

(c) It would once again expose Sen. Obama's general election weakness in the large swing states, given that he will likely lose FL and MI again.

[In fact, even on the delegate "math" side, Obama supporter Chris Bowers has a post worth reading - on MI - where he asks "Does Obama Want a Credentials Fight?" It is undeniable now that he does but I'll come back to the "delegate" math in a future post.]

As Craig Crawford observed correctly at Trail Mix:

How amazing that Democrats have a frontrunner who is seemingly afraid to allow re-votes in Michigan and Florida. Or at least that is how Barack Obama is allowing it to appear.

Obama is all that stands in the way of letting voters try again in those battleground states. That’s probably a winning strategy for the party nomination. But the general election is another story.

For what it’s worth to Democrats, only Hillary Rodham Clinton has ended up with the political incentive to seat the convention delegates from Michigan and Florida. Obama sees no such advantage.

A Democratic national convention without Florida and Michigan suggests the need for an Electoral College strategy that contemplates victory without either state in the party’s November tally.

Tom Watson has more on that. Which brings us to Anglachel's interesting must-read post "Fun With the Electoral College". Here's a key part:

Remember my post from a few days back? I gave a short-hand explanation of the importance of four states in the general election: Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Have fun with the map trying to construct a win for the Democrats that has only two of those states in the blue column. If the two you pick are Ohio and Florida, the win is pretty easy. Take one of those two away, and the win gets harder. You have to win Pennsylvania if you lose Florida, and you are going to risk it if you lose Pennsylvania and Ohio, but manage to hold Florida and Michigan.

What is important is what other states you have to line up if you lose Florida. Even with Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, it is possible to lose the national election. And those scenarios presume you hold the west coast and every New England state, plus West Virginia and most of the upper midwest. Dems have to hold all of the upper midwest and win New Mexico if they don't get Florida.

Anglachel has more here.

Bottom line: The "math" on the popular vote is not as daunting for Sen. Clinton as it is made out to be. She has a difficult but not impossible task ahead of her and she has proven time and again that she can defy the clueless jokers and smear merchants on the internet and in the traditional media. Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left summed up the situation thusly:

It is frankly absurd to hear people, like NBC and the Left blogs, say Clinton should drop out because WE think she can not catch up. Who are we to decide what the voters will do? The voters get to decide. Not the pundits. Not NBC. Not the Left blogs.

But contempt for the voters, of Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and beyond is the new watchword for Obama supporters - from NBC on down.

I have nothing to add, for now.

eriposte :: 2:07 PM :: Comments (72) :: Digg It!