Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Democrats and the Consquences of Democracy

At Balkinization Prof. Sandy Levinson1 discusses the different effects of the different delegate allocation rules between the Democrats and Republicans. He notes that John McCain is able to, for instance, rack up the entire Missouri slate after eaking out a couple of percentage points over Mike Huckabee. Because it is a three-way contest, he has the full slate despite being rejected by two-thirds of Missouri primary voters.

The Democrats have done away with winner-take-all primaries and as a result, we have a much tighter race. How much tighter? First off, understand that it's difficult to say much definitively about the current delegate count except that it's tight. Check out, for example, this CBS News attempt at quantifying the current count:

    According to the CBS News delegate count, Super Tuesday was literally a draw, with both winning 715 delegates. (Note, however, that many delegates from those contests have yet to be allocated, so the math there could change.) When one factors in previous contests and superdelegates – the party leaders and elected officials who can back whichever candidate they want, and change their mind at any time – Clinton leads, 974-906. If superdelegates are removed from the equation, Obama leads, 778-763.
Then your click through to their running count page and find an entirely different set of figures: Clinton 1022, Obama 945.

Conclusion: It's tight.

So what if everything was winner take all. I put the contests and current projected results in a spreadsheet. Understand that, winner-take-all or not, there would still be idiosyncrasies in delegate allocation. Nonetheless, if all states followed strict w-t-a rules the current count would be: Clinton 1326, Obama 921. Clinton wouldn't be in a commanding lead, but certainly we would be talking about her as a clear favorite as opposed to being essentially tied.

This is not all good. As Levinson notes, and Open Left has quantified, the nominee will likely be decided by the superdelegates. That could get extremely ugly. Alternatively, Clinton may successfully lobby to have the Florida and Michigan delegations count after all. Neither would be a good outcome.

On top of that, it may benefit McCain simply to have the nomination sown up well in advance of the convention.

As this plays out, the party leadership will no doubt be watching and thinking about the wisest course. Democracy, especially proportional representation, is a fine ideal. But is it worth losing a general election for?

1As usually happens when trying to blog and watch kids at the same time, I went brain-dead. I called Prof. Levinson "Sandy Berger" in the original version of the post. Different guy, to say the least.


TBMD said...

Sandy Berger? Could be a libel action in your future... hope you know a good lawyer... 8^)}.

Seriously, as I've pointed out to my reader, Hillary Clinton is something of a risky pick for the Democrats, due to her high negatives vs. just about anyone else.

Even worse would be the scenario where she's percived as winning via back room deal making with the superdelegates or by finangling to seat Michigan / Florida delegates.

Up and down the ticket, the Democrats can't afford to have the African American vote stay home becuse they feel their man was cheated.

Ben said...

I think winner take all is the way to do it in the primaries, because that is the way they do it in November (sans Maine and Nebrska).