I’ve been wondering for a while how fair the rules are governing who gets a state’s delegates for the democrats. I feel a little disenfranchised right now, because there is no reasonable way for me to have a say in who is selected from my home state (Wyoming). As a military family, because Wyoming is a “Caucus” state for all intents and purposes we don’t count. My wife is an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter, and at least in the primaries my loyalties follow the same path (though in the general right now my preference is for McCain). It bothers me a little bit that she cannot make her opinion known because she is currently deployed to Iraq, and that the only way I could participate would be to buy two very expensive plane tickets to our home state, then arrange for a babysitter for my four year old daughter while I go stand in a gym someplace waiting to very publicly (vs. a secret ballot) make my selection known.
Because I couldn’t sleep, I decided to take a look at a couple of figures related to how the candidates in this election are selected. An interesting contrast is created when you look at a couple of “what if” scenarios involving the way democratic delegates are awarded. What if the states were awarded like the general election, namely “winner-take-all” vs. the current allocation. If this were the case, the numbers would be Clinton in the lead with 1738 to Obama’s 1559 (at the time I am writing this, Texas Caucus results are unknown, though the primary in Texas has been called for Clinton). My assumption here is that Texas would be awarded solely to Clinton due to the Primary. If you factor in Florida and Michigan (which Clinton won, but don’t count due to moving their primaries up) the numbers would jump to 2051 vs. 1559. In other words, the contest would be over, and Clinton would be the nominee.
As we all know, that’s not the case. The other question to ask is how fair are the caucuses? My personal feeling is that they are very unfair because in general only the most committed of partisans are able to go. Anyone who is sick, cannot arrange child care, works in the evenings, does not have transportation (grandmothers without cars) or is a member of the military cannot attend. If you look at the first in nation caucus (Iowa) roughly 239,000 people caucused for the Democrats this year, and 108,000 caucused for the Republicans. Contrast that to less than 125,000 who caucused in 2004, and it was one of the largest turnouts in the history of the state. This seems like a lot…until you realize that there are 600,572 registered Democrats, 574,571 registered Republicans, and 737,054 registered Independents. Since Iowa is an open caucus, anyone can vote how they want. Iowa’s population is just under 3,000,000 people. This means that roughly 18% of registered voters, or less than 12% of the state’s population had their voices heard. Contrast this with New Hampshire, where 260,000 people voted in the democratic primary and 240,000 voted in the republican primary. New Hampshire’s population is roughly 1.3 million, which means over 38% of the state population voted. Interestingly, Clinton and Obama have split the primaries so far (Clinton won 14, Obama 15) but he has crushed her in the Caucuses (12 to 2).
So what does this mean? To me, it means that rather than have the whole base determine the nominee, a smaller population of the electorate is instead having a disproportionately large say in who could be the next president. Additionally, it means that the Democrats really need to examine their rules for selecting a candidate. At this point, McCain is now the nominee for the GOP. That means while Clinton and Obama are savaging each other and moving further to the left to try to impress the remaining democratic voters and delegates, he gets to spend the next several months painting himself as the moderate mainstream choice. Clinton and Obama will be spending so much time targeting each other; McCain will be able to paint his own portraits of who he is and more importantly who they are. Not the best strategy for trying to win in November.