Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Are Caucuses Really Democratic?

Huffington Post has a great article up on how Harold Ickes, one of the key advisers to Hillary Clinton, was heavily involved in getting the Democratic Party to adopt reforms that have allowed Barack Obama to do well in 2008. Besides pointing out the irony of all this, the article also raises some interesting questions about the use of caucuses in the Democratic Party's nominating process.

This is from the article:

As of June 2, according to RealClearPolitics, Obama had a 157 delegate vote lead over Clinton, 2072 to 1915.

In the 14 states that picked some or all of their delegates through caucus systems this year, Obama won 400 delegates to Clinton's 193, a 207 delegate advantage that more than accounts for his overall delegate lead.

An analysis (pdf) published on TalkLeft found that total Democratic voter participation in the caucus states amounted to 1.1 million people, compared to the 32.4 million voters in Democratic primaries, a ratio of 30 to one. Caucus participants made up 3.2 percent of the total of 33.5 million primary voters and caucus goers combined.

In contrast to the relatively close results in most primary states, Obama won many of the caucus states by huge margins, often substantially exceeding 60 percent. As a consequence, he piled up large numbers of delegates in the relatively low turnout contests.

The TalkLeft analysis noted that Clinton won 11 more delegates than Obama in the New Jersey primary, which she won by 112,128 votes, while Obama won 12 more delegates than Clinton in the Idaho caucuses which he won by 13,225 votes. Similarly, Clinton netted 12 delegates by winning the Pennsylvania primary by 214,115 votes, while Obama came out ahead by 14 delegates by winning the Kansas caucuses by 17,710 votes.

Charles Stewart III of MIT did a separate analysis of primaries and caucuses with results similar to those of the Talk Left study, finding that in primary states, Clinton won 1,557.5 delegates, 16 more delegates than Obama's 1,521.5. In caucus states, Stewart found, Obama won 366 delegates, or 191 more than Clinton's 175.

If Barack Obama goes on to win the nomination and the presidency, then there will not be any great desire to change the system. For the next four years, Obama will control the Democratic National Committee and will have no incentive to change a system that nominated him. If he wins the nomination, but doesn't win the presidency, however, then there will be a lot of discussion about whether we should change the nominating process to reduce or eliminate the role of caucuses in determining the nominee.

1 comment:

Joe R said...

Having working on many campaigns in my life one of the biggest concerns I have is the ignorance of a significant percentage of voters.

Even in this day of the 24/7 news cycle, the fact is many if not the majority of voters do not pay attention.

To me the biggest advantage of caucuses is that for prior to making vote the voters must listen to argumentns from both sides.

Meeting and discussing politics and candidates and making informed choices is the very essence of democracy.

It used to be the norm unfortanly today most voters don't care to make the effort to be informed.