Primary Number Crunching

There's been a long discussion about numbers in comments to Big Tent's earlier post about the differential in voter power among states when it comes to selecting delegates.

For those of you who are number crunchers (and I'm not) here's some new stats on primary voter turnout and age differential among voters from George Mason University's U.S. Elections Project. (hat tip to Red Star Blog.)

How big an impact is the youth vote having?

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    I don't fault the Obama campaign for gaming a bad (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by hitchhiker on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:21:39 PM EST
    system.  I don't fault them for sticking to a strategy that took maximum advantage of his gifts to rack up delegates and build a sort of momentum.

    I think very soon it's going to be obvious that the March 4 elections were key to both candidates -- he needed to win Texas and Ohio just as much as she did.

    What's his argument now for the GE?  The caucus victories are meaningful if they lead to victories in swing states that we need in the fall.  If they don't serve their purpose--which was to create a sense of inevitability for him--they're worthless.

    Obama supporters elsewhere on the web are scornful of the line that "caucus states don't count."  They count.  They just don't mean what Obama wanted them to mean.

    Oh, they count. Just not as much (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Cream City on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:30:01 PM EST
    because they aren't as useful in predicting the GE.

    And that's what matters to the super-delegates.  That is, those who want to win the White House for the Dems.  (I.e., not the Donna Braziles who only want to win it for one candidate, not the Dems.)


    well obama's supporters can't (none / 0) (#34)
    by hellothere on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 12:51:13 AM EST
    caucus their way to victory in the general election. he hasn't and can't close the deal. their will be blowback for the way he has campaigned.

    all this bluster and put downs of clinton supporters has resulted in tepid voters in the ge. i just don't see it and that is unfortunate.


    caucuses (none / 0) (#1)
    by pedagog on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 09:51:58 PM EST
    It seems to me that the voting percentages in the caucuses was very small, so a candidate [like Obama] is able to juke the system by getting a lot of delegates with very few voters in comparison to the primary states!


    The caucuses have GONE (none / 0) (#2)
    by Cream City on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 09:55:55 PM EST
    -- note on the chart that today was the last one.

    (But also note that the chart may be flawed, as it does not include the last primary -- now not a caucus -- in Puerto Rico.  And note that Puerto Rico's population is ten times that of Wyoming.:-)


    Um, I guess I ought to say that as long as (none / 0) (#3)
    by Cream City on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 09:56:46 PM EST
    MI and FL don't have caucuses, the caucuses are . . . GONE.  And good riddance to bad "democracy."

    Interesting, this has only come up (none / 0) (#9)
    by Rainy on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:17:18 PM EST
    since Hillary Clinton has been losing caucuses.  

    Not here, but since it's your first day here (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Cream City on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:27:58 PM EST
    you would have missed BTD dissing caucuses even before the first one.

    Hang around a while, and you'll catch up.


    Personally... (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by kredwyn on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:37:16 PM EST
    I have not cared for the whole caucus process for a few election cycles now.

    Watching them play out on CNN and C-Span makes for an interesting afternoon of total chaos.

    And frankly, the amount of time you have to schedule in order to attend one? If it's on a night I have to teach class, I'd never be able to attend.


    Interesting? (none / 0) (#18)
    by hitchhiker on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:44:20 PM EST
    The issue is what it tells you that Obama must rely so heavily on caucuses and red states to gather delegates.  If you want to win the GE, you have to look at those victories and ask yourself how much predictive value they have.

    If Hillary had Barack's collection of wins and he had hers, they argument would be the same.  

    His strategy was good--win enough caucuses to build momentum, take advantage of a friendly press and a great speaking style, use the internet to pick up the youngest voters . . . but it was all supposed to build toward winning in places like Ohio.

    Honestly, I thought he'd pulled it off after Wisconsin.  Now I'm not so sure.


    Maybe Penn's value (none / 0) (#27)
    by thereyougo on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:20:56 PM EST
    is understated and why she stays with him through thick and thin.

    Expensive as he is, he must know his stuff.


    Get rid of caucuses (none / 0) (#21)
    by pedagog on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:56:41 PM EST
    I think it came up now because we haven't had a close race like this in such a long time and the spotlight has fallen on this ridiculous, undemocratic system.  It's appalling!!

    It has been discussed by ME (none / 0) (#44)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 07:08:17 AM EST
    since before the Iowa caucuses.

    The thing I don't understand about (none / 0) (#6)
    by litigatormom on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:16:16 PM EST
    caucuses is how one candidate can win more caucus votes, and yet not get the highest number of delegates. I know, I know, something about weighting based on past voting history of the district.  But why do that when a primary vote is a primary vote is a primary vote in a state?

    Or isn't it?  And if not, why not?


    Actually primary votes are also (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by RalphB on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:25:29 PM EST
    weighted based on past voting history, like caucus delegate apportionment.  I absolutely disagree with the principle but it's done.

    So, if you increase voter (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by litigatormom on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:57:00 PM EST
    turnout in a previously low voting district, you get penalized for that?

    Well (none / 0) (#32)
    by muffie on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 12:08:11 AM EST
    there's no penalty per se.  I'd stick with non-representative, undemocratic, and stupid as my adjectives.  For the next primary, the numbers would be readjusted to reflect the higher number of voters.  

    This system might have made sense in 1850, but it makes no sense in the present day and age.


    The system favors the candidate (none / 0) (#45)
    by litigatormom on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 08:37:24 AM EST
    who would have won the district four years earlier.  Good job.

    Is PR still winner take all? (none / 0) (#8)
    by Kathy on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:17:03 PM EST
    Read that it's not winner take all. (none / 0) (#12)
    by RalphB on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:26:50 PM EST
    maybe BTD can enlighten about it though.

    he already it... (none / 0) (#15)
    by joei on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:31:07 PM EST
    his best guesstimate 2-1 for clinton

    Although, to be fair. . . (none / 0) (#4)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:06:12 PM EST
    I read that Obama has 53% of elected delegates and 51% of the popular vote so the delegates and the popular vote are running fairly close together (and the popular vote does not include several caucus states that Obama won that only report delegates -- that would narrow the difference even further).

    Nor does that popular vote count (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Cream City on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:16:54 PM EST
    include all of the popular vote, as RCP says that Clinton has the majority of it.  That includes MI and FL.  Denying the delegates does not negate the voters.

    I've seen this reported both ways. . . (none / 0) (#19)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:44:57 PM EST
    but that 53/51 comparison I read claimed to include FL and MI, but not the other caucus states.

    True, but the only states not included (none / 0) (#5)
    by tree on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:13:32 PM EST
    in the popular vote counts, because they haven't announced any statewide vote totals, are Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington. And Clinton won the vote % in Nevada.

    By a small number. (none / 0) (#17)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:44:05 PM EST
    Obama blew out in Washington.  I don't think there's much doubt that the actual voter numbers in those states taken collectively favor Obama.  Do you?

    Well, now (none / 0) (#20)
    by Cream City on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:50:40 PM EST
    this is just confusing.

    Do you mean the WA caucus or the WA primary?

    And what do you mean by the "actual voter count" in a caucus state?  You mean caucus participants?


    Yes. . . (none / 0) (#22)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 10:59:02 PM EST
    caucus participants -- or whatever the majority of caucus states, which do report voter numbers -- use.

    Forgive me, but I don't remember if Clinton won the WA state primary -- but I think in that case the primary didn't result in any delegates, right?  If so, I think it would probably be fair to use the caucus numbers.


    Well (none / 0) (#23)
    by Steve M on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:06:33 PM EST
    The primary turnout was much, much higher than the caucus turnout.  It would be very strange to treat the caucus turnout as the popular vote.

    But the primary. . . (none / 0) (#46)
    by LarryInNYC on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 10:10:47 AM EST
    had absolutely no electoral function at all as I understand it.  It was on a separate date from and did not influence the caucuses, which actually awarded the delegates.

    For that reason, it seems fairer to go by the actual caucus numbers.  The primary in that case seems to me to be more like a public polling enterprise than an electoral one.


    I live in WA (none / 0) (#24)
    by hitchhiker on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:07:52 PM EST
    Obama carried the caucus vote by 2 to 1.  When we had a beauty contest primary a week or so later, he beat her by only 3 points.  In the caucus, the usual tiny percentage of voters showed up, tho' of course it was much larger than in any other year.

    In the primary, the turnout was about 10 times greater.  I don't honestly know what would have happened if we'd simply held a vote by mail primary.

    One other thing--WA rules for the caucus allowed 17-year-olds ONLY to arrive and do same-day registration if they could show they would be 18 in time for the GE.  A significant number of high school seniors showed up and did just that in my caucus, including my own daughter.  :)  The day before, Obama's campaign had arranged for public school students to be taken out of class and bused to his speech at Key Arena.

    This is good campaigning and I was obviously glad to see high schoolers participating . . . but what it means in terms of his strength in the GE I could not guess.


    don't see how you leave the WA primary (none / 0) (#26)
    by RalphB on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:10:34 PM EST
    out since so many more people voted in the primary.

    51-47 primary result in WA (none / 0) (#43)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 07:06:41 AM EST
    Compared to 69-31 caucus result.

    what they do is give a faux sense of success. (none / 0) (#35)
    by hellothere on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 12:52:11 AM EST
    That link doesn't address age (none / 0) (#28)
    by halstoon on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:25:01 PM EST
    except in an editorial from right after Iowa.

    It is interesting, though, to look at how much turnout has jumped.

    For instance, in GA--my home--turnout went from > 1M in 2000--the last open race for both sides--to > 2M this year. VEP turnout went from ~17% to over 32%, and that's with an additional 500k voters in the VEP. It was further interesting b/c Dem turnout only beat GOP turnout by ~97k, yet Obama still beat the top 2 Repubs by almost 75k votes. That tells me that the youth and black turnout soared. Of course, the GOP was split three ways instead of 2, but that is still an indication of Obama's mammoth support.

    In AR, where Sen. Clinton blew Obama out of the water, turnout went from 291k in 2000 (which was 5-1 Democrat) to ~538k, but on 3-2 Democrat. But they also had their former First Lady on one side and a former Governor on the other. Just goes to show you the pride states have in their own.

    CA was interestingly fairly steady from 200 to 2008, turning out ~40% of its VEP. That's pretty high, so Californians are apparently more civic-minded than the rest of the country. At least they take their power seriously.

    Florida did more than triple their turnout from 2000, while adding 2M to their VEP. Imagine what would have happened had the elections been fully certified? The GOP was only gunning for 1/2 a delegation, and, well, we know about the Dems.

    Finally, despite having their own Sen. as one of the favorites in the race, NY turnout actually dropped from 2000, going from 3.1M to 2.4M, going from above 25% to just under 19%. They also had their VEP grow by 600k, so that's about 850k (the 700k drop + 25% of 600k) voters that didn't show up. No. Here it is. The Dem turnout almost doubled, which has been standard, but the GOP turnout took a nose dive, going from 2.1M to 630k. Ouch. Giuliani left a lot of people at home.

    Ok, one more. In MA, where in 2004 they were picking their own hometown boy for president, 620k Dems showed up. This year, that number went to almost 1.25M, nearly doubling. Pretty impressive. But check this out. Also this year, when their former governor was on the ballot, MA Repubs nearly septupled (is that a word?) their turnout, going from > 75K to dang near 500k!!

    Could Romney go for Kerry's seat, ya think?

    Thanks for this post. This was fun. Hope my crunching is interesting to somebody.

    Sniglet (none / 0) (#29)
    by NJDem on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:39:15 PM EST
    I think I just came up with a new term: caucushamockery.  

    What do you guys think?

    Caucuses are undemocratic (none / 0) (#30)
    by Donna Darko on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 11:56:46 PM EST
    Five times more eligible voters turned out for primaries than for caucuses. Caucuses had an average 6.36% turnout, primaries, 29.49%. Obama's won 13, Clinton 1, and they each won 13 primaries.

    I love it... (none / 0) (#33)
    by reynwrap582 on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 12:26:54 AM EST
    I love how the highest participation in caucuses (Iowa, 16.3%) is still lower than the lowest participation in a Primary (NY, 18.8%).

    Forget redoing MI and FL, I won't be satisfied until we redo IA, NV, AK, CO, ID, KS, MS, NM, ND, NE, ME, WA and HI as Primaries as well.  Until that's done, there's going to be no way to truly know "the will of the voters."


    Summary of Caucuses (none / 0) (#36)
    by Stellaaa on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 02:27:58 AM EST
    A minority of typically less that 9% of the voters, except in the cases of Iowa and New Mexico, decides the nominee.  So, pray tell me why is that better than a smoke filled room?  

    Better ratings for the media (none / 0) (#37)
    by Cream City on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 02:36:22 AM EST
    as the story of how media did that with Iowa, which used to get out several hundred delegates statewide, is interesting.  And illustrative.

    So much in our society, and much of it not good, is sadly owing to the creation of 24/7 cable "news."  It could have contributed to a greater good. . . .


    Paid Adverts (none / 0) (#38)
    by Stellaaa on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 02:54:43 AM EST
    Not to mention the wasted millions that go into advertising.  I think we have something to learn from McCain's win.  He did not throw all that money his opponents did into advertising.  Not to mention the combined almost 200 Million by Hillary and Obama.  Stop feeding the MSM.  

    Intent (none / 0) (#39)
    by Stellaaa on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 02:57:26 AM EST
    I still maintain that the caucuses purposefully exclude older women who prefer private voting.  I am curious about the representation of older women in primaries vs.  caucuses.  

    Total opposite, and I agree. (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by reynwrap582 on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 03:05:47 AM EST
    I was a 21 year old male at the Democratic caucus in 2004 supporting Wes Clark.  He passed the viability threshold just barely in my precinct, and in order for my vote to hold for him, I had to stand there for 20 minutes while Dean and Kerry supporters got to tell me I was supporting a bloodthirsty war criminal republican.

    Made me glad that I wasn't able to make it to the caucus this year, considering they all seem to hate Hillary way more than they hated Clark.

    Although, looking back, there were very few older women at the 2004 caucus, and most of them were there with their husbands (and always supporting the same candidate).

    If I never hear the word caucus again, I'll be a happy person.


    Iowa seems fairly attached to its caucus. (none / 0) (#41)
    by halstoon on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 03:17:04 AM EST
    On the Register's FAQ page they make it pretty clear that the Iowa caucus is firmly entrenched, though it apprently didn't start until 1972.

    Caucuses are also a part of American history. True, they were first used in Congress, so participation would have been universal it would seem.

    In fact, the word caucus is apparently a uniquely American word, first penned by John Adams in 1763.

    My question: with all this chaos for the Democrats this year, do you see anything changing in 2012, or 2016 assuming we win the White House?

    I would like to see a national primary. That way people's votes aren't suppressed b/c they become convinced their candidate can't win (Huckabee should've done better in TX, for example) or they don't get a voice at all (b/c the nominee is already chosen, as was assumed would be the case on Feb. 5, but Obama screwed it up). Had things gone as planned, FL & MI would not have mattered. Nor PA, NC, or PR. I would like to see everybody vote together and have the nominee be the true choice of the people.


    I don't know (none / 0) (#42)
    by reynwrap582 on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 05:54:56 AM EST
    If you're talking about a national primary on a single day, I don't know if that's necessarily the best way, it really does seem to favor the person with the most name recognition.  Being able to break the country up into a series of smaller races seems like a good way to get candidates out to every state in the nation...which I think is good, I think I might get to know my candidate better in the Primaries than I do in the GE.

    I'm all for primaries though, and I'm all for a national popular vote.

    I think what I might like the most is a series of 10 races.  You break the country up into regions with an average of 5 states each (adjust it so each race has a similar number of people).  Once a week you have a primary for 10 weeks, with the candidates spending an entire week in each relatively small geographic area, rather than having to fly to 13 different states in a few short days.

    Obviously certain candidates will have advantages in certain regions.  New England will favor one candidate and the southern states may favor a different one.  Randomizing the order of regions every primary season would help keep us away from the 2004 IA effect.  Furthermore, you can keep the results under wraps (as best as possible) until the end of the season, and unveil the winner at the 11th week Convention.  It shortens the primary season from up to 6 months to only 2 1/2 and leads directly into the GE battle.

    The biggest hurdle to this I think would be getting the state dems behind it, since, as far as I can tell the states pay for the primaries, so getting them to do it by DNC rules might not be super simple.

    I think the best way might be to completely circumvent the states.  Registered democrats could get a postcard in the mail at the end of their region's primary week, with a little scratch off area ala-scratch lottery tickets.  Underneath it is a unique code.  They can either log on to the DNC website to cast a vote, or use a toll-free phone number.  I think you'd get massive turnout since you wouldn't actually have to go out of your way to vote.

    Another advantage?  It's way more green and economical than the current system.  Less flying around in jets, more time on the ground, less money wasted on commercial buys (since you can buy a 5~state region) only a little postcard-sized piece of paper per voter (the absentee ballots here in WA felt like they weighed a pound!), and darn sarnit, you actually end up with a popular vote from democrats, everyone has a fairly equal chance of seeing the candidates in person, and the results aren't public until everyone has had the opportunity.

    And it's not like the DNC can't put together a mass mailing, if the piles of junk I get from the DCCC and DLC every election season are any indication.  I'm sure they'd be willing to help!

    It all sounds like it makes sense in my head, so I know there must be a glaring error somewhere in it.


    A lot of it sounds good. (none / 0) (#47)
    by halstoon on Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 12:31:36 PM EST
    I don't personally like the idea of registering, because I do think independents should be able to play a role; after all, we can't get elected without them. But that's just my opinion.

    If we did one national primary, it would not be held on Feb.5; I'd like to see it held over the July 4 holiday/weekend. I like the symbolism of it, and it would give people a chance to be off from work, etc. Maybe hold it over a 3 day period, like early voting is done now. The candidates would still be able to visit the states they wish to target, etc.

    The problem with the regional primaries is that it would still cut some candidates early on, thus denying them a chance down the road. Perhaps that is best. If New England gives you 1%, chances are you're not the right choice, even if the West Coast were to give you 40%; I don't know.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. They deserve to be further investigated.