Caucuses vs. Primaries : A Report
What has 2008 shown us in terms of the fairness of the Democratic nomination process? That the caucus system is neither fair nor representative.
Here's an interesting report on the differences between primaries and caucuses and the impact in the 2008 Presidential nomination. I am reprinting it with the permission of its author, P. Cronin. It addresses:
- Voter Suppression in Caucuses
- Disenfranchised Voter Groups & Statistics
- Differential in Voter Turnout Rates
- Popular Vote Disparity
- Estimated Voter Suppression in 2008 Caucuses
- Caucus Systems Distort Election Results
- Vote-spread Differences
- Disproportionate Votes-to-Delegates Ratio
- More Math of Electability
- Other Primary versus Caucus Considerations
- 2008 Democratic Election Snapshot
- What IF: Florida & Michigan
Some highlights are below, but I recommend reading the entire report. [More....]
Here are some stats:
- By the numbers, in 2008 primaries have averaged 400% greater voter turnout in eligible voters than caucuses.
- Of the 33.5 million popular votes in the 2008 Democratic Primaries, caucus voters have
collectively cast only 3.2% of the total or 1.1 million votes.
- the 13 caucus states have 23.2 million eligible voters. The average Democratic voter turnout in 2008 caucuses has been 4.5% versus 19.92% in primaries.
- 42% of Obama’s wins are caucus states, 95% of Clinton’s wins are primary states.
Three states have both caucuses and primaries. Take a look at the different results as to voter turnout and preference in the Democratic race:
- Washington: On February 9, Washington held its statewide caucus and an estimated 245,000 caucus-goers – 5.3% of eligible voters – chose Obama over Clinton by 67.5% to 31.2%, a whopping 36-point margin. Ten days later, WA held a primary attended by 691,381 [15% of eligible voters, ie, almost 3 times the caucus turnout] and Obama won by 51.2% to 45.7%. [Citizens of WA voted-in a State-run Primary. However, the Party-run caucus results are still the legal results.]
Washington allocated its 78 pledged delegates at a ratio of 2:1 [67% to 33%] and Obama got 52 versus Clinton’s 26. He gained 26 delegates. If the pledged delegates had been allocated according to the primary results, Obama would have won roughly 41 delegates compared to Clinton’s 37. He would be gained only 4 delegates. Bottom line: The caucus vs. primary election benefited Obama by a net 22 delegates – 14.5% of the 152 pledged delegates separating the two.
- Nebraska: On February 9, Nebraska held a caucus and only 3.04% of the 1.3 million eligible voters participated. Those 38,571 caucus-goers chose Obama over Clinton 68% to 32% and he won 16 of the 24 pledged delegates. In stark contrast, on May 13th, Nebraska held a primary where nearly 94,000 voters [7.5% of eligible voters] chose Obama by 49.4% to 46.6% ,– only 2.8% instead of the 36% vote-spread recorded in the caucus. If delegates were allocated on the results of the primary instead of the caucus, Obama and Clinton would have received 12 pledged delegates each.
Bottom line: Obama’s 13,700 vote victory in the red-state Nebraska caucus netted him 8 pledged delegates. Compare that to Clinton’s 204,000 vote victory in the battleground state of Ohio which netted her only 9 pledged delegates.
The third state is Texas, and the report has a section on that aw well.
The report asks, "which states are more important to win in the General Election? Which are a stronger indicator of candidate strength and offer a better barometer for voter preference for the Democratic nominee?"
Obama’s 138 pledged delegates lead derived from the 12 caucus states he won is only 18 less than Clinton’s 156 pledged delegates won from all of these hard-fought, primary states: California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Indiana, Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
These Clinton-won states have a combined 220 electoral votes, 87.2 million eligible voters and cast a total of 18,400,000 votes in these primaries. Compare that with the Obama-won caucus states with a combined 69 electoral votes, 21.5 million eligible voters and only 944,000 total votes cast.
The stats show what happens when all states are weighted equally:
42% of Obama’s wins have been in caucus states wherein one-half have not voted Democratic since 1964, 70% voted Republican in 2004, 8 out of the 13 states had only 8,700 to 43,900 voters each and there is a total of 74 electoral votes for all caucus states.
In other words, a comparison of the two systems shows:
- suppressed voter turnout in caucus vs. primary states
- lopsided vote-spread differential between Obama and Clinton in the caucus vs. primary states
- relative impact of caucus elections on the allocation of pledged delegates to each candidate
- disproportionate impact of caucus votes in relation to convention delegates
On the lopsided vote apread differential:
In 2008, the 34 primaries [excluding MI & FL] have produced an average .8 percent vote-difference between Obama and Clinton. By contrast, the 13 caucuses have had a 28 percent vote-spread.
Because of the restrictions inherent in the caucusing process, participants traditionally include the most motivated voters, party partisans & loyalists and voters strongly committed to a candidate and/or the voting process itself. Since this is generally a relatively small subset of all voters, true voter preferences can be skewed.
The result is "a disproportionate allocation per candidate of the 498 pledged delegates allotted to the caucus states [including TX caucus]".
35 Primaries w/FL :
33,832,107 total votes
Clinton + 35,387
Clinton + 62 delegates
13 Caucuses + TX :
1,057,137 total votes
Obama + 299,768
Obama + 193 delegates
In other words:
35 Primaries with 33.8 million voters have Clinton leading in both votes and delegates.
Caucuses with 1.1 million voters gave Obama 300,000 more votes and 193 more delegates.
....After 47 state elections to date, Obama leads Clinton by 152 pledged delegates. 97% of the difference – 148 delegates – is directly attributable to lopsided victories in caucus contests.
As to the disproportionate impact of the caucus results:
Though voters in all 13 caucus states have cast only 3.2% of the total 33.5 million votes so far – those votes control 15.3% of the pledged delegates and 16.4% of the Super delegates sent to the DNC Convention – average 15.5% of the total delegates [626 caucus / 4047 total]. After all remaining primaries the total votes could easily top 36 million, dropping the caucus vote to 2.9% of the total. In that event, 1 out of every 34 votes will determine and control 1 of every 6.5 delegates.
Bottom line: caucus voters will have a grossly disproportionate role in determining the 2008 Democratic nominee.
Put another way:
- 34 Primary States -32.4 Million Votes
- 13 Caucus States -1.1 Million Votes
- 3.2% of the vote controls 15.5% of the delegate selection for the 2008 Democratic Convention.
97% of pledged delegate difference between Obama and Clinton is directly related to the caucus victories, caucus delegates’ account for 1 in every 6.5 DNC delegates and nearly 2/3 of those delegates will vote pro-Obama essentially giving them substantially more clout in determining the 2008 Democratic nominee.
On the impact on the electoral math and map:
21 of Obama’s 29 states won are either caucus states or Red states – including 80% of the deepest Red that have not voted Democratic since 1964 to 1976. With a win in SD and MT, he will finish with 230 Electoral Votes –121 of those from Red states.
Notably, if Obama is the Democratic nominee, he will start the race for the Presidency with 109 Electoral Votes from blue or purple states. That’s 40% of what he’ll need to win in November.
In contrast, only one of Clinton’s 20 states won is a caucus and only 26% of her total Electoral Votes are from Red states. Further, 227 of Clinton’s 308 EV are from blue and purple states meaning that she would start the Presidential race having won states that account for 84% of the EV needed to win the White House.
The 13 Caucus states comprise 26% of all states voting in the 2008 Democratic Preference Election but account for only 74 of the total 538 Electoral Votes in the General Election.
....70% of the caucus states -- – 9 of 13 -- – voted Republican in the 2004 General Election. Those states held 45 of the 74 total electoral votes for all caucus states. In 2000, 8 of the 13 states [62%] voted for Bush.
....There are 185.7 million total eligible voters [VEP] in the 47 state contests held so far. Clinton has won states with 104.9 million eligible voters and Obama has won states with 80.8 million. Moreover, based on VEP, the average Democratic voter turnout in Clinton’s states was 20.1% compared to 15.4% turnout in Obama’s states [17 primaries @ 19.4% turnout and 12 caucuses @ 4.4% turnout]. MI & FL are excluded.
....The United States has a total of 538 electoral votes and 270 are needed to win the Presidency. Clinton has won 18 states with 264 electoral votes versus Obama’s 29 states with 224 electoral votes. MI & FL are excluded.
Page 11 lists a host of reasons caucuses are less representative and fair than primaries. It then finds:
When the results of all 34 primaries are totaled and averaged there is only a .8% vote differential and .8% difference in total delegates –Obama is ahead by 259,000 votes out of 32.4 million and Clinton is ahead by 24 delegates out of 3,114.
When Florida is added in, Clinton leads by 62 delegates and 35,387 votes. These dead-heat Primary results closely parallel national polls in the two candidate match-up since Super Tuesday.
On Florida and Michigan:
Since the DNC stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates, results from these primaries have purposely been omitted from most discussion till now. No Democratic candidate campaigned or ran political ads in either state. However, since both states conducted a legitimate Primary election and posted certified results and since the states have a combined 44 electoral votes and nearly 20 million eligible voters that cast a cumulative 2,345,000 votes [twice the number of all caucus votes and roughly 7% of total votes] readers may want to consider the voter preferences expressed in order to assess candidate electability for the General Election.
After several graphs of number-crunching, the report finds:
If Florida and Michigan are added to all election results, Clinton would gain another 27 and 17 electoral votes respectively and would have a total of 308 – 38 more than the 270 needed to win the Presidency in the General Election. Obama’'s 29 states won have 224 electoral votes which would be 46 short of the 270 needed to win.
Finally, if Florida and Michigan are added to the 47 state elections already concluded [34 primaries + 13 caucus states] there are 205.5 million total eligible voters [VEP]. Clinton has won states with 124.7 million eligible voters and Obama has won states with 80.8 million. In this instance, Clinton would have won 19 primaries versus 17 for Obama.
On the topic of built-in voter suppression, the report explains how and why these groups are not fairly represented:
- Elderly / hospitalized / ill health
- Military oversees or on out-of-state assignment
- Voters out of state
- Voters with kids – especially small children – who can’t get or afford a babysitter
- Workers who can not get time off work, or who can’t afford the time off
- Citizens with limited English proficiency [estimated at 8 to 10 Million voters nationwide]
In conclusion, the report quotes "“Has America Outgrown the Caucus?”" by Tova Wang, a Democracy Fellow at The Century Foundation:
Caucuses, as opposed to primaries, by their very structure violate fundamental principles of voting rights. Their time-consuming, inflexible, Byzantine procedures discourage broad participation, presenting substantial barriers to the right to vote. It is not that the caucuses violate the Constitution—they are run by the parties, not the states, and do not violate voting rights as a matter of law. Rather, because of their exclusionary nature, they go against some of the core values we express when we talk about voting rights, such as the fundamental nature of the right, equality of opportunity to participate in the process, and fair access to the ballot.
Regardless of what reforms are considered, it is clear that the caucus is a deeply flawed method for selecting a nominee, and this problem can no longer be shunted aside.
.... Caucuses, as they are currently conducted, do not respect those rights and should not continue in their current form going forward.
The report concludes:
[I]t'’s been shown that caucus elections not only suppress voter participation but also literally systemically disenfranchise voters such as people with disabilities, military personnel on assignment, those physically incapable of participation and all other would-be voters who can not meet the “exact time and place” physical
attendance requirement. Likewise, it’s clear that caucus elections skew overall voting results and have a disproportionate impact on selection of the Democratic nominee for President at the DNC convention.
From a voting rights standpoint the questions become: When millions of Americans are filtered-out or systemically lockedout of the caucusing process, how can we say we have a nominee who is chosen democratically, by the will of the people? When so many citizens are excluded from the voting process how can we trust the outcome of elections?
....[I]t seems clear that the voter preference of the 34 million citizens who have voted through the open, inclusive Primary system should receive the more serious consideration. Their voices have shown a near-tie race between Clinton and Obama, with Clinton having an edge in both delegates and votes.
While this is the system we have, and in 2008 it's not possible to change the rules in hindsight, we have more than 800 superdelegates who can change their mind up until the convention. The questions they need to ask themselves before making a final commitment:
Which candidate has the best overall education, experience and skill-set to prepare them for the Presidency? Which candidate is better suited to withstand the Republican attacks and unrelenting scrutiny? What core constituencies does each candidate draw? What is the size and voting record of those groups? How marginalized would each group’s vote become in their state’s overall election results in the General Election? How many voters will be lost if “their” candidate is
not nominated, ie, will not vote at all or will cross-over and become the 2008 Reagan Democrats? Which future, powerful voting blocks are at stake, eg, Latinos and youth and would they vote for McCain? Which states are “must wins” for the needed electoral votes? In this Democratic Preference Election, which candidate emerges having won most of those “must win” states?
The superdelegates can decide that all delegates and states won should not be weighted equally in selecting the Democratic nominee. Will they? Probably not. But the system does need to change for 2012 so we don't go through this again.
Update: Several commenters have asked for more information about the author of the report, P. Cronin. Here it is:
Peniel Cronin is the President & CEO of Global Basics and eNameWiz.com. Cronin holds a B.S. in Accounting from Arizona State University and has 16 years experience as an accountant and Director of Marketing for several SMEs.
Cronin directs all strategic development and product/market research and developed the algorithms and database that power the eNameWiz multilingual domain creation and search system.
Representative clients through Global Basics have included the Arizona Office of Tourism, the Nevada Commission on Tourism, the Arizona Shopping Consortium, Shop America Alliance, America West Airlines, Southwest Airlines, AeroMexico and numerous other travel and domain industry organizations. Cronin holds three US & German Patents, several trademarks and numerous copyrights.
Cronin suffers from a disability resulting from a car accident 40 years ago at age 12 which left her "wheelchair bound" for two years, at a time when there were no curb cuts or ramps and nothing was accessible. This is what fueled her passion about the caucus information. She knows what it's like to be locked-out of the mainstream and to be excluded from full participation in what others take for granted.
Comments now closed.
|< The Electoral Map: Can Obama Overcome the Challenges? | Final Media Walk-Through for Denver Convention >|