Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"It's the Electoral College, Stupid!"

April 22, 2008, 3:30 p.m.; April 24, 2008, 2:45 p.m.

Here's an update on these issues from the April 24 New York Times that essentially confirms the assertions in this April 22 blog entry, Patrick Healy, "Democrats Assess Rivals’ Strength in Swing States," New York Times, April 24, 2008 ("exit polling and independent political analysts offer evidence that Mr. Obama could do just as well as Mrs. Clinton among blocs of voters with whom he now runs behind. . . . [H[e also appears well-positioned to win swing states and [has] a strong shot at winning traditional Republican states like Virginia . . . [drawing] majorities of support from lower-income voters and less-educated ones — just as Mrs. Clinton would against Mr. McCain, even though those voters have favored her over Mr. Obama in the primaries. . . . [T]he Pennsylvania exit polls, conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for five television networks and The Associated Press, underscore . . . : that state primary results do not necessarily translate into general election victories. . . . [He] appears better poised than Mrs. Clinton to pick up states that Democrats struggle to carry, or rarely do, in a general election, like Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Virginia, all of which he carried in the primaries.").

Shell and Pea Game Takes Eyes Off Prize

Here are some thoughts to ponder as we await this evening's results from Pennsylvania where the polls will close at 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT.

Up to now the focus has been on whether Senator Obama or Senator Clinton has the most "pledged delegates" -- plus those "super-delegates" leaning in their favor (or publicly committed to them).

Some talk about the popular vote totals of each. Occasionally there's mention of how many states each has won.

(These numbers change from day to day, but so far Obama wins the trifecta. He has about 150 more delegates, 700,000 more popular votes, and roughly 27 to her 14 states.)

More recently, the Clinton camp has been trying to make the argument that the super-delegates (whom she would need in big numbers to overturn Obama's lead) should favor her because she has won (in the primaries) and can win (in the general election) "the big states."

In point of fact, none of this -- including tonight's results from Pennsylvania -- matter.

What matters are electoral votes. Just as the delegate count is how the Democratic Party's rules provide for the nomination of a presidential candidate (though there is some remaining argument about the appropriate degree of independence super-delegates can properly exercise), so do the electoral college votes determine who gets elected president.

In short, the question is not how Clinton and Obama do when running against each other, the question -- for those who put "winning" first in their selection of a nominee -- is how each will do running against Senator McCain in November.

Moreover, the electoral allocation system differs from the delegate allocation system in most states. In the primaries the delegates are allocated between the candidates on a proportionate basis. (In Texas, for example, although the media still refers to it as a state Clinton "won," the fact is that the results were so close from the primary, given the proportional allocation, that Obama ended up with more delegates from Texas than she did -- because of the added boost he got from the Texas caucuses. So much so that Obama, not Clinton, actually "won" Texas -- however little "win" actually means in a proportional allocation system.)

In a general election the electoral votes are allocated on a "winner takes all" basis. In other words, when a candidate "wins" Pennsylvania in a primary they may end up with insignificantly more delegates than the candidate who "loses" Pennsylvania (or, as in Texas, actually fewer!). When a candidate "wins" Pennsylvania in a general election, by contrast, they get all of Pennsylvania's electoral votes.

So the most meaningful question is -- or ought to be -- simply, how do Clinton and Obama compare when matched against McCain?

And of course this very question presumes that the answer can be found in April of 2008, on the basis of polls, to an event in November of 2008 that takes place with secret ballots in closed voting booths.

But that's all we have to go on in April.

And based on that kind of analysis (much of which was done in March) it looks like Obama is the stronger candidate.

1. Some of the states Clinton "won" are states that vote so consistently and overwhelming Democratic that either Clinton or Obama would probably carry them -- such as California, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

2. Even in those states, Obama sometimes runs stronger against McCain than Clinton does -- which is, as noted, more relevant than whether Clinton or Obama won the state when contesting each other in a primary.

3. When important demographic groups to a Democratic victory are more supportive of Clinton than Obama in a race against McCain, Obama often has offsetting strength among other groups.

4. Obama offers the possibility of winning states that appear to be out of reach for Clinton in a race against McCain -- such as Mississippi, Missouri and Virginia. He would have an edge over her in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

5. Senator Clinton's negatives, which continue to increase, could very well result in energizing the Republican base and bring out more "anti-Clinton" voters than Obama would produce.

I'm neither a pollster nor someone who has carefully reviewed all the data. Moreover, as I mentioned, it's a long way from April to November in politics. But here are examples of some of the items I saw at the top of the list after a quick Google search: Justin Ewers, "New Poll Weakens Clinton Supporters' Electoral College Argument; A new poll in California shows more voters now have a positive view of Obama despite Clinton's Super Tuesday win in the state," U.S. News & World Report, March 27, 2008; Robert Creamer, "Clinton's 'Big State' Myth: Why Barack Obama Remains the Most Electable Democrat This Fall," The Huffington Post, March 5, 2008, 5:48 p.m. ET; Spin Cycle, "Electoral Votes: How Obama/Clinton Would Win," newsday.com, March 6, 2008; Electoral Votes States Won.

Frankly, I admire Senator Joe Biden for his comment (at an early rally in Iowa City) that, "There are some things worth losing elections for." I don't think that "winning is the only thing." I have often supported long-shot candidates because of my admiration for their integrity and idealism.

So I'll be watching tonight's returns from that perspective like everybody else. I have my favorite.

But I'd also kind of like to win this time. And, from that perspective -- within limits -- it doesn't really matter very much how Pennsylvanians vote in a relatively close Democratic primary -- especially one that that doesn't change the delegate count spread significantly and allocates the "win" proportionately.

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1 comment:

Nick said...

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