Here is a hypothetical: Michigan holds a caucus in May and Florida a primary in June. At the convention Obama has a 135 pledged delegate lead (excluding superdelegates) and Clinton has a narrow lead of 25,000 in the national popular vote. Question: Is it legitimate for Clinton to argue that she should receive the nomination based on the popular vote? The answer, absolutely not. To do so would be to change the rules in the middle of the game and deny the citizens of the caucus states their voice at the convention.
There are apples and there are oranges. Typically we know the difference. We have primaries and we have caucuses. And we usually know the difference. Yet, somehow, we now appear to have something that is neither a caucus nor a primary. It is sometimes referred to as the (national) popular vote. The latter is created by totaling the votes from all of the caucuses and the primaries. It is a chimera, a mythical beast, a red-herring with wings, etc. But the folks in the caucus states stand to be, shall we say, disenfranchised by this chimera. Consider, if your state holds a caucus, your caucus will involve many fewer participants than in a primary. When the apples and oranges of primaries and caucuses are combined into one large national popular vote, your state will not be adequately represented. Had the members of caucus states realized this before they set up their systems, they might have reconsidered. But they, as the rest of us, were told that citizens voted for delegates (directly or indirectly).
I have not seen one note in the Media or the Press, not one small asterisk, warning the American people that combining the votes in caucus and non-caucus states is not only unfair to the caucus states, but may misrepresent the strengths of the candidates and undermine the present system. For better or worse, we currently have a delegate system, and we need to play by its rules. By accepting a popular vote lead as definitive, especially a slim national one, the Democrats are inviting chaos at their convention.
The DNC did not send out a warning: Caucuses may be hazardous to your representation. It must now step up to the plate and defend its delegate system.
“The Popular Vote Myth” UPDATE March 9, 2008
In my blog of March 5th I do not claim that superdelegates should automatically support the candidate with the greater number of delegates. I argue that Democrats at the convention should not be swayed by a so-called national vote that is biased against caucus states. One has to make a distinction between the so-called national vote, and the primaries and caucuses that take place within states. In the case of the latter, there are philosophical and prudential arguments for why these results should be considered by superdelegates, although I do not make these arguments in my blog. But this is a different matter than combining the total number of votes in all of the states. Combining votes in this fashion is akin to pretending that apples and oranges aren’t any different because both will do if I am hungry enough.
The issue is whether a so-called national popular vote undermines the representational nature of a delegate system that includes caucuses. It is a question about how we understand the “popular will” given the current system. It is a question about fairness and expectations. We need to discuss these matters now, and not in August.