Perhaps everyone was too busy watching the Super Bowl to notice, but the other Super of the Week — Super Tuesday — is also shaping up to be an upset, albeit a smaller one.
Political scientists and other compromised pundits have been telling us for days now, “Obama has momentum, but it probably won’t be enough.” Maybe — but Zogby, the poll the mainstream loves to hate but that has been hitting it on the money this primary season (except for New Hampshire and South Carolina, which NOBODY got right), has some numbers out that sound some pretty discordant notes for the Billary duet.
According to Zogby, Obama now leads California by 4 points. This is pretty shocking for a state where Obama’s little-engine-that-could campaign was mostly hoping to lose by a small enough margin not to lose too many net delegates. Clinton, with 41% to Obama’s 45%, with 15% undecided, could well still win, but if Zogby’s on track on here, she’ll need a swing back the other direction, and Maria Shriver be damned.
It gets worse for her. Zogby also shows New Jersey — long thought to be a Clinton lock — essentially a dead heat, with a 1% Clinton lead. She has the same negligible margin in Missouri. Zogby doesn’t give results for Illinois or New York, but presumably the favorite son and daughter, respectively, will win those states. In Georgia, Obama’s cruising with a 20% lead, 48-28.
This isn’t looking too good for the second incarnation of the Clinton Inevitability Parade.
Nothing is certain yet, of course. These numbers could be wrong, or the trend could reverse itself in time for Tuesday. And almost no matter how it comes out, it’s unlikely either Obama or Clinton will have anything near a lock on the nomination after Tsunami Day — and that’s a GOOD thing. The last thing we need is more drive-thru democracy.
The reason both candidates are likely to survive Tuesday’s votes, despite such a huge number of races and delegates at stake, is the Democratic Party’s proportional representation rules for its primaries and caucuses. This is one of the few places in American politics where proportional representation — the principle that if you get x% of the votes, you get x% of the seats — is used. It’s remarkable how radical that logical principle appears to inside-the-Beltway opinion, even though it’s used in the parliaments of most European democracies. The Democrats opted for this methodology for their presidential nominations, under massive citizen pressure, to stop another power grab like what Hubert Humphrey pulled in ‘68.
Proportional representation means that a candidate who wins a state narrowly only gets a few more delegates than the runner-up. This in turn means that the delegates are actually a reasonable reflection of the voters’ wishes. It’s bad news, of course, for the horse race doctors of corporate news, who want to treat the races like a football game. If someone scores a last-minute touchdown and barely pulls it out, they are purely and simply the winner, says the pundits. The other candidate is the LOSER, and who likes losers?
The Republicans obligingly have winner-take-all rules in many states. That’s why the Republican race, despite having three strong candidates, may well collapse in the near future.
But the Democrats insist on making the election at least a little bit about the voters, and not altogether about the horse race. That’s why the punditocracy has been so obsessed over the past 20 years with overemphasizing the results of each early primary while breathlessly blathering about how this dooms the candidate who has finished a strong second or third in the first one or two races. (I discussed this in a piece I wrote right after New Hampshire.) They have quite literally been trying to cancel out the democratizing effects of proportional representation on delegate selection by triggering early stampedes. Starting in the nineties, the media had achieved stunning success with this technique — until this year, when the voters decided to be ornery.
Of course, the pundits are still falling over themselves demanding that the races narrow down to a small number of candidates who agree on almost everything anyway. Better yet, they say, let’s have only ONE candidate — the kind of choice you got in a Soviet election. God bless America.
Trouble for them is, it may not be happening. And that’s good news, not only for Obama supporters, but for anyone who thinks We the People should not yet be phased out as a factor in American politics.