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Why the Popular Vote Doesn't Matter

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A few things that the Obama and Clinton campaigns will agree on is that Hillary Clinton will not be able to close Obama’s pledged delegate lead and that both candidates will need the support of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to clinch the nomination.  At this point, Clinton’s strongest remaining argument to this undecided group is the possibility that she will be ahead in the popular vote after the final primary on June 3.

Unfortunately, the definition of popular vote is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder.  Let us look at some of the possible scenarios for calculating those vote totals and how a superdelegate’s preconceptions can color the meaning of that total:

  1. Votes cast in all contests including Michigan and Florida:  Any undeclared superdelegate leaning to Obama (as well as some leaning to Clinton) will immediately reject such a calculation, since whatever the mechanics that led to Obama removing his name from the Michigan ballot, it would make no sense to receive no credit for any votes.  However one wants to gauge the depth of his support in that state, it certainly is more than zero.
  1. Votes cast in all contests including Florida but excluding Michigan:  This is a more reasonable proposition since both names were on the ballot in Florida.  True the state was stripped of its delegates by the DNC, but its popular votes should count towards a tally, right?  Not so fast.  Obama supporters will, without being disingenuous, claim that these vote totals would have been different if he had campaigned in the state and if his supporters believed that the primary results would count.
  1. Votes cast in all contests excluding Michigan and Florida:  Even though it seems unlikely that Clinton will be able to catch up in the popular votes under this scenario, it is not out of the realm of the possible.  The trouble with the argument for Obama supporters is that several caucus states that Obama won do not report vote totals, so by definition this number is skewed.  Even if these vote totals were somehow estimated and added in, such a number would still underestimate Obama’s true strength.  Caucus attendance is typically one fifth to one tenth a primary’s attendance, and as such the caucus results should be multiplied by a particular quotient to more accurately reflect the popular vote.
  1. Votes cast adjusted to reflect caucus results:   Even if Obama loses the popular vote as computed by any measure that one wants to apply, it still wouldn’t matter.  His supporters will argue that if the nominating contest was about popular votes as opposed to delegates, Obama would have run a different campaign tailored to those parameters.  As it is, his campaign strategy was to gain the greatest number of delegates, in which he succeeded brilliantly.

So finally, how can one arrive at a fair measure of what the popular vote is?  It depends what is is (my apologies to Bill).


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Constantine Photopoulos is an author residing in NY and a committed Nader Democrat (i.e. agrees with Nader but will vote for the Democratic Party nominee).

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Why the Popular Vote Doesn't Matter