Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why Popular Vote Tallies Are (Mostly) Meaningless


Photos: Béatrice de Géa / Ozier Muhammad for The New York Times.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battle it out today in Pennsylvania, and everyone's been talking about margin of victory... Is 10 points enough for her to go on? will Barack keep it close? how does a 6 point victory look versus a 4 point victory? I'm totally serious about the last one. Anyway, early exit polls—which are, admittedly, unreliable and tend to favor Obama—have it at 52-48 Clinton-Obama, which would be a welcome development if those results hold up.

To be sure, the percent margin of victory will be important in the perceptions game; however, what really matters is Clinton's absolute margin of victory in terms of votes. Voter turnout will play a big role in this, and a high turnout will likely favor Obama, by all indications. Either way, if Clinton fails to make a significant dent in Obama's 700,000 vote lead, she'll lose one of her (albeit already tenuous) rationales for continuing the nomination process. In short, she needs to make her move now, but she's running out of track.

That said, I really can't believe the popular vote is being seriously considered at all.

(1) The rules stated that delegates would determine the nominee, and the campaigns adjusted accordingly. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe has made the fair point that if the popular vote was going to be weighed heavily, they certainly would have allocated their resources differently. For example, they would have gone all-in in California.

(2) No, the individual state tallies can't be compared to a general election tallies, because there are no consistent rules state-to-state. Open vs. closed primaries, primaries vs. caucuses vs. primary/caucus hybrid systems, some caucus states don't count turnout... Really, how could anyone (other than shadowy Clinton operatives) call these tallies legitimate in any way?

I recognize that this is one of the few avenues left to pursue for Clinton's ebbing candidacy, but jeez! must we seriously entertain this line of reasoning??


Has the whole world gone CRAZY?! Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules??! (Mark it zero!)

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