Dicing the Democratic Vote

Jun 1, 2008 9:11pm

Hillary Clinton is still contending that she's ahead in the Democratic popular vote, repeating that claim Sunday in a TV ad airing in Montana and South Dakota. But figuring in the DNC's weekend machinations, there are reasonable arguments to the contrary.

As I've been reporting the last few weeks, it's a real challenge to compute a sensible Democratic vote total. But in four ways we've figured it, Clinton leads in just one – awarding her all her votes in Michigan and giving zero there to Barack Obama, who stayed off the Michigan ballot to respect a DNC dispute with the state party.

One bit's easy: Puerto Rico. With all precincts reporting from Sunday's primary there, Clinton won by 141,662 votes. We've added that to the tally below.

A continued problem is what to do with the five state caucuses that didn't bother to tally votes; I've previously proposed a way to handle that (see here for details). I've gone on to propose tallies including Michigan and Florida (where the candidates didn’t campaign, in another DNC/state party kerfuffle), including only Florida, and excluding both.

The DNC's Rules Committee's work this weekend offers another option. It seems fair now to use the popular vote in Florida, since the DNC is seating all that state's delegates (albeit at a half-vote each). The question is Michigan – and given the DNC's action there's an argument now for awarding the uncommitted vote there to Obama.

That's because the Rules Committee gave Clinton 54 percent and Obama 46 percent of the Michigan delegates. Obama didn't actually get any votes in Michigan, but the delegate award suggests that the DNC is allocating the uncommitteds to him (albeit not exactly on a 1-1 basis). The vote in Michigan was 55 percent for Clinton, 40 percent for uncommitted and 5 percent for other candidates. So we've run another calculation below giving the uncommitted vote, 40 percent of Michigan's total, to Obama. That nets him just over 238,000, well, "votes."

It's worth noting that the Rules Committee also didn't allocate delegates to vote totals on precisely a 1-1 basis in Florida (there's a 15-percent threshold to qualify for delegates). There it gave 57 percent of the delegates to Clinton, 36 percent to Obama and 7 percent to John Edwards. The actual popular vote was 50-33-14 percent. Since we're using votes cast rather than votes apportioned by delegate allocations in Michigan, and wherever else possible, we'll stick with that approach in Florida.

As noted, in three of the four scenarios below, we find Obama leading in the popular vote, or "vote," even with Clinton's Puerto Rico blowout. Only in one – counting all her Michigan votes, and zero there for Obama – does she come out on top.

None of this, though, is the final word. As discussed previously, we've done at least a few things here with which reasonable people can disagree. In Washington, where no caucus count at all is available, we've used results of the separate, non-binding beauty contest primary. In Nebraska, where a caucus count is available, we did not include that state's beauty contest primary.

Toughest is Texas, where we've counted both the primary and an estimate of the vote in the state's caucuses, since these separate events both awarded delegates. But admittedly there's a double count there, since you had to vote in the Texas primary to attend a caucus. Take the Texas caucuses out of the equation and Obama loses around 108,000 votes (by our admittedly rough estimate – again see here), moving Clinton slightly ahead, even with 40 percent of Michigan going to Obama.

At the end of the day, what we really learn from all this is that the popular vote in the Democratic primaries and caucuses has been darned close – so close that, with the klugey nature of the vote count, for anyone to claim a clear and convincing lead in the total vote is a dicey proposition at best.

           With FL vote and       With FL vote and         MI uncommited to Obama    MI zero to Obama Obama       18,551,043              18,312,875Clinton     18,485,290              18,485,290

            Ob +65,753             Cl +172,415

             Without                 With FL,            MI and FL               Without MIObama       17,736,661              18,312,875Clinton     17,285,995              18,156,981

           Ob +450,666             Ob +155,894
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