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First, my main source for this is a great piece by Rhodes Cook on Larry Sabito's Crystal Ball '08

Anyway, without getting too deep into the methodology, it's interesting to note that in the two Democratic primary seasons where the popular vote was razor close, we got clobbered in November.  I'm not saying that will happen in 2008, but it is a historical fact.  On questions like this the "sample size" of history is just too small to mean much.

In 1984, Walter Mondale beat Gary Hart by a total of 307,246 votes in the primaries. Jesse Jackson was also a major factor in that race.  

In 1972, Hubert Humphrey actually beat nominee George McGovern in the popular vote by 67,981 votes.  Several other candidates were factors too.  By almost any standard, 1972 was closer than 2008, no matter how much one wants to jiggle the figures depending on questions such as what to do with caucus states, Puerto Rico and the "flawed" (to put it mildly) 2008 Michigan primary.  It is important to note that although McGovern won the nomination in 1972 he really did not have working control of the Convention -- that hurt.

1980 is often cited as a close election in the primaries.  Ted Kennedy went all the way to the Convention but the popular vote was won by Carter by a wide margin.  Of course, for an incumbent President Carter had a weak showing and, of course, was defeated by Reagan in a landslide.  

By any fair reckoning the caucus states should count.  My opinion is that those states should be weighted according to thier importance in the general election, and by that standard Obama would win the "popular" vote by a comfortable margin.  In an election this close, as shown by RenaRF's EVCELLENT front page diary, counting the popular vote is a nuanced, tough question that is depermined as much by assumptions as math.

The solution: abolish caucuses, open the primaries, count ALL the votes equally and downgrade the Conventions to a ceremonial gathering.  For Example, have the delegates simply report the votes -- "Mr Chairman, the great state of XXXXXX, home of the championship college billards team and blah, blah....voted xxx,xxx for candidate x and xxx,xxx for candidate y.  I think it could happen.  Conventions are great fun, I've been to five, but they are obselete relics of the 19th and early 20th century.  The only reason they still exist is because of TV.  As the age of TV dims, it's time to turn the lights out at the conventions too.

Originally posted to howardpark on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:41 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well (3+ / 0-)

    there's at least one factual difference from '72, '84, and '80: no incumbent on either side.  

  •  Tips for Wonkish History (4+ / 0-)

    John McCain on Iraq: "McCain in NH: Would Be 'Fine' To Keep Troops in Iraq for 'A Hundred Years' "

    by howardpark on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:45:52 PM PDT

  •  not sure I agree (5+ / 0-)

    caucuses can serve as a good way of building party organization - identifying those willing to do more on behalf of the party.  That has been the experience of Iowa over the years, as you well know.

    And a primary can give a greater advantage to the candidate who starts with name recognition and has more money, but in a caucus you have to be able to persuade people to do more than merely show up and vote for you.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:46:37 PM PDT

    •  I wrote about this below. (0+ / 0-)

      Texas was my first primary.  It does build the party.

      "I'm a Muse, stupid!" -Serendipity in Dogma

      by Lava20 on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:51:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Caucuses (0+ / 0-)

      I'm not a caucus fan and neither was one of my political heros, Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin.  Objectively, some states seem to love them, Iowa is the obvious example, while others hate them.  For example, the Nevada caucuses of 2008 were, by most accounts, a flop and a mess.  I understand the party building argument.  Outside of Iowa I don't think there is much support for it.  

      John McCain on Iraq: "McCain in NH: Would Be 'Fine' To Keep Troops in Iraq for 'A Hundred Years' "

      by howardpark on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:53:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  speaking for myself, I wish my state had had (0+ / 0-)

        a caucus. I really really do.  If MI had had a caucus, many problems would have not happened.  To hell with primaries.

        A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

        by dougymi on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 08:09:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The reason states love them (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        No taxpayer money used to support a party primary...I believe caucus expenses are paid by the party, rather than the public.

        There is value in both primaries and caucuses if we are willing to recognize that the process is not an election but is rather a party decision. "Democratic nominee" is not a public office--the primary is just a semi-final that allows one to compete for office in the fall.

        "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out." --I.F. Stone

        by Alice in Florida on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 08:32:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Think I saw you at the RBC meeting (0+ / 0-)

    I thought you were sitting on the aisle about six rows from the stairs, near the camera platform.  I was sitting over with Slinkerwink next to the wall, about seven seats from the infamous psycho 70 year-old New York heckler.

    Got a chance to add a guest credential signed by Robert Wexler to my memorabilia collection, though, so totally worth the thirteen hours of my life!

    One more Justice and John McCain gets his wish.

    by JR on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:48:06 PM PDT

  •  I think (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, soros

    Kos wrote a very good article about caucuses.  I attended my first here in Texas.  It made me become more involved.

    There is something to be said for party building.  Considering Texas had both, the popular vote and caucus results were still rather close.

    "I'm a Muse, stupid!" -Serendipity in Dogma

    by Lava20 on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:50:02 PM PDT

  •  Humphrey had already lost to Nixon (0+ / 0-)

    It's a reach to say that he would have done better against Nixon in 1972 when he had already lost the 1968 election to the same person. And Nixon wasn't an incumbent in 1968.

     I have to question the logic of Clinton supporters who want to use this as some sort of example.

    I suspect God of being a leftist intellectual

    by gjohnsit on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:52:46 PM PDT

    •  I did not say that HHH would have done better... (0+ / 0-)

      in 1972, although it is tough to argue that he would have done worse than McGovern.  Humphrey did, however, get more primary votes.  Eagleton hurt McGovern more than anything.

      John McCain on Iraq: "McCain in NH: Would Be 'Fine' To Keep Troops in Iraq for 'A Hundred Years' "

      by howardpark on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:56:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  bad idea (0+ / 0-)

    you wrote:

    The solution: abolish caucuses, open the primaries, count ALL the votes equally and downgrade the Conventions to a ceremonial gathering.  


    Popular vote as being measured by people this year is bogus.      The delegate count is a measure of popular vote, whether a delegate is selected in a caucus or in a primary.

    I like going to a caucus and discussing politics with my neighbors and friends.   I can't do that in a primary.   Especially with elections moving to all mail-in voting.

  •  Intentionally or unintentionally, you have a.... (0+ / 0-)

    ...point: the winner of the primary is perfectly capable of losing in the general election. Let's hope that is not the case this time.

    I have a feeling that the upcoming election will be a landslide.

    Please don't tell me you feel sorry for Ben. Ben is a well cared for dalmatian and has not been harmed by my political views.

    by Bensdad on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 07:54:54 PM PDT

    •  Heh (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Alice in Florida, Bensdad

      By definition this is true.  :)  

      My big gripe with going to a popular-vote-only primary is that relatively few people participate in primaries (or caucuses).  We would run the risk of nominating a candidate who is acceptable to the 30% of voters who bother to vote in the primary but who is unacceptable to the remaining 70% (to say nothing of the independents and crossover Republicans).  Our current system, for all its warts and lumps, allows a bit more input from the party leadership who are looking at a bigger picture than the average primary voter.  I'm all for democracy, but the primary is a method for selecting a candidate, not a true election, except under the broadest definition of the term (we didn't always have primaries, after all).

  •  Mondale / Hart (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, dougymi

    Mondale got trounced by Reagan, and the Democratic party wasn't divided.   Reagan was popular, no matter how much of an idiot we all think he was.   The electoral math would have changed little if Hart were the nominee instead.

    Mondale lost 525-13.    Hart would have lost 527-11 (drop MN from win and replace with Colorado)

  •  I Hate Even Going Down The Historical Rat (0+ / 0-)

    hole in exploring the popular vote. It lends creedence to the fact that somehow Hillary won it. We have to repeat the following like a mantra. Hillary only wins the popular vote if you count the Michigan Soviet election.

  •  1972 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    One thing that seems to have been forgotten about the '72 election - Richard Nixon was impreached for the Watergate break-in.  That henious act sabotagued the Democratics that year big time.  While that may not speak to the correlation regarding popular vote, it does, I think, put the assertion that those that lose the primary popular vote but gain the nomination lose the general election into a different perspective.

    And HRC is only 'winning' the popular vote if you don't count the caucus states - and that's an incomplete measure no matter how you slice it.

  •  Well, (0+ / 0-)

    On questions like this the "sample size" of history is just too small to mean much.

    I'm not convinced that any sample size would provide meaningful historical precedents. You seem to suggest that some empirical approach to history will yield valid predictions. This certainly may have some limited utility in some cases--say, looking at the history of the Greater Middle East and then asking how imperial powers have fared when they tried to invade--but not when it comes to the Democratic Party primary seasons you reference.

    It is true, there has been no presidential election since 1952 when no incumbant was on the ballot--1928 before that--but that is minor compared to how the political context has completely shifted in the last two decades. In each of those three elections, the Republicans had very distinct contextual advantages. Today, I think the Democratic Party enjoys that advantage. The country is, as a whole, to the left of where it was during those three elections, a consequence--I think--of the ultimate failure of post-Reagan conservatism.

    Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

    by JoesGarage on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 08:24:00 PM PDT

  •  "we don't accept the premise of your question." (0+ / 0-)

    MYDD - The land of phantom recs and virtual mojo.

    by soros on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 08:24:56 PM PDT

    •  Double, triple, standards & Harold's hypocracy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eternal Hope, soros

      The funny thing about Ickes and the rest of the Clintonistas is that everybody knows that if the shoe was on the other foot, if Clinton was leading in delegates, he would be arguing the exact opposite position.  

      Just for the record, I think Obama won the delegate vote AND the popular vote.  Early on the great concern was that Obama would win the pledged delegates but the SDs would reverse it and go for Clinton,  That did not happen, thank the lord of your choice!  Also, No way, no how should Michigan be counted because Obama was not on the ballot.  This election was -- according to everybody -- very close but its over on Tuesday. Obama won the popular vote and every other measure, but it was very close.

      We need to do something to change the system because it is a long mess.  In this case we have emerged with a fantastic candidate out of the mess, Barack Obama who I've beeen actively supporting since very early in 2007.  We need change, we can do better and I hope President Obama's leadership extends to change in how we nominate presidential candidates.

      John McCain on Iraq: "McCain in NH: Would Be 'Fine' To Keep Troops in Iraq for 'A Hundred Years' "

      by howardpark on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 09:01:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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