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By Jay Cost

HorseRaceBlog Home Page --> March 2008

Predict the Race for Yourself

Political analysts have been scaling down Hillary Clinton's chances of victory. Many have taken to offering up numerical odds of her success. A source for the Politico affiliated with the Clinton campaign pegs it at 10%. David Brooks puts it at 5%. The InTrade market has it higher - at about 20%. Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei do not offer a number of their own, but they claim she has "virtually no chance of winning."

I agree that Clinton is more likely to lose than win. I also do not necessarily disagree with these low estimates. However, I disagree with the way these estimates are occasionally presented. There is sometimes an implication that these are precise predictions - when in fact a prediction like this must be very imprecise. This is why I was so vague in offering my own estimate last week.

There are reasons to expect imprecision in this kind of situation. Precision depends in part on the number of variable factors that create that which we are predicting. The more things that must happen for the prediction to come true, the less precise it is. Take an example. Suppose we are predicting whether a pitcher will strike out a batter. We can be reasonably precise. After all, there are just two factors to account for - the pitcher and the batter. Suppose, on the other hand, we're predicting who will win the World Series. Precision is very difficult here. After all, our prediction depends on thousands of factors shaking out in a certain way.

The situation is similar in this election. We can make a prediction of what will happen, and we should predict that Obama is more likely to win than Clinton. However, there are so many factors that will go into who wins the nomination that speaking more precisely than this becomes quite problematic.

Let's examine this in detail. A key issue in determining the nominee is who is seen to have won more votes. Many important factors will go into this perception. They can be organized under three questions. How shall the votes be counted? Who will win the remaining contests, and by how much? What will turnout be? Varying our answers to just a few of these questions can dramatically alter which candidate is favored in the popular vote count. This makes prognosticating a very imprecise endeavor.

First, there are many reasonable ways to count the popular vote. None is obviously superior to the rest. Of course, it does not matter which we think is most appropriate. What matters is what the superdelegates think, as they will be the "tie-breakers" in the nomination battle.

They could approach it in many ways. They could take the basic vote count and choose to exclude or include Michigan, Florida, or caucus estimates. Assuming they want to include the Michigan results and the caucus estimates (for IA, ME, NV, and WA, whose state parties do not supply actual vote totals), they could account for them in different ways. With Michigan, they could (a) give Obama the "unaffiliated" vote, (b) not give Obama the "unaffiliated" vote, or (c) reallocate the vote based upon whom voters claimed in the exit poll they would support if all candidates had been on the ballot. If they include caucus estimates, they could (i) count the non-binding Washington primary instead of the caucus, or (ii) count the Washington caucus instead of the primary.

This implies more than a dozen ways to count the votes. Different counts would achieve different goals - beyond favoring one candidate or another. For instance, the "Exclude Michigan and Florida" counts hew closely to the position of the Democratic National Committee. If the superdelegates think the DNC's posture to the delegates should also apply to the votes, they might prefer those counts. If they have the normative principles of McGovern-Fraser in mind, and want to include as many votes as possible while being fair to both candidates, they might account for Florida, Michigan (giving Obama some share of the vote there), the caucuses, and the Washington state primary.

Importantly, changing the count could turn this from a close race to an Obama blowout, and vice-versa.

Second, what results should we expect in the remaining states? It seems to me that we have very little purchase on this question. Personally, I have been "lost" for the last few days trying to get a handle on North Carolina. It is a highly complicated state that cannot be predicted easily. Yet it will be incredibly determinative. A swing of 5 points in a state like North Carolina could make a difference of more than 60,000 votes.

It's easy to get an illusive sense of certainty on these state contests. An example can be found in this article on Indiana by Anne Kornblut. She sees Obama and Clinton as being "roughly equal" in the Hoosier State - but her reasoning is unpersuasive. One of Obama's big advantages is that he is from a neighboring state with an overlapping media market - but this did not help Clinton in Connecticut or Romney in New Hampshire. In Clinton's favor is the fact that Evan Bayh has endorsed her, but Ted Kennedy's endorsement did Obama no good in Massachusetts. Generally, it seems to me that this estimate is so "rough" that we should not make too much of the perceived "equality."

The biggest problem is with Puerto Rico. We are literally without precedent there. It's never voted in a presidential election of any kind. It is therefore extremely difficult to get an idea of who will win, let alone by how much. An even bigger question with Puerto Rico is turnout. Puerto Ricans are some of the most active voters in the world, and turnout could be very high. But how high? 100,000, 500,000, 1 million, 2 million? Again, we have no precedent for it.

Turnout stateside is more predictable than in Puerto Rico - but there are still limitations. We know that turnout has risen since Super Tuesday. In open primaries, it averaged 66% of the 2004 Kerry vote on Super Tuesday. On March 4, turnout averaged 83%. Will it level off, taper off, or increase? What about closed contests? On Super Tuesday, turnout in those was much lower than in open contests. But Maryland and DC (the last two closed contests) voted at about the same rate as Virginia (an open contest held on the same day). What will happen next?

Once again, varying our answers can dramatically affect the results. For instance, if Clinton wins Pennsylvania by the same margin she carried Ohio, a 10% increase in turnout will provide her a net of 29,000 votes.

Here's the broader point. We have a large number of unknown factors. For many of them, we have very little idea what values they will ultimately take. What we do know is that small changes in several of them could induce large changes in the vote count. This makes it extremely difficult to be as precise as many commentators have been. We need to be wary of all the uncertainty we face here.

It is for this reason that I offer for public consumption the following Excel spreadsheet. It is set up to enable you to plug turnout and vote margins in, and see what effect the changes will have on the different vote counts. It seems to me that, rather than have Politico, the Times, or the Post outline which outcomes are possible, all of us should just take a look for ourselves.

So, predict the Democratic race for yourself.*


* - Note that the initial values in the spreadsheets are not to be interpreted as my predictions. Instead of making predictions, I decided instead to publish the spreadsheet! The initial values are only meant to illustrate the effect that a not-unbelievable swing in the popular vote toward Clinton could have on the race.

-Jay Cost

A Review of the Pennsylvania Primary

The Pennsylvania primary is in four and a half weeks. The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton has an edge in the state. Does this intuition bear out on closer inspection? I have spent the last few days soaking and poking in the available data - and I think it reasonable to favor Clinton in Pennsylvania.

We have talked on this site before about the demographic variables that seem to be driving the election results. The two that I think are the most powerful are the number of African Americans in a state and how "upscale" white voters are.

A state's African American population has a curvilinear relationship with election results. In states with few African Americans, Obama does very well. In states with many, he also does well. Clinton does well in states with a middling amount - say 5% to 15%. Our working hypothesis on this page is that this is due to the fact that Obama is perceived differently by white voters depending upon the racial demography of the state. The "upscale" variable captures the differences in the socioeconomic status of the whites in each candidate's coalition. Clinton is winning "Mondale voters," and Obama is winning "Hart voters." We measure this via median white income.*

These variables are not comprehensive explanatory factors. Other causes are definitely influencing vote returns. However, these two can account for upwards of 60% of the vote results we have seen. Thus, they give us a good starting point to analyze Pennsylvania.

If these are the two variables we shall use to understand Pennsylvania - how shall we employ them? The best approach is to contextualize Pennsylvania in the larger mid-Atlantic region. Comparing Pennsylvania's to its five neighbors that have already voted can give us a sense of which neighbor might best serve as a guide.

Mideast Region Demographics.gif

It appears that Ohio is our best bet. While Pennsylvania is whiter than all its neighbors, and its whites are poorer - it seems to have most in common with its neighbor to the west. Comparing Ohio to Pennsylvania should offer us a plausible baseline expectation for what will happen next month.

Let's push the comparison a bit further. After all, it is possible that Pennsylvania and Ohio appear similar on a statewide analysis, but this similarity is belied by countywide differences. To confirm that this is not the case - let's examine these two variables for all Ohio and Pennsylvania counties. In the following graph, the horizontal axis measures the median white income per county. The vertical axis measures the percentage of African Americans per county. We'll put Ohio counties in Buckeye red and Pennsylvania counties in Nittany blue.

Income and African American.jpg

The chart generally confirms the similarity we found in the statewide comparison. Pennsylvania and Ohio counties have similar distributions - they tend to have median white incomes of less than $50,000 and an African American population of less than 10%.

There are two notable exceptions. First, the blue dot in the top-left portion of the graph is Philadelphia County. As you can see, it has a higher proportion of African Americans than any county in Ohio. This favors Obama - and it is highly likely that he will carry it next month.

The second exception is that, generally speaking, Pennsylvania counties are more homogeneous than Ohio counties. Notice the cluster of blue dots in the bottom-left, and how the rest of the graph seems to be dominated by red dots. Part of this is due to the fact that Ohio has 21 more counties than Pennsylvania. However, this cannot explain the entire pattern. In fact, 67% of all Pennsylvania counties have median white incomes less than $40,000, and a white population of at least 90%. The same is true of just 45% of Ohio counties. This implies that we might see less variation in county-by-county results in Pennsylvania than we saw in Ohio.

By and large, however, it appears that Pennsylvania and Ohio have similar values for these two variables - both on a statewide and countywide basis. Using Ohio as our guidepost, we can make a rough, baseline estimate for what will happen in Pennsylvania.

First, we use ordinary least squares regression to build a simple yet powerful predictive model of the Ohio returns using the two variables listed above, plus one more. To account for Obama's strong showing in the youth vote - which can "upset" the "typical" result in a county with a large college-aged population - we include the percentage of residents aged 20 to 24.

Here's what our hypothesized, generic model looks like:

Clinton's Margin of Victory (Or Defeat) In a County = Baseline + Median White Income in County + Percentage of African Americans in County + Percentage of Residents Aged 20-24 in County + Unaccounted for "Error"

The regression method assigns specific weights to each predictive variable - thus giving us a mathematical equation.* In the end, the model accounts for 70% of all variation in countywide vote returns in Ohio. All three variables are statistically significant, which means it is very likely that we have found a causal relationship between Clinton's margin of victory (or defeat) and these three factors.

We can take this model and apply it to Pennsylvania. Here's what we do. We plug the values of percentage of African American, median white income, and percentage of young residents for every Pennsylvania county into this model. This generates a prediction of how Obama and Clinton will fare in all counties. Next, we take a weighted average of these counties. Counties with more registered Democrats (as of November, 2007) are weighed proportionally heavier than counties with fewer registered Democrats. This provides us not only with a prediction for each county, but also for the whole state.

This model predicts that Clinton should do roughly as well as she did in Ohio. Obama does well in metropolitan Philadelphia, but the model predicts Clinton to be strong through the rest of the state. Ultimately, the basic intuition of this prediction flows from the similarities between Pennsylvania and Ohio. These variables were found to be important factors in Ohio; Pennsylvania and Ohio have roughly similar distributions for these variables; and so, unsurprisingly, Pennsylvania performs similarly to Ohio.

We must not over-interpret these results! This is just meant as a rough, baseline gauge for what will happen. There are important reasons to anticipate differences between this estimate and the final result. Data limitations prevent us from accounting for these differences, and thus inhibit further refinements. Endeavors like this are inherently about doing the best we can given the data we have. Thus, it is important to understand what we have done and what we have not done. Please see this footnote.

Pennsylvania is, of course, a large and diverse state. What might we expect region-by-region? Let's review this by breaking it down by congressional districts. We'll start in the east and work our way west.

Obama should do well in PA 01 (the state's only minority-majority district) and PA 02, which together comprise most of the city of Philadelphia. There are four affluent congressional districts - PA 6, 7, 8, and 13 - that comprise most of the Philadelphia suburbs and portions of the city itself. These are the wealthiest districts in the entire commonwealth - so Obama should be relatively strong here. But how strong? Keep an eye on Bucks and Montgomery counties. Frequently, Philadelphia and its suburbs report their returns before the rest of the commonwealth. If that holds true for the April 22nd primary - the results here should give us a sense of what kind of night we are in for. If Obama scores big wins in one or both, the final results might be close. If Clinton pulls roughly even with him, or beats him outright - she should have a good night.

The fast-growing southeast corner of the state - PA 16 (Lancaster) and PA 19 (York) - should be competitive. As a point of comparison, Carroll, Hartford, and Cecil counties - directly to the south in Maryland and demographically/economically similar - split their votes between Clinton and Obama last month. Of course, it is hard to see these areas having a major influence in the overall outcome of the election. Both districts are heavily Republican. As this is a closed primary, neither district should be a big factor.

Another potentially competitive area could be the Lehigh Valley (PA 15). Historically, this area has been identified with big industries, whose workers we would expect to prefer Clinton. However, in the last twenty years there has been an influx of new jobs here. This might favor Obama. One wild card will be the relatively high share of Hispanics in the district. Will they come out to vote?

As we move north and west across the state, Clinton's margins should improve. The state becomes whiter and poorer. She should do well in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre (PA 11), Harrisburg (PA 17), Altoona (PA 9), and Johnstown (PA 12). She should do well in expansive PA 10, the rural northeast section of the state. Of course, this area is heavily Republican in its presidential politics, so its effect should be limited. Ditto the even larger PA 5 in the center of the state, though Penn State will help Obama in Centre County .

The western portion of the state heavily favors Clinton. In the northwest is PA 3, which stretches from Erie to the northern edge of metropolitan Pittsburgh. Clinton should do as well here as she did in Youngstown, just over the state line. For his part, Obama should do well with some of the wealthier suburbs of Pittsburgh, like Fox Chapel and Mt. Lebanon, which help comprise PA 4 and 18. He should also do well in exurban locations like Cranberry and North Huntingdon townships.

However, greater Pittsburgh is not nearly as prosperous as greater Philadelphia. Expect Clinton to hold her own in these congressional districts, and to do well in Washington, PA in the south (PA 12). Though there are some "upscale" white communities that will aid Obama - on balance, the economic situation of white voters in greater Pittsburgh should incline them to Clinton.

The city of Pittsburgh itself - namely PA 14 - should be a study in the racial divisions we have seen in this contest. There is a large African American population here, but whites in the city outnumber African Americans 2.5 to 1. On balance, Clinton should have an edge. African American neighborhoods like East Liberty and the Hill District will probably go heavily for Obama. White neighborhoods will probably divide by income. Shadyside will probably go for Obama, while Brookline and Bloomfield will probably go for Clinton. The trouble for Obama is that the kinds of voters in Brookline and Bloomfield are more typical than those in East Liberty or Shadyside.

Another advantage for Clinton in metropolitan Pittsburgh is that it is older than the rest of the nation. People aged 65 or older comprise about 12% of the nationwide population. Of the seven counties in greater Pittsburgh (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland) - the elderly make up 17% of the total population. All in all, greater Pittsburgh is older, poorer, and whiter. So long as Hillary Clinton does not insult Ben Roethlisberger or Sidney Crosby, she should do well.


[*] Socioeconomic status can be complicated to capture because it is composed of many, interrelated factors. We have used median white income to measure it on this site. Obviously, using a single variable to gauge a multi-variable concept like this is not always optimal. On the other hand, using many, closely related metrics to explain a relatively small amount of marginal variation isn't either. Accordingly, we use white median income. As individual variables go, it can probably capture most of the effect that socioeconomic status is having on these vote returns.

[*]Actually, we build two models. The first uses the percentage of African Americans as an independent variable. The second uses the percentage of whites. The two produce essentially the same results, although the first is slightly (but not significantly) more precise. Diagnostic tests indicate that both are "BLUE."

[*] I am not going to offer an actual number for fear that it might be misunderstood. I have employed this method only to provide a rough gauge of what to expect. I cannot stress this enough. The more I apply these kinds of quantitative methods to election results, the less confident I am that such methods can supply anything more than a basic understanding of the dynamics. The dangers is that the methods themselves often seem to offer real precision. If you do not approach the results with care and caution - you can run into trouble. In particular, OLS regression is a predictive tool that can offer dangerous illusions of precision.

In this instance, there are two important problems.

First, the model's predictive power in Ohio - 70% - is at same time impressive and insufficient. The fact that three variables can explain 70% of the changes in over 80 counties is a sign that these are crucial factors in understanding how the Buckeye State voted. However, 30% of the variation in Ohio is left unexplained. In a primary election, this can make all the difference!

Second, and as noted above, this model is a baseline. It was constructed around the results in Ohio. Thus, we have assumed that there are no statewide differences between the two states. As we allow for such differences between the two states, this estimate becomes inaccurate.

In fact, we know that there are such differences. The problem is that we cannot measure them very well. For instance, Pennsylvania's primary is closed while Ohio's was semi-open (i.e. Independents were allowed to vote). This could shift the vote margin in Pennsylvania in one direction or the other.

Another important factor that simply cannot be captured is the possibility of momentum. That's not to say that there will be a momentum effect that shifts Pennsylvania one way or the other - it is only to say that there might be. If momentum were to make an appearance, it would by definition imply a shift in the voting patterns of these demographic groups.

Another potential factor is changes in median white income. The income data we have is from the last census. This could create fuzziness for both the model itself and its predictions for Pennsylvania. Recall that the model was built via Ohio. If Ohio counties have experienced changes in median income relative to one another since the census was conducted, our income variable is not picking up it up. In this is case, the model does not perform as well as it would if we had current data. There could be trouble applying the model to Pennsylvania as well. If Pennsylvania counties are now systematically wealthier than Ohio counties - this would shift Pennsylvania closer to Obama. Of course, the size of the shift would probably be small. If growth in median white income in Pennsylvania has outpaced growth in Ohio by $1,000 in the last eight years (in 1999 dollars) - you would only see a statewide shift of about 1.4%.

Joel Kotkin suggested another potential difference at the Politico the other day:

[B]eneath the similarities (between Ohio and Pennsylvania) lie important and perhaps critical differences. Sen. Clinton's new message of old style pessimism not surprisingly played well in Ohio in large part because it is stronger ties to an old-line Great Lakes auto industry now in free-fall. [snip]

In contrast, Pennsylvania's three percent job growth since 2003 - admittedly below the national average - has been jackrabbit fast compared to the Buckeye State's pathetic .5 percent. Most importantly, no place in Ohio remotely corresponds to the size, scale and complexity of the greater Philadelphia region, with its large concentrations of high-end technology and business service employment.

This is an intriguing suggestion, and it could be of relevance. What might be operable here are perceptions of the statewide economy. If Pennsylvania Democrats are more bullish than Ohio Democrats about their personal prospects - Obama might be aided. Of course, median income probably captures at least some of this phenomenon. Wealthier counties probably view the economy more favorably than poorer counties, regardless of the state. Nevertheless, Kotkin's point here is intuitively plausible. As this model fails to account for this difference in perception, we would see a shift from the baseline toward Obama.

There may be other important statewide differences that complicate an effort to make a precise prediction. Thus, we should only use this model to enhance our baseline understanding. If we make it out to be more than this, we run the risk of having a false understanding of the dynamics of the contest.

-Jay Cost

Is This Race Over?

Last week, I received an interesting email from John in Seattle:

I'm amazed that Hillary's NPR interview, in which she flat-out stated that Michigan's election results would not count, does not get more attention in the press. I'd bet that 98% of the electorate does not know about that earlier, contradictory statement. Instead, she's allowed to argue for a Michigan revote with no one calling her out on the NPR interview. You're a prime example. Even though you're widely regarded in the blogosphere as a stalwart for Hillary, could you please acknowledge her NPR interview in some fashion in an upcoming piece?

I am a "stalwart for Hillary?" That's news to me! A few other readers have made the same suggestion - so I think maybe I need to clear things up a bit.

I can assure you that my opinion on the candidacy of Hillary Clinton is not clouding my ability to evaluate its chances of success. Actually, I can do better than that. I can offer several falsifying instances of this theory. A quick perusal of the archives of this page from September and October will show that I was very bullish about Obama's prospects. Again and again I wrote things like this:

Bottom line: Obama's Q3 report is probably going to show at least $30 million in cash on hand. Maybe more. Let us pause for a moment and reflect on the significance of that money ( I can't believe we need to take a moment and do that, but apparently we do). Let us not get overwhelmed by a WMUR poll and lose our cool. Let us remember that $30 million can buy a lot of stuff. One of the things it can buy is a shift of frame in a political campaign. Let us remind ourselves, while we are paused here for a moment, that this freshman senator has something like two billion individual donors and has taken no money from political action committees. This guy is the real deal, ok? He's the real deal. And Clinton is going to have a race on her hands.

I wrote this on September 28, 2007 - when the journalists who now think Obama is inevitable thought Clinton was inevitable. For other examples of my bullishness on Obama's prospects - see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Back then, I received more than a few emails from Clinton supporters calling me a stalwart for Obama!

This serves as a good opportunity for me to review exactly what I think about the current state of the Democratic race. I have written a lot of columns on the subject in the last three weeks, but have failed to tie them together into a coherent argument. So, it may be understandable that readers like John have misunderstood me.

The argument I have been developing bit-by-bit is not that Clinton is likely to win the nomination. Far from it! In fact, I think she will probably lose it. The difference between others and me is that I think she stands a chance to win. It's not greater than 50%, but it is non-trivial.

Let me review the various points that have brought me to this conclusion. Again, I have talked about these separately, but I have never brought them fully together.

(1) Obama will almost assuredly have a lead in pledged delegates when the primary phase ends. However, by itself this does not count for anything. The nominee must win an outright majority of all delegates to acquire the nomination.

(2) Obama will not likely be able to do this via pledged delegates, which means that the decision will be left to the super delegates.

(3) This means that both candidates will have to make an argument to the super delegates.

(4) There are many ways to make an argument to the super delegates. Ultimately, both will have to assert that he or she is the legitimate choice of the party.

(5) One way to do this is via the pledged delegates. Obama can say: "I have won more pledged delegates, so I am the choice of the party." However, the pledged delegate allocation system has biases that seem to favor Obama.

(6) Another way to make the legitimacy argument is via who has won more votes. I think that this could be at least as persuasive as the pledged delegate argument.

(7) There are many ways to count the votes. No single way is obviously the fairest.

(8) Clinton could take a lead in a seemingly fair vote count.

These considerations imply a plausible, but unlikely, path to the nomination for Clinton.

What she first needs to do is take a lead in at least one of the reasonable tallies of the popular vote. This means that she needs to pull a big win in Pennsylvania in April. It is not enough for her eke out a win - she must win by a large margin. After that, she'll need to fight North Carolina to a rough draw. Both tasks will be difficult. I think she could win Pennsylvania big, but I think North Carolina could be tricky.

In fact, I think North Carolina could be the make-or-break state for both campaigns. A big win by Obama should put the race away; a tie would dramatically help Clinton in her quest to take a lead in the vote count. At this point, I am not sure what to expect in the Tar Heel State. It is an issue I am still working on. The second most important question (and second only because it will be relevant only if Clinton survives North Carolina) is what Puerto Rico will do and how people stateside will react. I have no idea how to get any purchase on this one.

If she does take a lead in one of the vote counts, she'll have to persuade the super delegates. In a certain sense, this will be harder for her to do because of his lead in the pledged delegates. For every additional pledged delegate Obama has over Clinton - that is one fewer super delegate he will have to persuade. There is another difficulty for her. Obama will probably have a lead in at least one vote count - which means that, in the best case scenario for her, she will have "won the votes"...and so will he.

Come back to win a popular vote total, and use that to persuade the super delegates. That's her angle. I think it is a tough one, but I don't think it is impossible. I can imagine him ending the race by winning big in North Carolina - but I can also see her winning big in Pennsylvania, keeping it close in North Carolina and winning big in Indiana (held on the same day). That would leave Kentucky, West Virginia, Puerto Rico, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota. There is promising terrain there for her.

I am going to spend the next few days and weeks reviewing this math in a bit more detail. Tomorrow, I will offer an in-depth review of what to expect in the Pennsylvania primary. Next week, I'll try to quantify exactly what kind of vote margin's she'll need, and hopefully (if I can get my mind around the topic) offer something of substance on North Carolina.

-Jay Cost

On Obama's Speech

It took me several reads through Barack Obama's speech to digest its full meaning. The man possesses a sharp intellect that cannot be encountered casually. Though I found myself disagreeing with his assertions at several points, I was mostly struck by the insightfulness of his thinking. My sense is that, for these reasons, the speech will help him in the short run by staunching the bleeding of the last few days.

While I was impressed by his argument, I could not help but return to the central question of his candidacy. He is a man endowed with impressive intellectual capacities - but what public goods have these capacities helped secure? To my mind, the speech points inevitably to this question, which existed long before the Clinton operation decided to exploit it for political advantage. And so, I am left wondering whether the speech will have any net benefit in the long run.

Here is how I read his speech.

Obama opened by arguing that the Framers had a radical vision for "America's improbable experiment in democracy." This vision was partially captured in the Constitution - but was incomplete. The first generation left it to subsequent ones "to continue the long march - for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring, and more prosperous America." What is required for this journey is a recognition that out of many people, we are one nation - "that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction." It is by unifying around common goals that America can achieve prosperity.

Obama understands this deeply. It is part of him, a vision "seared into (his) genetic makeup." The fact that his candidacy has been so successful is a testament to "how hungry the American people (have been) for this message of unity."

Unfortunately, it is easy for this country to be side-tracked by what divides it, and nothing divides it more than the effects of slavery - the "original sin" of the nation. Sadly, both sides have either intentionally or unintentionally made comments to divide the nation during this campaign. Obama identified Geraldine Ferraro by name and Bill Clinton by implication as those who have done this.

Reverend Wright has done this, too. His comments "were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all."

So, why hasn't Obama "disowned" Wright? The answer is because Wright is part of him. As a man who stands at the nexus of black and white - Obama understands the deep complexity of a man the media has cast as a one-dimensional caricature. His vitriol is unacceptable, but there is so much more to him than this. He is a good man who has worked hard for his community, who has inspired many to faith in Christ and given them confidence to work to mend a tattered community. Having grown up when "segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted," his incendiary opinions are understandable, but not excusable. In all, he is a man of deep conflict - much like the African American community of which he is a part. Wright "contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years."

Wright and the African American community are not alone. This duality of good and bad is identifiable in the white community. He can see it in his grandmother, who "sacrificed again and again for (him) - but (was) a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made (him) cringe."

Because of who Obama is, both Wright and his grandmother, with all of their contradictions and conflicts, are part of him.

The persistence of these contradictions is a testament to the fact that "we've never really worked through (the complexities of race) - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect." This tension exists not only because African Americans have not been made fully equal partners in the American dream, but also because many poor whites, Latinos, and Asians have been left out, too. It is easy to fall into patterns of blame and recrimination when everybody is left wanting.

The question is what to do about it. We could focus on the salacious spectacles that divide us. Or we could acknowledge that both sides are profoundly correct and profoundly incorrect - that their grievances are real, but they have failed to understand that progress can only be made by trying to achieve the Framers' vision, e pluribus unum. Each of us needs to recognize that "your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper." This is what his candidacy is about. Obama wants to make real progress by uniting a divided America around a resolution to achieve the nation's common good.

Here is my reaction to the speech.

As an argument as well as a campaign position, I find it to be subtle yet powerful, which is not to say that I am in full agreement with it. I think Obama offers a generally liberal interpretation of the Constitution and the Founding. I also think his prescriptions for the common good are plainly liberal. Accordingly, I think this unification will be harder to achieve than he is inclined to recognize. While most of us see the same "more perfect union" when we close our eyes, we are deeply divided over how to make the vision a reality. Obama's biography, personality, and Hamiltonian enthusiasm for unity will not alter what remains a simple Madisonian fact: power is divided and changes are hard to make. Still, I think these are reasonable, defensible opinions. Usually, we do not see this kind of sophistication in contemporary campaign rhetoric.

I saw where Obama was going by creating the parallels between whites and blacks. You might say that he thinks both groups are "half right" and "half wrong." Again, these are surprisingly insightful comments, given that we are in the fifteenth month of a presidential campaign. I find myself more in agreement with his evaluation of the state of race relations than his conviction that dramatic progress can be achieved by "unifying" the nation. Above all, I was mightily impressed by the courage required to make this argument. He challenged blacks and whites to do better, and he didn't sugarcoat it. This is not a safe political tactic.

I thought it was a bit of a strain for him to compare Wright to his grandmother. Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble. Obama was making a rhetorical point about his personal identification with both group's internal contradictions. It seems to me that, on that level, the comparison was valid - though I do think that this might be grist for his critics' mill, which is why he should have been more careful on this point.

My concern with the speech is the following. I am not sure what I think about Obama's claim that he never heard Wright make incendiary comments. I think that hinges on the definition of "incendiary." More importantly, I have always thought this was a moot point. Incendiary comments make for great television - but the bigger concern, especially for somebody as smart as Obama, is the philosophy that undergirds them. Obama clearly understands Wright's philosophy - even if he never heard Wright say what has generated this firestorm. If nothing else, yesterday he contextualized Wright into the broader narrative of the American racial division. He would not have been able to do that so ably if he had only learned about this philosophy last week.

This philosophy is divisive, and Obama was aware of it even if he had not heard its most extreme articulations. At the same time, this philosophy is clearly not the core mission of Trinity United Church of Christ. Jeremiah Wright does not wake up every morning dedicated to dividing people. However, the antipode of this divisiveness is the core mission of Barack Obama. He wakes up every morning dedicated to uniting people. This is why Obama thinks Wright is not just wrong, but "profoundly" wrong. Wright's divisiveness constitutes a grievous mistake on what Obama takes to be the central question of American identity - are we one people or are we not?

Accordingly, this inclines me to ask what Obama did about this profound philosophical error. He has been a parishioner for twenty years, and he has been a strong believer in this philosophy of unity for at least four years, since his keynote address in 2004. I appreciate that he cannot walk away from Trinity because the church speaks to who he is. However, I must ask whether he worked to persuade Wright and the parishioners who applauded so jubilantly at his divisive words that they were wrong on a matter of existential importance. If he did, what was the consequence of those efforts? Did he succeed in bringing about change at Trinity?

These are reasonable questions to ask. They speak to the implicit warranty that a candidate offers when he or she runs for any office. Candidates make all kinds of promises about what they will do, and voters need to find some way to gauge whether they will keep their word. One way to do that is to look at what they have done. By contextualizing Jeremiah Wright in the broader dilemma of American divisiveness, Obama has identified his experience at Trinity as a small instance of a larger problem that plagues the country, the problem to which he intends to dedicate the 44th presidency. It is therefore reasonable to ask what he did - empowered as he was as a high-profile, long-standing parishioner - to change the viewpoint of Wright and Trinity, and whether those efforts were successful.

The essential problem of the speech is that it gives no answer to these queries. Obama recognizes the problem with Wright's viewpoint, feels strongly that it is part of a problem in society that needs to be corrected, but offers no evidence of his work to correct it. Instead, he says, "Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed." But there are many ways to "disagree." Did he merely shake his head quietly in the pews and complain to Michelle on the drive back to Kenwood? Or did he do something about it? Many parishioners in many churches or synagogues would do something if their pastors, priests or rabbis went astray on an important issue. Many more would expect a future president to do something.

What could be political trouble for him is that these are specific versions of the general question Hillary Clinton has been asking for weeks. Can't you just hear her now, in the back of your mind, say in response to this speech what she has said dozens of times before? "I have been working on these issues for 35 years. My husband and I made real progress in the 90s. You can identify the problems, but what have you done about them?"

Hillary Clinton did not invent this question. She is just exploiting it. The question is a real one that each voter must answer and weigh for himself. That would be the case regardless of whether Mrs. Clinton ever uttered "35 years" or not. Thus, the speech returns us to the essential gamble of the Obama candidacy. It is simply true that his résumé is thin. It is not the thinnest of our past presidents. Chester Arthur probably gets that prize. However, it is thinner than what most Americans typically expect from a president. Obama is betting that voters have the same reaction to the Wright speech as they do to his candidacy itself: they are so persuaded by his insightful diagnosis of the national ailment that they are not bothered by the fact that he has done little to date to cure it.

-Jay Cost

What Will Happen with Florida?

It looks like the Florida re-vote plan is not going to happen. This is from the Miami Herald.

Florida law prohibits election officials from authenticating votes cast in the Democratic Party's proposed do-over primary by mail, state officials said Thursday, a potentially fatal blow to the increasingly embattled plan.

''There's no authority under Florida law that would allow county supervisors of election or the state to verify signatures in an election of a state party,'' said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Florida's secretary of state and Division of Elections.

Verifying the identity of anyone who votes by mail -- either through a conventional absentee ballot or in the Florida Democrats' proposed and unprecedented statewide mailed election -- is considered a key bulwark against electoral fraud.

In addition, the plan floated Wednesday by state party chief Karen Thurman lacked a key requirement to protect the anonymity of voters -- an inner ''secrecy envelope,'' though aides said Thursday that the envelope would be included if the proposal gains momentum.

So, if there will be no vote-by-mail, what will there be? My sense is that the most likely result is no action at all.

The question at hand is whether the status quo - which is no re-vote - will be retained, or whether there will be a switch to some alternative. There are, by my count, four actors who have a say in whether there will be a switch: the Florida Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, and (by virtue of DNC mandate) the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign. Of course, the lines between these four groups can get blurry. For instance, members of Congress could be affiliated with a campaign as well as a party organization. Also, other entities are involved in setting the rules of the game - e.g. the governor decided that a re-vote will not come on the government's nickel. But you get the idea. These four entities are the major players.

Each of them has different interests or goals and, in true Madisonian fashion, all of them are entitled to a veto. Nobody is going to get railroaded here. Either these four entities agree to a solution, or the status quo wins.

This complicates a re-vote.

When different entities have closely related goals, a compromise can often be found. For instance, if this were simply up to the DNC and the Florida Democratic Party, a compromise would probably happen. After all, both groups are principally interested in maximizing participation.

It is also possible to find a compromise when actors have different goals that do not necessarily conflict. This is akin to killing two birds with one stone. For instance, if this were up to the DNC, the Florida Democratic Party, and the Clinton campaign - a compromise might be found. The Clinton campaign wants to maximize its share of votes/delegates, which is quite different than what the DNC or the Florida Democratic Party wants. However, neither side really opposes the other. So, there might be some proposal that accomplishes both goals at once.

However, it is hard to reach a compromise in which actors have mutually exclusive goals and both are empowered to check the other. This is like giving the Road Runner a veto over Wile E. Coyote, and vice-versa. The cartoon would consist of the two of them just sitting there.

That is pretty much where the Democrats are. Consider the following.

Let's assume that the goal of the Clinton campaign is to maximize its share of the delegates without diminishing its share of the popular vote. It anticipates that the Florida delegation will not be seated as it is. It also anticipates that it will have to make an argument to the super delegates, and that these delegates will be at least somewhat persuaded by her popular vote victory in January. So, while it wants to net delegates coming out of Florida, it does not want to do so at the expense of the 295,000-vote margin it won in January.*

Accordingly, the Clinton campaign's decision rule for any proposed re-vote would be:

SUPPORT the re-vote if:
(Expected Total Votes Cast in Re-vote) X [(Clinton's Expected Share of Vote) - (Obama's Expected Share of the Vote)] >= 295,000 votes,

OPPOSE the re-vote if:

(Expected Total Votes Cast in Re-vote) X [(Clinton's Expected Share of Vote) - (Obama's Expected Share of the Vote)] < 295,000 votes,

An example will enliven this. Suppose that 4 million Democrats receive mail-in ballots, and the Clinton campaign expects that 3 million voters will mail ballots back. It also expects to beat Obama 55 to 45 in the vote count. Thus, it expects to net: (3 million votes) X (55% - 45%) = 3 million votes X 10% = 300,000 votes. Accordingly, the Clinton campaign would support the re-vote.

However, Obama would surely oppose it. Why? It helps Clinton! She nets 5,000 votes and at least a few pledged delegates. Plus, the re-vote eliminates the vote count that favors him the most (i.e. excluding FL and MI). It's a loser for him. Generally, any plan that is good for her is probably bad for him, and vice-versa. The two are engaged in a zero sum game. If the probability of Clinton winning the nomination increases, the probability of Obama winning necessarily decreases. This makes a compromise unlikely.

Unlikely - but not impossible. Remember that to delineate this basic logic, we had to make some assumptions. They might not hold. As they fail to do so - it becomes possible for a re-vote to happen. I see three potential ways that we might see a re-vote.

First, it might happen if both sides think they will come out better. Obviously, both of them cannot. Obama's gain is Clinton's loss. Clinton's gain is Obama's loss. However, our above logic assumes that Clinton and Obama have the same expectations. They might not. They might have different estimates of expected turnout as well as different estimates of how each will fare. So, Clinton might think it will favor her. Obama might think it will favor him.

This is not implausible. Predicting election results is tricky - especially primary elections where you do not have the preferences of 85% of the electorate "anchored" by partisanship. Each side might honestly expect that it will benefit from a re-vote. In that situation, both could support it.*

Second, it might happen if one side or the other becomes desperate. Our model assumes that both candidates see themselves as having some chance of victory without the re-vote. If they see themselves as standing no chance - they might be willing to embrace the re-vote even if they expect to do badly.

Remember that expectations play an important role in this kind of interaction. Both sides have to make assessments about what will happen in the re-vote. So, they will have an expectation for turnout and for each candidate's share, but they will also have a range of values in which each number could fall (from best-case to worst-case scenarios). If one side were to assess that it would assuredly lose the nomination under the status quo (or at least that a loss is very likely) - it might agree to a plan under which it expects to be harmed, but under which there is a small chance of great success. In football, they call this the Hail Mary.

Third, social pressure might be a factor. Our above model assumes a kind of "closed system." That is, nobody pays a price for acting in their own interests. This might not be the case - especially in a sensitive situation like this.

There are two types of interests at stake. The party organizations have an interest in openness and/or fairness. The candidates have an interest in maximizing their own electoral advantage. However, they cannot be honest about their interests. Neither candidate can be seen to be "disenfranchising" voters for the sake of electoral victory. That would be a public relations nightmare. So, each must somehow argue that a proposal is not free and fair, even if all that matters to it is victory.

This means that a candidate might be forced to accept a proposal that would leave it less well off. If the proposal seems to everybody to be an open and fair re-vote, how could the candidate squash it without seeming ruthlessly ambitious? That might be what is moving things forward in Michigan. One candidate or the other is going to be better or worse off from a Michigan re-vote. The one that will be worse off (assuming that he or she expects to be worse off) will not want the re-vote. However, if the deal seems to create a free and fair election - the expected loser will have little wiggle-room.

I think this last exception is the most plausible of the three. Maybe somebody will come up with a proposal that creates an obviously open and fair vote. Of course, that has not yet happened - and the fact that it hasn't happened despite the attention of national and state Democrats to the situation does not augur well. Perhaps a successful compromise in Michigan will put sufficient pressure on Florida to hammer out an agreement.


[*] Matters are may be more complicated than this. We have taken these assumptions to illustrate a simple decision rule, which we shall do presently. The assumptions might not hold in "minor" ways, i.e. ways that make the decision rule more complex, but essentially the same. For instance, the Clinton campaign might accept a lower vote margin in Florida if it knew it could net some pledged delegates via a re-vote. This would make her computation more complicated than what we have outlined - but the same basic pattern would hold (her win is his loss; so, whatever she will support he will oppose). The assumptions might not hold in "major" ways, i.e. ways that might actually foster a compromise solution. These are discussed below.

[*] Note that the disagreement might not involve the actual primary results, but what those results imply down the line. Both candidates might predict exactly the same result in the primary itself - but that the primary will have different implications on the broader nomination battle. For instance, Obama might expect to lose a Florida re-vote, but will ultimately have his hand strengthened because it will take the issue from Clinton, who also expects to be stronger by virtue of the primary. In that situation, there is a disagreement about broader expectations that makes a compromise possible.

-Jay Cost

The Puerto Rico Wild Card

Word came last week that Puerto Rico will switch from a caucus to a primary. I did not see much commentary on this switch, but I think it could be a significant wild card in the race.

Two questions come to mind. Just how many Puerto Ricans will turn out to vote? Whom will they support? I personally do not know enough about Puerto Rican politics to answer either question. However, I do have a few comments.

Turnout could be very large. There are four important points to keep in mind. First, Puerto Ricans tend to be better voters than those of us stateside. In the last four presidential elections, our participation rate has been about 39% of the total population. About 2 million Puerto Ricans voted in 2004, or about 52% of the public. Bear in mind that they did not get to vote for president. Those are votes for governor and resident commissioner.

Second, the Republican and Democratic parties do not organize political life in Puerto Rico. The two major parties are the New Progressive Party (PNP) and Popular Democratic Party (PPD). Elected officials in Puerto Rico often align themselves with the Democrats or the GOP - but there the alignments are not systematic. For instance, the current Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico is Luis Fortuño-Burset. He is a member of the PNP and is aligned with the Republicans in Congress. From 1993 to 2001, Carlos Romero Barceló was resident commissioner. He is a member of the PNP as well, but was aligned with the Democrats during his time in Congress. So, "Republicans versus Democrats" does not have nearly the same salience in Puerto Rico as it does in the United States. Instead, the PNP and PPD divide over the issue of Puerto Rico's status vis-à-vis the United States. The PNP is for statehood. The PPD supports a modification of commonwealth status toward greater sovereignty.

Third, and unsurprising considering the above comment, party registration is not a relevant factor in determining eligibility for the upcoming primary.

Fourth, Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, but are not entitled to a vote in the presidential election. This will therefore be the first time that Puerto Rico has had an opportunity to play a major role in a presidential election.

I think that, all in all, this implies high turnout. Puerto Ricans actually vote. Their political questions often involve the commonwealth's relationship to the mainland. The primary is open. And they have not had this chance ever before. That is a potent combination.

The comments of Kenneth McClintock, a DNC member from Puerto Rico, is consistent with the prospect of high turnout:

The rationale [for the switch]? There's no way we could handle more than a few tens of thousands of voters in eight district caucuses, while we can handle a million voters (at least 500 voters between 8am and 3 pm per polling place in each of 1,800+ barrios) in a primary.

By the end of the delegate selection season, we would normally have a pro-forma vote that could fit into caucuses. This time around, it was increasingly obvious that we'd have a turnout well in excess of caucus capacity.

As for whom is favored - I think it is hasty and oversimple to ascribe the same Hispanic versus African American divide to Puerto Rico that we have seen in the United States. Racial perceptions and relations in this country are quite different than those in the Caribbean. I do think a lot could depend on how both candidates orient themselves to the politics of the commonwealth. A lot could also depend on the fact that New York state has a large Puerto Rican population - around 1/4 the size of the commonwealth itself.

What could be really interesting is if there is high turnout that favors one candidate over the other. If we look at the remaining states - we see that a rough draw among the popular votes is plausible. What happens if Puerto Rico breaks the tie? Last February, Michael Barone discussed the implication of Hillary Clinton winning all 63 of Puerto Rico's pledged delegates. He wrote:

My guess is that most American voters, no matter how many times they are reminded that Puerto Ricans are our fellow citizens and that Puerto Rican volunteers in disproportionate numbers have shed their blood for their and our country, would consider it absurd for Puerto Rico to determine the presidential nominee of a major party. And that Hillary Clinton's managers (or Barack Obama's, if you alter the scenario) would not want to have this appear to be the case.

Things are quite different now than they were when Barone wrote this. Puerto Rico's governor endorsed Obama, which was expected to mute if not eliminate Clinton's advantage in the caucus. Delegate selection has switched from a caucus to a primary. Obama has a lead in pledged delegates that Clinton could not overcome even if she won Puerto Rico's all of delegates. And both candidates now have to make appeals to the super delegates. Nevertheless, the situation on June 1st might be strangely similar to the one outlined by Barone. What happens if Puerto Rico puts one candidate over the top in the popular vote? How will the mainland react? How will the super delegates react? Will that help (or harm) the candidate for whom Puerto Rico made the difference?

-Jay Cost

Overworking the Primary Data

In the many discussions of the Democratic nomination on this page - we have talked about the fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama must make arguments (or, as Bob Shrum has said, moral claims) for the nomination. Such claims will have two general points - legitimacy and electability. Each candidate will argue why he or she is the true choice of Democrats, and why he or she is more likely to prevail in November.

We have not heard a lot of squawking from Clinton about legitimacy just yet. Part of this has to do with the fact that, by any reasonable metric, Clinton is in second place. Be it pledged delegates or the vote count - Obama has at least a slight lead. If the primary process were to end today, he would likely be seen as the legitimate nominee. This precludes Clinton from making a claim to legitimacy. She will be able to make a claim for legitimacy if she pulls ahead in votes, but until then it behooves her to avoid discussing legitimacy altogether. Why establish a rhetorical standard that she might not be able to meet?

So, much of the back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama's flacks has involved electability. Unsurprisingly, we have seen both sides making claims that do not stand up to strict scrutiny. For instance, a reader writes in with the following question:

I've been hearing a lot lately that since Hillary won battleground states of OH, FL, and MI (and will probably win Pennsylvania) then she is better positioned to win those states in the general election. But is this actually true?

Not necessarily. Clinton's flacks can indeed be seen on the airwaves arguing this point - but in so doing they are committing an inferential error. What they are assuming is that because partisan Democrats (her core support group) in a given state support Clinton over Obama - the entire state will. This need not be the case. It could just as easily be that Independents and persuadable Republicans would prefer Obama to Clinton in those swing states. So, in an ironic twist, Clinton would win the primary but not the general. Perhaps the Clinton campaign wishes to argue that Obama could not win in the general the voters she has won in the primary. Maybe - but the primaries alone do not indicate whether that is the case.

Obama's supporters have made their own errors. For instance, one can often find them arguing that his primary strength with self-identified Republicans is evidence of an advantage in the general. By themselves, primary results cannot indicate this. The only data we have on these voters is their self-identification. We do not have histories of how they voted in general elections. To argue that Obama's margins among self-identified Republicans is a sign of strength in the general, they would have to show that these voters are typically reliable votes for Republicans in the general who are being wooed away from their party. We cannot assume that this is the case. Remember that there is always a portion of each party that votes for the other side. So, these voters might actually be reliable Democratic supporters who see themselves as Republicans (lots of people see themselves that way..."I vote for the person, not the party" - but it always seems to be that the better person is of the same party!). In that case, their support for Obama does not necessarily portend general election strength. [Though I think Obama is on better ground to point out that, according to the opinion polls, Independent voters seem to like him more than they like Clinton. Likability is a major prerequisite for vote choice - and so this might be a sign that Obama is stronger than she among this group. At the same time, the big question - how much stronger is he? - cannot really be answered in polls conducted eight months before the election.]

Take an example of the difficulty in using the primary returns to argue about strength with Republicans. Last month in Wisconsin, 9% of all Democratic primary voters claimed to be Republican. That works out to be about 100,000 voters. Obama won about 70,000 of them. In the 2004 general election, John Kerry won 8% of self-identified Republicans, according to the exit polls. That implies about 240,000 self-identified Republican voters who supported Kerry - roughly 170,000 more than Obama won last month. So, is Obama expanding the base of the party to voters who typically vote Republican, or is he "merely" enthusing self-identified Republicans who tend to support Democrats? The primary data alone cannot answer this question.

Now - here's the caveat. The point is not that these arguments are untrue. It is that they are underdetermined, which is another way of saying that we just don't know either way. Personally, my intuition is that both might be correct. But that's all I have right now - an intuition. These theories are plausible, and worthy of testing (I am working on a way to test the Clinton camp's argument right now) - but that's it.

Nevertheless, we shouldn't be too tough on the Clinton and Obama flacks for overworking the primary data. Sometimes, you have to throw a lot of arguments against the wall to get a few to stick. And anyway, the primary results have been overworked by lots of people. For instance, some Democrats - and many in the media, for that matter - are pointing to the relatively high turnout in the Democratic primaries as evidence of an enthusiasm gap that advantages the Democrats. Without commenting on who has an advantage in November, I will say that this particular argument is problematic.

Roughly 62.2% of all primary votes have been cast in the Democratic primary. This is an impressive statistic. However, by itself it does not count as evidence of a Democratic advantage. The reason is that Democrats typically out-perform Republicans in the primaries. The following chart compares the Democrats' share of primary turnout against their share of the two-party vote in the general election.

Primary Versus General.jpg

As you can see - 62.2% is far from extraordinary. Even when we exempt the years in which the Republican Party had non-competitive contests (1972, 1984 and 2004), the Democrats typically out-perform the GOP. Pulling in 62.2% of the primary vote is no unique feat for the Democrats. 1996 is telling. Bill Clinton had no serious challenge while Bob Dole faced a protracted battle against multiple opponents. And yet the GOP still only pulled in 55% of the primary vote.

Another key year is 1988. This is the best apples-to-apples comparison of 2008 that there is. That year, both parties had open nomination battles. The Democrats out-performed the GOP by a margin larger than what they have done this year, pulling in a little more than 65% of the total primary vote. Did it do them any good in the general? No. George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis, 54% to 46%.

So, there is apparently no connection between Democratic primary turnout and the Democratic vote in the general. Why not? I would suggest two reasons. First, higher turnout is in many respects a consequence of drama rather than enthusiasm. In years past, the Democrats have had more dramatic primary battles that have intrigued and engaged voters. This year is no exception. Dramatic races might actually have a negative effect on the party because it drains time and money from the eventual nominee.

Second, our system does not weigh votes according to enthusiasm. I think it is clear that there is an enthusiasm gap this year. I also think that part of the vote difference between the GOP and the Democrats might be a consequence of this gap. However, enthusiasm can only do so much for a candidate. If Voter A can't decide whom to support on Election Day, and breaks the tie by flipping a coin - his vote counts as exactly one vote. If Voter B is so excited to support his beloved candidate that he can't sleep the night before - his vote counts for exactly...one vote!

Where enthusiasm has an effect is in the relative likelihood that Voters A and B will vote. Voter B is almost assured to vote while Voter A is much less likely. This is the benefit that accrues to the candidate with enthusiasm on his side. However, the likelihood of Voter A actually voting increases as the competitiveness of the contest increases. Competitive elections generate attention and interest, and therefore participation. This is why, for instance, turnout was down 8 million votes between 1992 and 1996, was back up in 2000 and even higher in 2004. What's the difference? 1992, 2000 and 2004 were intense elections that captivated the nation. 1996 was not.

Where I think enthusiasm could have the biggest effect is in the money both candidates are able to bring in. This is probably one reason McCain is going to press Obama to take public financing. Obama's enthusiastic voters count for just one vote apiece, but they can give him a financial edge over McCain that public financing would nullify.

-Jay Cost

Are the Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

A few emailers have written to ask what the pledged delegate count would look like if the Democrats were to allocate delegates as the Republicans do. This is a good question. Of course, the Republican delegate allocation scheme is a hodge-podge of rules determined by state parties. Nevertheless, Republicans are notorious for allocating their delegates on a statewide winner-take-all basis. Accordingly, I reassigned Democratic delegates on a statewide winner-take-all basis, and found that Clinton, not Obama, would have a pledged delegate lead.

This is not an argument for the way things should be. Rather, it is meant to indicate that we can get a different result depending on how we change the rules.

The Democrats' delegate system is designed to aggregate the individual preferences of Democratic voters into "the choice" of the party. Speaking technically, we would call the nomination scheme a social choice mechanism. Democrats individually declare their preferences, and the nomination process tells us whom Democrats as a group prefer. The above math shows that altering the particulars of the mechanism can change the social choice, even as individual preferences are held constant.

This implies that we can evaluate the Democrats' nominating scheme as a social choice mechanism. We can ask whether it does a good or bad job at aggregating individual preferences into a social choice.

In my opinion, the Democrats' nominating system stinks. It doesn't stink as much as the Republicans' bone-headed scheme, but it still stinks. Before I get into my list of grievances against it - I have to clear away a bit more theoretical underbrush. As I said, a nominating system such as this translates individual preferences into a social choice. Depending upon the quality of the system, it may do a better or worse job.

We might think of it this way.

Preferences of the Voters ->

Social Choice Mechanism ->

Social Choice + "Systemic Influence"

The "Systemic Influence" would be the influence that the system itself has on the outcome. So, for instance, assume that 70% of all voters prefer Candidate A. There is some kind of nominating system that determines who wins the nomination - and Candidate A gets 95% of the vote. The difference of 25% could be called the "Systemic Influence." Importantly, we can never reduce the expected value of systemic influence to zero. There is no perfect way to translate individual preferences into a social choice. However, that's not to say that the Democrats couldn't do a better job than what they do.

The problem for the Democrats might seem small at first. Obama has won about 53% of the delegates, and about 51% of the popular vote. That is a pretty small difference. The problem is that the difference is systemic. The nominating system seems to contain several biases that favor Obama.

First, there is a "small state" bias. This exists in the Electoral College: small states have a proportionally bigger sway than large states. The Democrats have imputed this bias into their delegate allocation scheme. We can appreciate this via the following graph. It compares the number of voters per state who voted Democrat or Republican in 2004 against the number of 2004 Kerry voters (our rough measure of Democrats per state) per pledged delegate to the convention. Don't be confused by this latter statistic. It is really straightforward - Kerry voters divided by pledged delegates. This is meant to give us a sense of how well Democrats in a state are represented at the convention. The smaller the number, the better represented they are.

Graph 1.jpg

This is the small state bias at work. Small state voters are better represented at the convention than large state voters. Notice that the relationship between the two is logarithmic. For sparsely populated states, a small increase in the number of voters yields a big increase in the number of Kerry voters per delegate. With the more populous states, a big increase in population yields a small increase in the number of Kerry voters per delegate. Thus, we see a big difference between Wyoming and Hawaii, but a small difference between New York and California.

We can "linearize" this relationship by taking the natural log of each state's total vote. What this does is essentially turn the r-shaped relationship into a straight line. This might help us pick up on some details that the above graph is hiding.

Graph 2.jpg

As we can see, the basic relationship remains. Voters in larger states are not as well represented as voters in smaller states. Thus, the states form a band that move from the bottom-left to the top-right. Look carefully at it, and you'll notice a curiosity. States at the top of the band are almost always strong Kerry states, while the states at the bottom are almost always strong Bush states.

This implies that Bush states are better represented at the convention than Kerry states, independent of population. For instance, examine the vertical cluster of observations about a third of the way across the graph - Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, West Virignia, Nebraska, and Utah. All of these states had roughly equal numbers of voters in 2004. Look carefully at their ordering. There is a general pattern there. The stronger a state goes for Bush, the better representation the Kerry voters in the state have at the convention. Maine has one delegate for every 16,500 Kerry voters. Nebraska has one for every 10,500 Kerry voters.

This pattern persists across the whole graph - states of equal size get more or less delegates depending upon how strongly they went for George W. Bush. This implies a Republican state bias. Let's examine this directly by comparing Kerry delegates per state with Bush's share of the two-party vote.*

Graph 3.jpg

This data is strongly consistent with the theory of a Republican state bias. Of course, there is evidence of the small state bias here as well. Smaller states tend to be in the bottom-right, and larger-states in the top-left. But the tight band of observations that go from the top-left to the top-right as Bush's share of the vote increases demonstrates this Republican bias very clearly. A few examples can amplify this point.

-Note the states we discussed before - ME, NV, NH, NM, WV, NE, and UT. They are arrayed from the top-left to the bottom-right - with voters in Bush states getting more representation at the convention. Maine and New Hampshire are in the top-left, Nebraska and Utah are in the bottom right.

-Note the distance between Idaho and New Hampshire - both of which have 4 electoral votes and roughly equal populations. There is one pledged Democratic delegate from Arizona for every 16,000 Kerry voters. There is one pledged delegate from New Hampshire for every 10,000 Kerry voters.

-Compare Texas to Illinois. If there was just a "small state bias," Illinois Democrats should be better represented than Texas Democrats. After all, Illinois is smaller than Texas. In fact, the opposite is true.

-Compare Alabama and Connecticut, and you will see the same relationship. Connecticut is smaller, but Alabama Democrats are better represented.

Finally, there is the caucus bias. We already know about this. Caucus participation is much lower than primary turnout - but the DNC does not take this into account when it allocates delegates to states. Accordingly, caucus state delegates have fewer Democrats "behind" them. For instance, for every one pledged Obama delegate from Minnesota, there are 2,862 pro-Obama caucus-goers. For every one pledged Obama delegate from Wisconsin, there are 15,381 Obama primary voters.

This has the effect of enhancing the Republican state bias. Bush's average share of the vote in the 15 states with a caucus process was about 57% (compared to 53% across all states). So, most caucus states get a boost anyway, just for being Republican. When we factor in the caucus bias - we have to conclude that the relatively few Democrats who participate in caucuses are much better represented at the convention than other voters.

The small state bias makes sense to me. The Electoral College has a small state bias in part to protect against regional candidates from winning the White House on a sectarian campaign. It makes sense for the Democrats to have similar protective measures. However, the Republican and caucus biases seem difficult to justify. Why do they exist? Of course, there is a mathematical answer to the question (that is explored in an endnote). Delegates are allocated according to formulas that embody these biases. However, referencing the formulas only begs the question. What we are interested in is why the party has arranged matters in this manner.

I think it is due in part to the fact that politicos have taken lousy care of the parties. The best and brightest of both parties haven't cared enough to manage the nomination process with an eye to the future. They just don't think much about the process, or about the party organization generally.

At its core, the nominating system is a logically inconsistent hybrid. Both parties changed their fundamental orientation to how nominees should be chosen in the 1970s - but they did not bring fundamental change to their nomination systems. Instead, they added openness requirements to the old scheme. State parties still send delegates to a convention that decides on a nominee. The difference now is that they must have open selection methods. What we have then is a Progressive Era variation of a Gilded Era system. There is no internal logic, no answer to the question: if the voters should decide, why retain delegates and conventions?

As a matter of fact, the system has barely been refined since the alterations of the 1970s. Forget redesigning the system to match the times. We're talking about tweaks to improve it at the margins. These don't really happen, either. Politicos created this hybrid with no internal consistency, and never returned to evaluate carefully whether further reforms would be needed to avoid a "perverse" result.

And what is a "perverse" result? Let's return to our initial schema:

Voters Prefer Candidate A ->

Nomination Rules Aggregate Individual Preferences into Social Choice ->

Candidate B Wins Due to Systemic Biases in Nomination Rules

This is "perverse." Candidate B has effectively gamed the system - which is not to say that he intended to, but only that he was the systematic beneficiary of the biases. And so, we see voters preferring one candidate and the process conferring the nomination on another.

This year, Barack Obama is benefiting from several of these biases. So, there is the potential for this kind of "perverse" result. It could happen that Clinton wins the votes while Obama wins the pledged delegates. It need not be this way. No system is perfect, but if Democrats had been forward-thinking about their system - they might not be in such a bind.

This relates to a point I have made before on this page. Our country has done a poor job maintaining its political parties. We pay dearly for our negligence. Every two years, we complain about non-competitive congressional elections. In between elections, we complain that members of Congress are irresponsible and unresponsive. We ask, why is Congress broken? Perhaps it is because the parties - the greatest mechanisms ever invented for managing governmental agents - have been stripped of their power. They have been given over to what scholars call "candidate control." Candidates are not responsible to the parties and the voters they represent. Instead, the parties are in service to the candidates. There is no doubt that the parties of the 19th and early 20th centuries were malfunctioning, corrupt, and irresponsible. But rather than reform them, we decimated them.

I think this nomination debacle is, in part, the fault of our disregard for the political parties. They are these hollowed-out husks that cannot handle the simple task of resolving a two-way dispute. And so, many Democrats want this robust and healthy debate to end because they are worried about chaos, and rightly so. If Clinton comes all the way back, this unrefined, antiquated, foolish system is going to have to settle the matter.

The Democrats' hope is that Clinton or Obama humbly accepts the vice-presidential nomination (you know, the one not worth a bucket of "spit"). I find this indicative of the times. As the Democrats stare down chaos, their hope hinges upon the personalities of the candidates. That's candidate-controlled politics in a nutshell.


[*] For the sake of visual ease - I have excluded the District of Columbia from this graph. DC only gave Bush 9% of the vote in 2004 - including it would expand the horizontal size of the graph and thus reduce the ability to see individual data points in the main cluster distinctly.

[*] Let's take a moment here to discuss the DNC's delegate allocation formula. In particular, how is it that there is a "Republican bias" in it? The DNC computes a state's base number of delegates via an "allocation factor," which is:

Allocation Factor = 1�?�2 × ( ( SDV ÷ TDV ) + ( SEV ÷ 538 ) )

SDV is a state's vote for the Democratic presidential candidates from 1996, 2000, and 2004, TDV is the total vote for the Democratic presidential candidates from those years, and SEV is a state's electoral vote.

I see at least three sources of Republican bias.

First, it does not include a "discount" factor for 1996. Bill Clinton won 12 states that year that John Kerry lost in 2004. That gives the count a slight pro-Republican bias.

Second, and relatedly, it takes no account of turnout by year. Turnout was up drastically in 2000 and 2004 over 1996. This can create "perverse" quirks in the formula. For instance, John Kerry's 13-point loss in North Carolina in 2004 is counted about as heavily as Clinton's 18 point victory in New Jersey in 1996.

Third, and most important of all, partisan differences between states get squashed. The "allocation factor" is actually just the average of a state's contribution to the party's national vote and its contribution to the Electoral College. This favors states that favor Republicans, which can be see if we take a example.

Let's look at Indiana, Missouri, Tennesse, and Washington - all of which have the same number of Electoral College votes (11). We'll examine their share of the Democratic vote, their share of the Electoral College vote, the average of the two (i.e. the allocation factor), and the difference between the average and their share of the Democratic vote.

Republican Bias in Allocation Factor.gif

Look at what happens. Republican states get a boost, Democratic states get a burden. So, Washington state contributed 0.8% more to Democratic victories than Indiana, but its allocation factor is just 0.4% larger. Interestingly, the size of the boost or burden depends upon how Republican or Democratic the state is. A state with no votes for Democrats and 11 electors would enjoy a boost of 1%. A state that contributes 4% of the total Democratic vote and 11 electors would suffer a burden of 1%.

The small state bias also plays a role here. Larger states make up a proportionally smaller share of the Electoral College than small states (for instance, California's population is 72 times the size of Wyoming's, but its Electoral College delegate is only 18 times Wyoming's). Thus, all small states would get some boost, regardless of how they voted. Similarly, all large states face some kind of burden. But the size of the boost or the burden depends upon partisanship. Republican states are treated better than Democratic states.

-Jay Cost

An Email from a Smart Reader (And an Update to Today's Column)

Earlier today - I made the following point:

The Obama campaign is proclaiming they won the Texas caucus by double digits. Indeed, that seems to be the case. Nevertheless, they need to be careful not to proclaim this too loudly. How will it look if Clinton wins a majority of the more than 2.5 million Texans who voted in the primary, but Obama wins the caucus in which about 100,000 people participated? That might help Clinton because it is evidence that the caucuses are not a good gauge of voter preferences. Obama needs to talk up his pledged delegate lead, without reminding people of how it is heavily dependent upon the caucuses. The Clinton camp is going to start attacking these caucuses.

In response to this, a perceptive reader of mine wrote me to correct the "100,000 people" estimate, which I derived (reasonably, I thought) by extrapolating from the results as they appeared at the time I wrote the original essay. He notes that 100,000 is actually the number of precinct delegates going to the Senatorial Conventions. My Texas reader elaborates:

For example, my precinct had about 150 show up for the Precinct Convention, but our precinct was allocated only 13 delegates, which were divided 8 for Obama and 5 for Hillary. These 13 are part of the 100,000 total. Roughly 8,000 precincts in TX, with avg of 12-13 delegates = 100,000. If my precinct were "average" (it may not be) that means over 1 MILLION participated in the TX Primary Conventions.

This is why it pays to publicize your email address. Rob in Houston, I thank you.

This reduces the severity of Obama's caucus "problem" in Texas, but it does not eliminate it. Obama wins a caucus that has a turnout of less-than-half of the primary vote (caucus participation seems likely to me to be less than 1 million - Houston precincts probably "over-performed" - which would be about 36% of the primary vote) - and so walks away from the state with more delegates than the primary vote winner. There is an argument there for Clinton to exploit. Obama needs to have a good rebuttal prepared.

-Jay Cost

How Clinton Won TX and OH

After the Wisconsin primary - there was evidence of pro-Obama momentum. There is no evidence of this from yesterday's two big contests in Ohio and Texas. In fact, Clinton not only regained ground she lost with her best groups, she made marked improvements among key portions of Obama's best groups.

To begin, let's look at Clinton's performance among her best demographic groups. The following chart reviews Clinton's net margin among these groups in non-Southern states through February 18th, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

Clinton in Ohio.gif

As this makes clear, Clinton came roaring back in Ohio last night - winning voters that she had won through February 18th (i.e. the contests through the Potomac Primary), but that she had lost in Wisconsin.

What about Obama? He under-performed in his key groups in Ohio last night. The following chart reviews Obama's net margin among his strongest demographic groups:

Obama in Ohio.gif

Clearly, Obama had the exact opposite experience in Ohio last night. He improved in Wisconsin relative to his prior results, but Ohio was a slide - not just relative to Wisconsin, but relative to his performances prior to it. It was Clinton, not Obama, who won white males, non-union households, the wealthy, and white Protestants. This was a change from past contests.

One constant we saw again in Ohio last night was that Clinton did well among late deciders. She won those who decided the day of the primary by 11 points, about what she won the entire vote by. She won those who decided three days before by 26 points. This is actually an improvement for Clinton. Normally, Obama performs better among voters who decide three days prior. Clinton also did better among voters who decided a week ago. Again, this is a change. Usually, Obama does better with them. All in all, it appears that Clinton again closed well. This time, she started closing a little earlier than she has in the past.

And what of Texas? We see the same basic narrative - although Texas did not favor Clinton as strongly. Let's take a look at the numbers for Clinton in her best groups.

Clinton in Texas.gif

These numbers are roughly consistent with what we have seen in the South to date. Clinton did roughly no better and no worse than she has in other states in the region.

As for Obama, here is how he performed in Texas:

Obama in Texas.gif

Typical for a southern contest - Clinton won white men (here Obama did better among white men than he has in other southern contests) and white Protestants. She did enjoy notable improvement in her standing among wealthier voters and Independents - two groups that Obama typically wins in the North or the South.

What of minority voters, namely Hispanics and African Americans? They performed largely as we have come to expect. In Texas, Obama won African Amerians 83-16, which is about what he has done time and again. In Ohio, he won them 87-13. Clinton won Hispanics 67-31 in Texas - again consistent with how she has performed to date.

What can we conclude from all of this? It should be clear that Texas and Ohio performed in a manner roughly consistent with the states prior to Wisconsin. From this, we might infer that any momentum that Obama developed after the Potomac Primary was not carried through yesterday. Wisconsin did not help him in Texas and Ohio - as Virginia, Maryland, and DC seemed to help him in Wisconsin. The states voting yesterday seemed to vote "normally." Over the next few days, I'll explore this in a bit more depth - making use of the vote totals as they become finalized.

Another point. Last night Clinton made only modest gains among the pledged delegates. As of this writing, no estimate for the delegate allocation in Texas was available, but through the other three states Clinton only netted 26 pledged delegates. This bodes well for Obama, and it is consistent with what we had expected.

However, with some votes left to be counted in all four states, Clinton netted about 330,000 votes on Obama. Those RCP popular vote counts have shifted. Clinton cut Obama's lead that excludes Florida and Michigan by more than 30%; she cut the lead that includes Florida by more than 50%; and (as of this writing) she seems to have erased Obama's lead in the count that includes Florida and Michigan.

This definitely puts her in striking distance of the popular vote lead that includes Florida. She has to win the remaining vote by about 6 points to draw even with him on that count. While it is far from assured that she will do this, it is quite plausible. [She'll have to win by about 10 points to draw even in the count that excludes Florida and Michigan - so that remains more difficult for her to achieve. I'll offer more precise estimates on all these figures after the votes have been fully tabulated.] If she does eliminate it, I think she will have an argument to take to the super delegates. That's not to say it is the more compelling argument; Obama will have a good one of his own. The point is that if she catches him in the vote count that includes Florida, she will have an angle on victory. She took a big step toward catching him last night.

Final point. The Obama campaign is proclaiming they won the Texas caucus by double digits. Indeed, that seems to be the case. Nevertheless, they need to be careful not to proclaim this too loudly. How will it look if Clinton wins a majority of the more than 2.5 million Texans who voted in the primary, but Obama wins the caucus in which about 100,000 people participated? [See My Update to this Point Here] That might help Clinton because it is evidence that the caucuses are not a good gauge of voter preferences. Obama needs to talk up his pledged delegate lead, without reminding people of how it is heavily dependent upon the caucuses. The Clinton camp is going to start attacking these caucuses.

-Jay Cost

Clinton's "Moral Claim"

Sunday's Meet the Press featured a spirited debate between James Carville, Mary Matalin, Mike Murphy, and Bob Shrum. Shrum made a very insightful point, noting that Hillary Clinton has to find some kind of "moral claim" to the nomination if she hopes to take it from Barack Obama.

This is a concise version of an argument I made last week - that Clinton needs to assert that she is the "legitimate" candidate of her party. I particularly like the use of the word "claim" because it underscores how legitimacy is contestable. Both she and Obama will make claims to the nomination that the super delegates will arbitrate.

I talked briefly last week about the specific claim Clinton could make. Today, I want to outline it in more detail. Essentially, Clinton is going to assert that Obama's plurality victory among pledged delegates does not necessarily entitle him to the nomination. Counting up the pledged delegates is one way to measure popular support, but it is not the only one. I don't even think it is the best one - at least from the standpoint of persuading the super delegates.

The most persuasive method is to count the votes. This is why the Obama campaign needs to be careful. Clinton could acquire a powerful argument for her nomination. Obama currently has a slight lead in the popular vote (52% to 48%), excluding Florida and Michigan. However, if Clinton wins Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania - his lead will be under threat. This is also where Florida and Michigan come into play. I get the sense that few neutral Democratic politicos are interested in seating the Michigan and Florida delegations while the nomination is up for grabs. That's good for Obama. But what about factoring their voters into the counts? I think Obama can convincingly argue against factoring Michigan in, as he was not on the ballot. However, he'll have a harder time arguing that super delegates should ignore Florida voters.

This means the race is tighter than many people believe. While Clinton has to win something like 75% of the remaining pledged delegates to overtake him in that count - she only has to win about 53% of the vote to overtake him in the count that includes Florida. That's not so much a royal flush as a three-of-a-kind.

If Clinton pulls ahead of Obama in this count, she could make a compelling moral claim. I think her argument would consist of a positive and a negative component. First, she can assert that, as the popular vote winner, she is the rightful nominee of the party. She can remind super delegates that the last Democrat who won the nomination without a popular mandate was Hubert Humphrey in 1968. The debacle that followed convinced Democrats to open their process to the public. Nominating Obama would thus be inconsistent with the party's forty-year commitment to openness and inclusiveness.

Second, she can run against the nomination process itself. As I noted last week, this is a procedure that few politicos have paid attention to. So, there is little emotional investment in it, which makes it easier to attack. Imagine a split in the popular vote and the Electoral College - only this time the Electoral College does not have the Constitution conferring upon it moral legitimacy. Which count will people prefer? Similarly, Clinton can argue that Obama indeed won a plurality of pledged delegates - but that is merely a testament to the fact that the party's process is not as open as they thought. They shouldn't let the vagaries of the party's antiquated, undemocratic system determine the nominee.

In particular, Clinton can run against the caucuses. Caucuses have much lower turnout than primaries. For instance, the populations of Minnesota and Wisconsin are roughly equal. About 200,000 Democrats participated in the Minnesota caucus, compared to 1.1 million in the Wisconsin primary. Clinton, who has done very poorly in the caucuses, can argue that they are too exclusionary. There's some basic arithmetic to exploit here. "Each pledged delegate in Minnesota is worth 2,800 voters. Each pledged delegate in California is worth 12,700 voters. How is that fair?"

I think this is an argument that super delegates might find persuasive. Like the delegate system generally, there is no emotional investment in the caucus process. Caucuses are utilized because they are cheap and because they enable state parties to build their mailing lists. Nobody is particularly committed to the idea that they are right and good. Super delegates might be willing to listen to a Clinton argument against them.

We caught a glimpse of an anti-caucus argument a few weeks ago on Fox News Sunday. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland were debating the nomination process - and Strickland, a Clinton backer, made the following argument:

Caucuses elect some delegates. And you know, in caucuses, many people are totally shut out. Anyone serving in the active military can't participate in a caucus. People who are sick and confined to their homes, older people who can't get out at night, can't participate in caucuses. But that's part of the process.

Some delegates are elected through the primary system, which I hugely prefer, a primary system like we're having here in Ohio, where everyone has a chance to participate.

If Clinton ultimately wins the popular vote - expect to hear a lot more of this line.

Of course, Obama will have a powerful moral claim, too.* My discussion of Clinton's claim is not due to a personal inclination toward it. Personally, I have no strong feelings either way. I'm discussing Clinton because people are assuming that the pledged delegate lead is all that matters. I think this is untrue.

Ultimately, the strength of Clinton's argument depends upon the popular vote, which in turn requires wins in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.* So, if she wins tomorrow, we will see another pivot in the race. We'll stop asking who can knock out whom, and start asking who has the better "moral claim."

What will this look like? First, there will be a lot less action than the last few months. Between tomorrow and the Pennsylvania primary - there is the Wyoming caucus next Saturday, the Mississippi primary next Tuesday, and then six weeks of nothing. Second, the super delegates are going to become an important target of campaign activity. Neither candidate can hope to win enough pledged delegates to capture the nomination - so they will start courting the 795 super delegates quite actively.

This means that the press will suddenly be more important than it has been in months (not as important as it thinks it is, of course!). Genuine news events are not going to drive the daily cycle. Instead, it will be driven by the talk of pundits and journalists. The super delegates, all of whom are hyper-connected elites, will probably be paying close attention. So, the candidate who charms the media might be able to charm the super delegates.

This puts the Clinton campaign in a better position than it has enjoyed recently. Minimally, it will be back in its element. We all know that the Clintons are good at spinning straw into gold. Recall the rhetorical versatility of the Clinton Administration during the Lewinsky scandal. Bill Clinton's flacks did a good job framing the matter for the press, which in turn framed it for the American public. And, of course, Hillary Clinton's campaign was able to bewitch the press into believing that she was inevitable - despite Obama's record-breaking fundraising hauls through 2007. Their problem for the last few weeks is that they haven't had anything to work with. With wins tomorrow, they'll have straw to spin, time to do it, and an audience of super delegates watching them.

The Obama campaign must be ready for this. It needs to have an argument for why he should be the nominee, as well as an argument for why Clinton's argument is bunko. The next stage of the nomination could hinge upon these arguments as much as anything.


[*] I talked about Obama's argument last week. He can argue that Clinton is only complaining about the caucuses because she was unprepared. He can also turn the caucus argument against her. "So," he might ask, "what would happen if we turned all the caucuses into primaries? I would still win them all. My pledged delegate lead would shrink, but because there are more voters participating, my popular vote lead would grow." Again, my point here is not that Clinton's argument would be stronger than Obama's. It is just that her argument is strong.

[*] What happens if she wins Ohio but loses Texas? It appears that she'll stay in the race. In that case, she could ultimately articulate a compelling moral claim, but it becomes much harder. Clinton needs to eliminate the vote gap. If Obama wins Texas, Clinton will have to close a larger gap with fewer states. She still could, and she might try. However, it will be more difficult.

-Jay Cost