Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Understanding the Democrats' Delegate System

I saw this video on a pro-Bernie Facebook page.  It shows Morning Joe trying to further the "Bernie or Bust" movement by arguing that if Hillary wins, it will because Democratic voters were disenfranchised:

When a former Republican congressman tells Democrats they shouldn't vote, you gotta figure something is up.

It's not hard to see what is going on with the delegate system and why, in fact, Democrats should continue to vote.  If you look past the "rigged system" spin, you will find that the delegate system is not hurting Bernie. In fact, it's helping him.

First of all, the thing about superdelegates is, they can (and most surely will) choose the election in favor of whomever wins the popular vote. They are not beholden to pledged delegates. If Bernie were to win the popular vote by a significant margin and it looked like he was the most likely to win in a general election, then it wouldn't matter if he were a bit behind in pledged delegates. The superdelegates would choose him.

Superdelegates are not the issue here. The bigger confusion is about Wyoming's pledged delegates and how Hillary and Bernie could win the same number of them when Bernie won more votes. As with all Democratic primaries and caucuses, the delegates are awarded proportionally. In Wyoming, you need to win by a big enough margin to get the majority of pledged delegates. Bernie did not win by a big enough margin. So, yes, you can complain that his voters in Wyoming are not getting fair representation, because his voter-to-delegate ratio is smaller than Clinton's, but it is smaller by a tiny margin.

When we look at the nation as a whole, Bernie's voters are not unfairly represented in the pledged delegate count. In fact, the opposite is the case. As far behind as Bernie is in the pledged delegate count, he is trailing by an even bigger margin in the popular vote.  Bernie has won slightly less than 46% of the pledged delegates (1,097 out of 2,404.)  However, he has won less than 43% of the popular vote (approximately 7,024,933 out of 16,423,894 votes).  If we were to award delegates by popular vote, Bernie would actually have fewer delegates.  If anyone is disadvantaged by unfair representation, it is Hillary's voters.

The primary reason for this is voter turnout.  Pledged delegates are not only determined by how many votes you've won, but also how many states and districts. Even if a small number of voters show up in a state and/or district, the same number of delegates get to vote in the national convention. Thus, if you have different turnouts in different states and districts, then you will see a difference in your delegate-to-voter ratios.

Hillary has won more primaries, and the turnout in primaries is much larger than in caucuses. In Florida, for example, Clinton won almost twice as many pledged delegates, and they represent around 7,000 votes each. She won Texas by a similar margin, and the delegates she won there represent 6,361 votes each, on average. In contrast, Bernie won Idaho by a big margin, but the delegates he won there only represent about 1,000 votes each.  In Hawaii, where Bernie won about twice as many pledged delegates as Clinton, those delegates represent about 1,384 votes each.  On average, each of Bernie's delegates represents 6,404 voters.  In contrast, Hillary's represent 7,191 each.

The delegate system is helping Bernie in two ways. First, it is giving him more pledged delegate at the national convention than he would get if the allotment were more proportional to the number of actual votes; second, it is making it look like he's not as far behind as he actually is. Thus, if anyone is being disenfranchised because of this system, it is Hillary's voters.

So why aren't Hillary's voters complaining?  Maybe it's because they're confident she will win anyway.  Given her enormous lead and polling in upcoming primaries, they are right to be so confident.  On the other hand, maybe they like the way the system works, even if they lose. However, we should also remember that the majority of African-American voters are voting for Hillary.  If Hillary's voters are disenfranchised, that means African-American voters are disenfranchised. So maybe Hillary's voters should be complaining.