How Elections are Won and Lost in the US


March 3, 2016 (San Diego) After a long discussion yesterday I realized that our focus on Delegates needs to be explained. We really do not care how many more people have voted for one candidate, over the other. We really don’t. American party nominations are decided by delegates. Both parties could very well decide to ignore the vote of the people, It is in the party rules for both parties. This is why the number of delegates matters far more than if more people voted for one candidate than the other.

To explain this, let’s assume for a moment that primaries were decided by 100 people per party per state. That’s it. For the democrats, you have the same percentage of voters casting votes for candidate A or B, the same percentage of delegate will go to the candidate. And according to party rules, if any candidate (Mississippi, if current polling trends maintain will be a shout out in delegates this time for Sanders), does not make a threshold in the percentage, that is 15 percent, the other candidate will get all the delegates.

Republicans are now moving to a winner take all system and leaving the proportional representation behind. Meaning, if any candidates gets the majority of the votes, given four people are still running, it will not be 50 percent plus 0.1, they will get all the delegates. This means that whoever is leading, in this case Donald J Trump, might lock it very soon. Though we may see a rarity in American conventions, if none of the Republican candidates lock the necessary total of delegates, they will go to a brokered convention That said, some party elders are already hinting at ignoring the voters. For some reason voters have that fantasy that having more people voting for a candidates should give them the nomination, but the party is having conniptions over Trump becoming their nominee.

Brokered conventions is where things really get weird. Backroom deals, for votes are common, these are no longer regular voters, but delegates. They represent thousands of voters that essentially told them go vote for my candidate. This is why getting a threshold of delegates matters, because theoretically that assures the nomination during the first round of voting. If none gets it in the first round, delegates are free from that pledge If the republicans decide to go that route, and ignore the delegate count, they might save the country, but they will destroy their party. The last time something like that happened the calendar read 1968 and we had riots in the streets. That was the Democratic party. Democrats remained in deep disarray for a few cycles after that.Oh as a result they came up with the current, more open nominating system.

So how about Democrats, how could they ignore the will of the people? Well yesterday we said that the Bernie Sanders still has a way to getting the total of popular votes as it were. It is not just us saying it. CNN’s John King has as well for example. The map is quite narrow by the way. So for the purpose of the theoretical exercise let’s assume he does. He gets all the popular votes and gets the threshold of delegates. President Obama incidentally had the same issue in 2008 early on. Democrats have added to the soup what they call super delegates. These are elected members of the House and Senate, as well as State Houses and quite a few lobbyists. Many of them have pledged their vote for Hillary Clinton, like they did in 2008. Their vote counts far more than the popular delegates sent by the votes, They are weighted heavily, and they are supposed to prevent an insurgency. That is why the Democratic party has them.

If Sanders actually manages to win this, in the popular 1 person 1 vote, delegate count, and the party still decides to give it to Hillary Clinton, that will split the party, So both parties might face issues coming out of the nominating season. In 2008, while most super delegates pledged their vote to Clinton early on, in the end they voted for Obama on the floor of the convention. When you include the pledged delegate count to the delegate count, it makes it look as if the Clinton campaign is close to sewing this up. That is where the analysis from Nate Silver, and many otehrs in the media,  is coming from. They should not be taken into account until the convention.These delegates can still change who they vote for right up until the first round of voting at the Convention floor. And if none gets it then, during the second round they can as well. At that point we enter into brokered convention territory.

What about NATIONAL elections? Since the electorate in the general is different than in the primary, let’s take our 100 fictional voters, into the room. Some are democrats, 33 percent, that is the number nationally, 24 percent Republican and 43 percent independents. By the way Independents used to be a much smaller number but they keep growing. Both parties keep ignoring them at their peril. To keep it simple, we are keeping this to every state nationally. Every state has a single caucus. We have a winner take all in every state, so if 50 percent plus 0.1 vote for either of the candidates they get the electoral votes. We are assuming that none of the minor parties are in this soup just to keep it simple. We are also ignoring that during the Primary in California, we actually do look closer to the national election due to being close to an open primary state. American Independent, Democratic Party  and Libertarians allow decline to state voters to participate in the primary.

According to the Registrar “The Green, Peace and Freedom, and Republican parties allow only registered members of their parties to take part in their presidential primary elections.”

So if the Democrats plus independents vote, to keep it simple, at 51 percent, in any state, all those electoral votes go to the Democrat. If they voted for the Republican, they would all go to the Republican. This system, you are not electing the president, but rather electing the electors that will elect the president, has meant that a few times we have elected a president with less than the popular vote. The last time that happened was 2000.

This is why during election night you do not hear total voters, though you can look it up, but what state went to which candidate. Once a threshold of electoral votes is reached, that would be 270, we know who is going to be the president elect.

What should concern, or elate partisans, depending on your side of the fence, is the turnout. So far, Republicans are turning out in numbers that are close to matching, if not exceeding, the 2008 turnout for Democrats. Democrats are turning out in numbers reminiscent of the 2004 primary. This is what is called an enthusiasm gap. There are reasons for it. Democrats are not as excited about taking the White House.  But then there is the Trump effect. In our view, Trump, assuming there are no brokered conventions, he is on track to get the Republican Party nomination.

By the way, all the happy talk that minorities will not vote for Trump in a general election, in spite of some of his comments, is just that, happy talk. He will get the vote of minorities. I know the Democratic party is not seeing this, because in our view, they are treating minorities as building blocks, nothing more. Minorities have many internal divisions, and yes, there will be African Americans, and Hispanics that will vote for Trump. There are Asians who will vote for Trump. I fear party leaders are under estimating his appeal. If the enthusiasm gap holds, he has a very good chance of becoming President Elect.

Corrected to reflect that California is not a full open primary state.




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2 replies

  1. Anyone ever conclude that our electoral system sucks big time? And what the hell is wrong with a simple popular vote? who needs party control over everything including who gets to debate? How in hell is that democratic?

    • Well we are likely going into a major crisis, and party realignment or worst. So perhaps we will see proportional representation for Congress, for example, That would really mess up gerrymandering for example.

      There are many reasons more recent constitutions did not follow ours. Indeed those are good reasons. We really do need to modernize our electoral system. For the moment, I needed to explain why I really do not care how many more folks voted for one candidate or the other. This is hardly a direct game.

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