A look at the Democratic nominating process

Real Clear Politics has a post up about how the delegate race would look on the Democratic side if our delegates were allocated the same way the Republican ones are. While it is an academic exercise, the writer, Jay Cost, concludes that Hillary Clinton would be ahead in pledged delegates.

But that’s not the meat of the article. The real gems in there are the fundamental problems of the nominating process as it relates to pledged delegate allocations. Cost identifies and quantifies three things that actually cause the allocation to be suspect:

  • Small state bias. “Small state voters are better represented at the convention than large state voters.”
  • Republican bias. “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.”
  • Caucus bias. “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.”

The caucus bias has been discussed ad nasuem. The other two I’ve not seen mentioned. I found it interesting that the three are not necessarily independent of each other. For example, Cost says that the Republican bias is enhanced by the caucus bias. Cost’s take on the three:

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?


I think it is due in part to the fact that politicos have taken lousy care of the parties.

Cost says that the parties, after instituting various reforms, never looked back to see what the effects would be. And in doing so, they have built into the process biases that may have what he calls 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.

I would argue that superdelegates, which are not a part of Cost’s article, are the only thing built into the system to balance these biases. When the DNC takes up rules changes this year, everything should be on the table for review. And I hope they have a copy of Cost’s post handy.

h/t Reason & Revelation

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5 thoughts on “A look at the Democratic nominating process

  1. It would seem to me that a “Republican bias” may be there to help the candidates who may be able to pull some blue states into the red.

  2. Vivian — the Electoral College is biased in favor of small states. Every state gets at least 3 EV’s. If we’re trying to at least sort of emulate the Electoral College — as an optimization strategy would suggest — then that’s a good thing.

    Of course, if we were trying to optimiize things entirely, we wouldn’t even award delegates to places that we can’t win (Idaho, Utah), or to places with no Electoral Votes (Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico).

    Obviously, the counterbalancing concern is that we want to at least seem to care about everyone, and we want to be at least a little responsive to states that we might carry some day if we just make a better pitch to them.

    Every system is imperfect. Some of the imperfections cut one way this year, some cut the other. It does us no good to whine about those imperfections until after the election; then we can make all the changes we want. And it REALLY does us no good to claim that for someone to rely on Superdelegates (Hillary) or to insist that the rules in Florida and Michigan be followed (Barack) is somehow unfair, undemocratic or illegitimate.

  3. cvillelaw – regarding small states – did you read the quote? I’m aware of it. And I disagree that the time to discuss this stuff is after the election. After the election, there is no incentive to make any changes. The winner is happy with the system and the loser sounds like sour grapes. And don’t they set up the party plan for the next four years at the national convention? Seems like to me that the time to try to fix things (if they are even aware of them) is then. As for perfection – it certainly should be a goal, even if it’s not attainable. Simply to say that all systems are imperfect and be OK with that is not where I am. And it’s what got us in this mess.

    AEM – you give them too much credit. I doubt they are even aware of it.

    MB – yeah.

  4. Every state has democrats. Every state should have a say which democrat is our standard bearer. Luckily, Cost’s example of “candidate b” being nominated against the peoples will will not come to fruition this cycle.

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