Can Clinton Still Win The Popular Vote? No.

by: Chris Bowers

Sun May 11, 2008 at 15:24

While the nomination campaign might very well be effectively over, especially given the vast, pro-Obama superdelegate movement over the past week, it remains possible that at some point between now and June 3rd, the Clinton campaign will argue that it leads in the popular vote. It needs to be pointed out now that in the broadest possible count of the popular vote, the count that includes all people who participated in the nomination process, that such a claim will simply be false. As I argued back on April 23rd:

In keeping with the principle of one person, one vote, the only good metrics to use are the ones with the broadest popular participation. As such, when measuring the popular vote, it is best to throw the widest possible net. This means to include Florida. It also means to include the estimates from caucus states that did not release popular totals, which stand at Obama 334,084--223,862 Clinton. Finally, it means to include Michigan, but also to allocate Obama 72.91%, or 173,368 of the uncommitted vote. This number is derived by dividing Obama's exit poll support in Michigan by the combined exit poll support of Obama, Edwards and Richardson, and then multiplying that number with the total uncommitted vote.

A second look at the official Michigan results indicates that the Obama uncommitted vote estimation should actually be 173,664. My earlier estimation was slightly lower because it did not use the official Michigan results.

Any popular vote count that does not allocate the Michigan uncommitted is invalid, because it is based on the rather absurd notion that the over 238,000 Michiganders who selected the "uncommitted" choice weren't actually supporting any candidate. In truth, several campaigns existed that pushed Obama and Edwards supporters to choose uncommitted, as even the Clinton campaign has argued on numerous occasions. For example, from the Fact Hub:

Second, the Obama campaign's allies in Michigan organized an effort to get people in Michigan to vote for "uncommitted" in the Democratic primary, helping to bring the uncommitted share of vote to 40 percent. So the Obama camp can't reasonably argue supporters participated in the GOP primary and didn't vote in the Democratic contest.

Either some of those uncommitted votes were for Obama, or none of them were. In this passage, the Clinton campaign states that at least some of the uncommitted votes were for for Obama. To then argue that Obama gets zero votes in a popular vote count that includes Michigan just isn't "reasonable," in the Clinton campasign's own phrasing.

At the same time, it would be inaccurate to re-allocate the entire Michigan vote based on exit polls, since it retroactively takes votes that were in fact cast for Clinton and shifts them to other candidates. The only fair and democratic way is to give Clinton all of her Michigan votes, and then to allocate the uncommitted votes based on exit polls of Obama, Edwards and Richardson support, as those were the three candidates who removed their names from the ballot. So, 173,664 is the total for Obama from Michigan.

Overall, this means the best one-person, one-vote popular vote total is the bottom most total from Real Clear Politics, plus 173,664 for Obama. This leads to the following current, grand totals:

Obama: 17,087,483
Clinton: 16,690,099

This gives Obama a current margin of 397,384, which Clinton is very unlikely to erase during the final six contests. There is talk of up to two million people voting in the Puerto Rico primary, considering that there was 80% turnout in their last gubernatorial election. However, that was a general election, not a primary. Also, the local gubernatorial election is bound to draw way more voters than a Democratic primary, given the lower level of campaigning that has taken place and the more indirect impact it will have on Puerto Rican affairs.

It is now virtually guaranteed that Obama will win a narrow plurality of the popular vote / participation in the Democratic nomination campaign. Neither candidate will have won a majority, but the "will of the electorate" will still have been served by the outcome. That is a very good thing, since I know that I would not have been the only person extremely uncomfortable with nominating a candidate who did not receive the most popular support in the process. The day we nominate a candidate who did not receive the most popular support / participation will be a dark day for the party.  

Chris Bowers :: Can Clinton Still Win The Popular Vote? No.

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National Popular Vote for primaries? (0.00 / 0)
Wouldn't it be nice if the Democratic Party switched to a more democratic voting process for its next nomination? How about a "national popular vote" system among Democrats? One person, one vote is the fairest way to go. None of this super-delegate crap, and none of the primary/caucus confusion. Something akin to the National Popular Vote initiative (to make the electoral college irrelevant) would make sense in the primary process as well.

See http://www.nationalpopularvote... for more info.

Do You Include the Latest Numbers from Ohio? (0.00 / 0)
Chris, it turns out the official numbers from Ohio give Obama an additional 26,000 plus popular votes not tallied at RCP or CNN.  See

Yes (0.00 / 0)
RCP updated for the new numbers.  

[ Parent ]
disagree (4.00 / 1)
Chris, has much as I would like to agree with you, I'm afraid I can't. It is very possible, and even likely, that Clinton will win the popular vote. Of course, she can only do this if you count the whole Michigan thing, which I don't agree with. But anyway, here's a very detailed analysis about how this can happen.

So I will go off your baseline numbers, which include FL, caucus estimates, and allocate Obama's Michigan vote from the uncommitted voters, and we give Clinton votes from MI as well, which gives Obama as 397,384 lead.

So let's go through the rest of the primaries, and see how this vote changes.

First, we have West Virginia. To allocate turnout, I will just say 42% of voters will turnout since that is the average of all the primaries thus far.  There are 1,137,371 total voters in West Virginia. Assuming 42% of them show up, we'll have 477,696 total voters. Let's say Clinton wins 70-30 in West Virginia, a generous margin to Clinton but one not impossible, as polls have shown Obama receiving only 27% of the vote. This would give Clinton a netgain of 191,078 votes.

So after West Virginia, Obama's popular vote lead is down to 206,306.

Next, we have Kentucky. Again, let's be generous to Clinton and give her another 70-30 win. This is possible, with several polls showing Obama in the high 20s.  Kentucky has 1,622,283 registered votes. Let's assume 42% turnout, this would mean 689,748 voters vote. From a 70-30 victory, Clinton would net 275,900 votes.

So after Kentucky & West Virginia, Clinton would lead in the popular vote by 69,594 votes.

Next we have Oregon, where Obama should do well in. Let's assume Obama wins by 56-44%, which is about what the latest Rasmussen poll shows him winning by. Oregon has 803,042 registered Democrats. Let's again assume 42% vote. This would mean 337,277 votes vote. Assuming Obama wins by 12%, he would net 40,474 votes.

So after Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oregon, Clinton would still be leading by 29,210 votes.

Next we have Puerto Rico. There are 2,000,000 registered Democrats. While 80% did turnout for that gubernatorial election, let's assume again that it goes with the national average and 42% turnout. In this instance, 840,000 democrats would turn out to vote. And let's assume that Clinton wins by 13%, which the latest and only poll shows. Therefore, Clinton would net 109,620 votes

So after Kentucky, West Virgina, Oregon and Puerto Rico, Clinton would be ahead by 138,830 votes.

Next we have Montana. Montana has 519,000 registered Democrats. Assuming 42% turnout, we have 217,980 votes. The only poll ever done by Montana showed Clinton with 10% lead, but that was way back in December. Let's give Obama a 6% win in Montana. He may win by more, but it's conceivable that it could be 5%. In this instance, he would net 12,989 votes.

So after Kentucky, West Virginia, Oregon and Puerto Rico, Clinton would be ahead by 125,841 votes.

Lastly, South Dakota. The only poll of that state had obama winning by 12%, so let's go with that number. South Dakota only has 190,421 registered Democrats. Assuming 42% turnout, we'll have 79,976 votes. If Obama does win by 12%, which would be 56-44%, he would net 9,598 votes.

So our grand total, including Michigan, FL & estimates from caucus states, would be Clinton winning the popular vote by 94,018 votes.

Without Michigan counted, Obama would win by 60,627 votes.

Now this projection is a very rough estimate. It really depends on how much Clinton wins Kentucky, West Virgina and Puerto Rico by since they are the biggest 3 primaries left to go. If Obama can close the margin just a little bit, or if the turnout is low, then Obama will likely be ahead in the popular vote in the end. Closing the margins in those states is more important than increasing his margins in Montana or South Dakota. Even if  Obama wins Montana and South Dakota by more than expected, he will likely only increase his margins slightly since those states don't have many voters.


As you said (0.00 / 0)
Those are rough projections, and they only work if you include  Michigan without allocating the undecideds. In other words, they throw out votes that even the Clinton campaign has argued are actually Obama votes. And that doesn't make any sense.  

[ Parent ]
i know (0.00 / 0)
I know they are rough projections, but it's definitely possible that she will claim a popular vote win, even though that would be unfair.  

[ Parent ]
I agree (0.00 / 0)
she probably will make such a claim. Whyich is why I wrote this post: to point out, ahead of the time the claim comes, that just cliams are bunk.  

[ Parent ]
grand total (0.00 / 0)
My grand total was off a bit, our grand total, including Michigan, FL & estimates from caucus states, would be Clinton winning the popular vote by 116,243 votes.

Without Michigan counted, Obama would win by 38,402.

[ Parent ]
Your math is completely messed up (4.00 / 1)
For instance, assuming 50% of ALL voters will vote in the WV primary is ... dubious. I am not even sure 50% of the Democrats will bother let alone 50% of all voters.
I would estimate her gain with a 30 point victory to be around 100 000 votes. If it is anywhere below that, then Obama has an OK day.
Next, KY is a CLOSED primary. So once again using registered votes as a basis for your calculations is silly.

I could go on ...

[ Parent ]
A minor mathematical quibble (and a couple of others) (4.00 / 2)
I just want to begin by saying that as much as I disagree with your conclusion, I appreciate the time and energy you put into this post.

That said, I think you've inflated Clinton's vote totals by quite a bit.  First, in West Virginia, you are basing your turnout model on 1,137,371 Democrats - I think that's the total number of registered voters, and I'm 99% sure that West Virginia is a closed primary, with (according to the article below) 665,234 Democrats.  Second (and I don't have recent data to back this up), your Montana number is way off.  There's no way there are 519,000 registered Democrats in Montana, considering only a little over 100,000 turned out in the 2006 Senate primary, and South Dakota has 80% of Montana's population but only 40% of its Democrats?

I went through with those numbers and your assumptions, and using those assumptions, Clinton's net victory goes from 191,078 to 111,691, which cuts significantly into her projected lead.

The rest of your numbers of registered Democrats are pretty much on the mark, so I don't have any disagreements there.  That said, I have a couple of other points with regards to voter turnout and preference.

Assuming 42% is the national average thus far (which is dubious, unless you can provide corroborating sources), but clearly those states that have been contested "thus far" held far more probability of affecting the outcome of the race than those remaining.  Excitement was high, both candidates were competitive, partisans were out in force - so is it likely that for the remaining states, all of which are pretty much locked up for either candidates, in a race that has already been decided, will experience 42% turnout? Even if that number slips slightly to 40%, it could cause problems for the model, considering how narrowly Clinton is ahead (less than 20,000 votes).

In terms of voter preference, I think even the most hardcore Clinton supporters would be in glee after reading this projection, as it is more optimistic than any could expect.  I suspect that Obama would experience even a slight bump across the board in all of the remaining states due to his recent victories, as I think all of the polls out there for the remaining states are pre-NC/IN.

I also think that if you're going to give Clinton her absolute best case scenario in places like Kentucky and West Virginia, you have to give Obama just a bit more credit in Montana, Oregon and South Dakota, all of which border states where he really dominated the voting.  Obama won Washington with 68% of the vote, Idaho with 79% of the vote, Wyoming with 61% of the vote, North Dakota with 61% of the vote, Nebraska with 68% of the vote, Minnesota (including all of the rural northern and western counties) with 66% of the vote.

Moreover, there are many more nominal Democrats in states like Kentucky and West Virginia, so I don't think it's necessarily accurate to give turnout there at the same level as say, Oregon or Puerto Rico.  A data point to that end: in 2004, Bush won 30% of self-identified Democrats in WV, 28% in Kentucky.

I adjusted your model slightly (somewhat more in accordance with the points I've made above), to see what would happen.  I changed the WV registered voter number, gave Obama 60% of the vote in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota (all at 40, rather than 42% turnout), Clinton 70% of the vote in West Virginia and Kentucky (both at 35, rather than 42% turnout), and Clinton 60%  (an uptick from where you had her) in PR, at 40% turnout.

When I plugged all the numbers in according to those assumptions, even with Michigan counted, Obama would have a lead of roughly 9,000 votes (whereas when I went through your numbers with the adjusted WV total, he lost by 42,000).  I think the point is that these numbers are really fungible.  Just to show how true that is, under my assumptions, Clinton's margins in her states don't suffer much (480,000 in mine to 493,000 in yours), but Obama's margins in his states in my model go way up (92,000 compared to 54,000).  

I see what you're trying to do, but your numbers are just a mess, and it's hard to tell what from what, in your model or mine.  I suspect neither are correct.  In the end, superdelegates will come down for Obama (as they have been doing) and render these kinds of discussions fodder only for the most hardcore junkies and candidate partisans.

[ Parent ]
Chris, i love reading your stuff, but.. (0.00 / 0)
i am very disappointed to see you jump on Clinton's ever-changing metrics.  The rules were set a long time ago.  Nobody was even counting popular vote until Clinton realized she wouldn't win by the rules that were set, the person that reaches a certain delegate total wins.  How could you say you would be uncomfortable with nominating someone who clearly wins the delegate total (the rules that were set), but doesn't win the popular vote?  The only reason we're talking about this is because this is the last thing she had a chance at winning.  Obama played by the rules and he won. Lets not give credence to any spin Clinton is giving.

Clinton didn't invent the popular vote (4.00 / 1)
The popular vote was always a vital metric for me, well before Clinton began arguing it. I was saying this back before Super Tuesday. I'm not picking up Clinton's metrics, and I resent the implication that I am swallowing talking points. If anything, they are picking up mine. They just can't count very well.  

[ Parent ]
we have a way to decide the nomination: delegates (0.00 / 0)
Why would Clinton winning the popular vote by some tiny fraction of a decimal (if that even happens which is not a given) matter so much especially when there isn't even a consensus on how to count the popular vote and nobody knew before Iowa or perhaps even as late as March 5 that that metric was going to be significant? The popular vote is going to be a virtual tie while Obama will have a clear lead in pledged and total delegates and therefore he should be the nominee. Seems pretty simple to me.

[ Parent ]
Simple (0.00 / 0)
One person, one vote. That matters to me. I beleive in intra-party democracy. All of the points you raise are valid, but as someoen who belives in intra-party demcoracy, the personw ith the most votes makes a big difference to me. Feel free to make your own conclusions.  

[ Parent ]
I understand but ... (0.00 / 0)
While I understand your point, you also are smart enough to know that if that had been a relevant metric, Obama would have spent more time campaigning in big states including his home Illinois rather than try to rack up delegates in states like Idaho.
So it is not exactly fair to make it a key factor. Obama could very well have gained a much bigger popular vote margin had he campaigned for it.
But that's not how you win the primary.

Same goes with the GE. The popular vote is great but if that was how Presidents were elected, you would see them spend much more time in CA where 1% more turnout allows huge numbers extra in the PV rather than, say, try to sway voters in a small swing state.

My sense is that Hillary stays in the race because she wants to have a talking point for her supporters for the next few years, a la Al Gore. Which is a horrible way to undermine Obama's legitimacy, especially since it is founded on a fallacy. But it would keep in line with the Clinton's general talent at presenting themselves as victims, even in disaster.

[ Parent ]
PS (4.00 / 1)
And an even more obvious point: popular vote metric undervalues the states that choose to hold caucuses. If that was a relevant metric, the said caucus states would make a different choice.
The margins for Obama would be lower in a primary but the raw numbers would be much larger. So in that regard, Obama is also undercounted using that fallacy that PV is a relevant metric because a lot of his victories were held in caucus states.

[ Parent ]
I get all that (0.00 / 0)
Yes, the Obama campaign would have acted differently it if was going after votes instead of delegates. However, I am, and always was, looking atthe popular vote in the most broadly defined way possible. That's a big, big metric for me. Everyone has their metrics. This one is mine. Obama's gonna win it. So I'm satisfied.  

[ Parent ]
well (0.00 / 0)
I read the diary you linked to and didn't see you saying anything about the popular vote.  But that doesn't really matter to me anyway.  I understand that its something you personally believe is important.  But my point still stands, the rules are the rules and Obama won by them.  If we give credence to this new set of rules, which as was pointed out, would be unfair to caucus states and to those that played by the rules, we are only prolonging the fight, rather than realizing it should be over.  If its just something you personally would like to see also go to our eventual nominee than great, I hope Obama holds on to his popular lead.  But I still think its crazy to count count Florida and Michigan because they simply broke the rules.

[ Parent ]
Excellent point. (0.00 / 0)
A candidate might skip a state she couldn't win in order to win by the rules, and then be called loser, even after winning under the rules.

Obama played by the rules and won by the rules and has formed a movement as well. Thats just a bonus but its a big bonus.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Popular Vote: I hope Obama will go to Puerto Rico. He has (0.00 / 0)
money and should take time to spend one day there.  I think he could win that primary.  Go Obama!

With all due respect to PR (0.00 / 0)
First you are right. I don't think PR is as much of a given for Hillary as the media seem to think it is.
What bothers me is that making the race last that long is pointless. With all due respect to PR, I am glad they can participate but in the end, it is not a GE state so there is really no upside on spending money on it rather than on setting up and organizing for the election which is only 180 days away.

[ Parent ]
There...are...four...lights!* (4.00 / 1)
The entire idea of a "popular vote" total is a torturous lie in the first place. Massachusetts and Washington are two states with almost identical populations (6.468M v. 6.450M) yet somehow Sen. Clinton thinks it's fair to count their vastly different turnout numbers as equal because of "one person, one vote". Nevermind that states like Washington would never choose the caucus system if they knew in advance that the popular vote and not delegates would be a determining factor.

Since Sen. Clinton is so passionate about the illegitimacy of caucus votes I expect we'll see her as a leader in the process to reform the process for '12 and beyond. If we DON'T see her leading that fight we'll all know she's completely full of crap and her argument about caucuses was just an argument of conveniece and not a principled stand.

* -

John McCain

Good Trek reference n/t (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
This is the biggest problem I have with Chris's analysis... (0.00 / 0)
Caucuses give me pause and I would prefer to see all primaries be standard elections, but until they are the popular vote is an imperfect metric and one that if given too much weight by pundits, and especially superdelegates, corrupts the legitimacy of the whole contest.  As joejoejoe says if popular vote was supposed to be important in the nominating process no state would choose to have a caucus.  In the future I hope caucuses are rendered obsolete, but for this contest it is indeed changing the rules, no matter when you decided it was a metric that mattered, because the popular vote in no way explicitly determines the nominee based on the rules.  It is currently a potential corrupting influence on superdelegates though I get the feeling most of them are ignoring it and if they continue to back Obama at this current rate that will be confirmed.

[ Parent ]
No one true number (0.00 / 0)
Chris, in the post you describe one of your arguments as being the "only fair and democratic way," but in a comment you emphasize that this is your metric, the one that you care about.  I think that the later statement is much more accurate.  Like it or not, there are a ton of different ways to calculate the "popular vote" and everyone is going to have their own favorite.  Indeed, that is a major problem with the whole idea -- the process is not designed to generate a "popular vote count" and it, in fact, doesn't provide one.  

Now, folks can argue over "delegate counts" as well, but there were clear rules set out to govern that count, and there is a clear process to resolve any on-going disputes.  Neither is true of the "popular vote" count, so there will never be a consensus on this.

It is fine to argue "if I was an SD, this is the number I would care about," or "when I think about the election, this is what would bother me," but no one is necessarily going to agree.  For example, I wouldn't be very swayed by the PR results and I think it is very hard to agree on any particular treatment for MI, but that's just me.  

Here's another thing (0.00 / 0)
If you're going by "popular vote," you are giving states with open primaries a relative advantage over states with closed primaries.  You are also giving open-primary states whose primary took place after the GOP primary was decided an advantage over open-primary states whose primary took place back when the GOP primary was competitive.

The primary system is not analogous to the general election.  There, I agree, it's more of an issue when the victor has fewer votes.  But there are just too many variables--the caucuses being the most glaring--in the primary to make "popular" a good metric, at least for 2008.  We'd need a LOT more conformity among the states in order for me to accept that.

If you are right... (0.00 / 0)
And there is no way that Obama will be the nominee, I will not only not vote for him, I will hope that he loses.

This is my latest reason: A quote from this charlatan:

"Too many of those who opposed the war in Vietnam chose to blame not only the leaders who ordered the mission, but the young men who simply answered their country's call."

Obama - the guy who is the twisted progressives' dream, is blaming the mistreatment of the veterans of the Vietnam war on those who opposed the war. What a horror this guy is. He knows nothing.

He dares not confront the military-industrial-legislative complex. They are his bread and butter. And today's people who have taken over what once was the left cheer him on.


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