Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thoughts on the Democratic Nomination

It is looking as though Obama has it sewed up. Exit polls, however, suggest that Clinton supporters are much less willing to vote for Obama, if nominated, than Obama supporters are to vote for Clinton, which might mean that Obama is better able to win the nomination but less able to win the election.

That raises an interesting question: To what extent can a party nominate its most electable candidate? Suppose you are a superdelegate convinced that the party's strongest candidate is Clinton. Also suppose, as will almost certainly be the case, that Obama has won significantly more votes and more delegates in the primaries. How free are you to vote for what you see as the good of the party? Part of the point of having superdelegates, presumably, was to let them do that—but will it work?

There are two reasons it might not. The first is democratic ideology—not limited to the Democratic party. Primaries are a sort of mini-election. That is presumably one reason why so much attention was given to who won each state, even though delegates were being split roughly in proportion to votes, making the difference between 51% and 49% less important than the difference between 49% and 46%. If Obama won the primaries it is unfair, undemocratic, for him to lose the election. If he does, his supporters will feel betrayed, cheated, and may stay home, perhaps eventually defect from the party. Even among those who had no strong views on the nomination, the picture of a democratic choice reversed by power brokers in (metaphorically) smoke filled rooms may cost the party votes.

The second reason is individual self-interest. The more delegates Obama starts the convention with, the more likely he is to win the nomination. If Obama is nominated and elected, it is in the interest of the individual superdelegate, a professional politician making his career within the party he will head, to have supported him. Combining these effects, I think it very unlikely that the superdelegates will reverse the verdict of the primaries, even if a majority of them think Clinton the more electable candidate. If I am right, then the addition of superdelegates does not in fact solve one of the problems it was intended to solve.

I should perhaps add that my reason for considering the possibility of a Clinton win is not wishful thinking. At this point, I regard Obama as pretty clearly the least bad of the candidates.

More than that, I think there is at least an outside chance that he might improve things, shift American politics very slightly in the direction I want it to go. It's worth remembering that the big shift in New Zealand, from a very dirigiste system to something much closer to a free market, was done by their equivalent of the Democratic party.

Just as the recognition of communist China was done—some would argue had to be done—by a president with a reputation as an anti-communist.

10 Comments:

At 11:31 AM, May 07, 2008, Blogger jimbino said...

In addition to New Zealand, consider Lula of Brazil, who gained the presidency as a leader of the worker's party, a pure socialist, lacking in education beyond the 6th grade and speaking Portuguese as well as Bush speaks English.

He has turned out to be a real Amerikan capitalist, just as fully corrupt, presiding over an economy that has gained in employment, achieved self-sufficiency in petroleum and an increase in the average wage and in valorization of the Real vis a vis the dollar.

 
At 11:45 AM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Seth said...

I wonder what questions were asked in the exit polls. I bet I could word them to get whatever result I wanted.

With full data, I suspect the facts are that more of Obama's supporters would prefer Clinton over McCain than the Clinton's supporters would prefer Obama over McCain; however, if that were modified to take into account the likelihood of people voting if their preferred candidate isn't running, the results would be the opposite (many Obama supporters who prefer Clinton over McCain wouldn't bother to vote).

 
At 1:18 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

I'd be really interested to hear your grounds for preferring Obama to McCain.

 
At 1:53 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Ranjit Mathoda said...

I think the most interesting aspect of an Obama presidency is how he wants to involve people in government using technology (mirroring how he involved people in his campaign using technology). I further describe his ideas in an essay at: http://digitalpresidency.com

 
At 3:15 PM, May 07, 2008, Anonymous Matthew said...

David I'm all ears to hear exactly how turning over all branches of the government to the party of unions, trial lawyers, and public school administrators is going to lead to a more libertarian society.

 
At 5:17 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Joe said...

"Exit polls, however, suggest that Clinton supporters are much less willing to vote for Obama, if nominated, than Obama supporters are to vote for Clinton"

Keep in mind that Mr. Limbaugh is supposedly affecting the outcome.

 
At 5:56 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Clayton said...

I concur with the above requests for your logic in how you rank the candidates in terms of their likelihood of moving the US towards a more libertarian climate.

I have noticed that while McCain does lip service to the individual American being "what makes this country great," he is a big time national security conservative, perhaps more so than GWB himself. I pick up a vibe that he fundamentally believes that individual Americans would not be able to make this country great without the ever-watchful US military protecting them from the unspecified evils out there that would inexorably overthrow all civil society without the threat of guided nuclear missiles being sent down their chimney. With respect to campaign finance law, internet regulations, UFC fighting (are US Senators - charged with managing the $3T US Federal budget so idle they have nothing better to do with themselves than investigating or threatening to investigate sports?) he is next thing to fascist.

 
At 8:09 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Don said...

I am also considering Sen. Obama. I have thought about becoming a Democrat after being a Libertarian and then Republican for years. If I do vote for Sen. McCain, it will be because I believe that he is dissembling now about his beliefs and is slightly more libertarian than he seems. I have found after years that Democrats now find some of my ideas more palatable than Republicans. For example, I'm a big fan of Charles Murray's book In Our Hands. When I ask some Democrats about these ideas now, many seem willing to consider them, while Republicans seem unwilling to even consider these ideas. A Democratic Libertarian could be a chimera, but a Republican Libertarian is definitely a chimera. I have no idea why this the case, and, of course, this is simply my personal experience. But can anyone still believe that the Republican Party is libertarian?

 
At 10:56 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Chris Bogart said...

If the point of the Democratic primary were simply to pick the most electable candidate, then maybe they should offer up a group of candidates and only let *non*-democrats vote in their primaries. :-)

 
At 5:51 AM, May 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


More than that, I think there is at least an outside chance that he might improve things, shift American politics very slightly in the direction I want it to go. It's worth remembering that the big shift in New Zealand, from a very dirigiste system to something much closer to a free market, was done by their equivalent of the Democratic party.

Just as the recognition of communist China was done—some would argue had to be done—by a president with a reputation as an anti-communist.


I thought George W. Bush would halt nation-building, shrink our international commitments, avoid new government programs, and ease off the Drug War (in tacit recognition of past consumption).

Woops.

 

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