Saturday, April 26, 2008

Will Superdelegates Rubber-Stamp the Popular Vote?

With a recent survey of Democratic Party superdelegates showing Hillary Clinton with a slim 16-person lead among 476 pledged superdelegates, and with over 300 individuals still uncommitted to either Clinton or Barack Obama, it's seems increasingly likely that the party's nomination will be decided at the national convention in late August.

Karen Tumulty's got
an interesting analysis on the potential endgame in three scenarios for the Democrats: (1) Clinton drops out of the race after a loss in Indiana on May 6; (2) top party leaders bring a decisive end to the content in June; or (3) the battle goes all the way to Denver.

Tumulty's look at the second possibility, that party leaders end the race in June, is worth citing:

[Everything] could change after the last two states, South Dakota and Montana, vote on June 3. That's the time party chairman Howard Dean, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are expected to tell the superdelegates — about 300 of the roughly 800 delegates overall who have yet to commit — that it is time to make up their minds. Pelosi in particular is key, as more than 70 of those uncommitted superdelegates are House members. For many, holding back now is more a matter of principle than preference. "They don't want to be perceived as telling voters how to vote," says former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, who is heading Obama's superdelegate effort.

Not since the nasty 1984 primary race between party-establishment favorite Walter Mondale and the insurgent Gary Hart has the nomination come down to the superdelegates, who also include governors, Senators and party officials. In that race, virtually all the elders got in line behind Mondale, the party's legatee. But Obama has been steadily chipping away at Clinton's once formidable lead among the superdelegates; the assumption, at least for now, is that most of those who remain would move to put Obama over the top if he emerges from the primary season with the most pledged delegates. To do otherwise would be to risk alienating the legions of new voters who, thanks largely to Obama, are participating in elections for the first time. Clinton's best hope for countering that argument would be to pull even or ahead in the popular vote.

The Clinton team also notes that the superdelegates were established in the 1980s, in the wake of successive electoral debacles, to assure that the party nominated its strongest general-election contender. If Clinton performs well in such upcoming primaries as West Virginia and Kentucky, her team argues, that will increase doubts about Obama's durability in the fall (though it has been 12 years since both states voted for a Democrat in a general election). They also hope Clinton will finish close enough to Obama to bring into the calculation the still disqualified votes of Florida and Michigan — two states that moved up their primary dates in violation of party rules and subsequently lost their delegates as a result. Should it reach a point at which the fate of those delegates would determine the outcome, that would pave the way for the scenario Democrats fear most [a brokered convention]...
People have been speculating on this possibility for nearly four months, since Clinton and Obama started trading victories in closely fought battles from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Texas.

But with the superdelegate count so close - and especially with Obama's failure to put away the nomination with key wins
in middle American working class states - some decision on the nominee outside of the popular vote is all but certain.

Jason Bello and Robert Shapiro,
at Political Science Quarterly, analyze some of the factors surrounding a final decision on the party nominee at the Democratic National Convention:

This election tells us that the rules are important and cannot be ignored. They matter in giving one candidate an edge over the other and also in determining the length of the primary and caucus campaigns. Another debate over the rules is brewing with respect to the Florida and Michigan delegates (313 in total), who are not being counted because the states scheduled their primaries too early. Hillary Clinton, who won handily in both states, wants them reinstated, but Barack Obama (whose name was not even on the Michigan ballot) maintains that doing so would be unfair. The Democratic Party has given each state the option of holding another contest, but this seems unlikely. For now, these two states’ delegates will not count; the Clinton camp has one final recourse, an appeal to the credentials committee, but that option is still months away. This situation is problematic for the Democratic Party, because it does not want the nominee choice to depend on a bureaucratic decision made at the convention. In a similar vein, many Democrats do not want the "super delegates"—the ostensibly uncommitted set of party leaders—to determine the outcome either, a possibility that emerges when the nomination race reaches the convention undecided. Super delegates were not intended to follow the popular vote; they were created to bring independent judgments to the process. However, we must remember that the principle reason that the elec-torally consequential convention became so rare over the past 30 years is that a push for popular democracy put the power in the hands of the voters, all of whom decide before the convention. This year presents an entirely new situation and will be the first time since the democratization of the primary that the super delegates will be asked to vote decisively. We expect that the same norms of popular democracy that drove these reforms will put enormous pressure on the Democratic delegates to vote in accordance with either the outcomes of their state contests or the winner of the final tally up to the convention. Although a number of Democratic uncommitted delegates have already endorsed either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, we would be surprised if the super delegates on the whole do not support the leader in committed delegates and reverse the outcome. It therefore remains unclear whether arriving at the convention with the results undecided matters if the super delegates simply rubber-stamp the results of the primaries and caucuses. Should the parties get rid of the super delegates? The answer remains unclear. The purpose of the convention today has changed; it is less a deciding mechanism and more a chance to rally around the nominee and showcase upcoming stars. The presidential nomination process has never been a fully democratic process, though it has become more democratic over time. Eliminating the super delegates would be another step in this direction, but a more democratic process may not be what the parties are looking for.
Will the superdelegates "rubber-stamp" the popular vote from the party's primaries and caucuses?

Party leaders, activists, and voters had better hope so.

If not, 2008 is likely to see the most undemocratic Democratic nomination battle since 1968, amid
potential unrest in the streets (a youth cohort venting its rage through unconventional participation), while disgruntled rank-and-file party members boycott the general election on November 4, handing the GOP a remarkable victory amid circumstances for the Republicans that appear less than auspicous.