Tuesday, February 12, 2008

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Your logical conundrum of the day

Over the past few days, the Clinton campaign has made the following two arguments:

a) Caucuses don't really count as much as primaries because, "the caucus system is undemocratic and caters mostly to party activists."

b) The superdelegates -- which consist only primarily of party activists -- should not follow the primary results but instead, "should make an independent decision based on who they thought would be the strongest candidate and president."

In the comments, someone please logically reconcile those two statements.

[But isn't Obama equally contradictory by making the reverse of both arguments?--ed. Actually, no. I think the Obama campaign's argument is that because of turnout, the caucus states have largely reflected the will of the voters -- and therefore superdelegates should simply follow suit in making their decisions. I think that's consistent -- but I'm willing to be corrected in the comments.]

UPDATE: It's been pointed out in the comments that a lot of elected officials are also superdelegates. I was assuming that any elected Democrat is a de facto party activist (they're not mutually exclusive categories), but others might not make the same distinction. That said, looking at this list of superdelegates, I do believe a healthy majority of them consist of party activists of one stripe or another.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at Slate, Christopher Beam takes a closer look at the superdelegates:

Clinton and Obama are fairly close among governors (10-10, respectively), senators (12-9), and congress members (71-58). Itís among DNC officials that Clinton really takes the lead, with 125 to Obamaís 57.5. In other words, Clintonís sway appears to be much stronger among party hacks than among elected officials (emphasis added).
This reinforces the logical conundrum -- is there any way Clinton can reconcile her spin on the caucus states and the superdelegates?

Hat tip: '08 Guru

posted by Dan on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM


OK, I'll give it a go and do the best that I can.

The superdelegates -- which consist only of party activists

This is inaccurate, and the key of the argument. The superdelegates are properly known as "unpledged PLEOs," where PLEO stands for "Party Leader and Elected Officials." The latter part is significant; in fact, the ranks of the PLEOs are dominated by currently elected officials and formerly elected officials to the highest national offices, such as President and Vice-President.

Therefore, the superdelegates are delegates who have been elected in the past by not just a wide selection of voters in a Democratic primary, but also by Independent voters and even some Republicans in general elections. That is an even wider voting base than a Democratic primary.

The proper ranking of the importance of delegates is the openness and broad reach of the democratic process that chose the delegates. The ranking is clearly therefore:
1. Superdelegates
2. Primary-chosen delegates
3. Caucus-chosen delegates
as they were chosen, respectively, by:
1. General election open to all voters
2. Primary election, often closed to Democrats only
3. Caucus of party activists

posted by: John Thacker on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

I don't really care either way who wins, but isn't it just as flawed to argue that the only thing that matters is who wins the most regular delegates, when the winner of the regular delegates may receive fewer popular votes than the second place finisher.

posted by: RSF on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

John Thacker,

Superdelegates were not elected with the idea that they would support one candidate or the other in the next primary election. At least no one I know voted that way, especially because we didn't know who the candidates would be nor which unknown candidate the superdelegate would pick. Privileging the vote for them as more democratic over a direct vote for a candidate is, while admirably contrarian, a bit ridiculous (unless you also think the aim of the 17th amendment was anti-democratic). This becomes more true when you realize that superdelegates may make the choice by not looking to who the "people" want as their candidate but by typical inside-politics log-rolling, flattery (see the story about the 21 year old superdelegate who got a personal call from Bill Clinton), and threats/promises of future losses/gains (see Mondale's use of superdelegates in 1984).


I'm not sure the popular vote matters as much as the delegate vote b/c the idea that delegates matter were the rules of the game when it started, if the rules were that the popular vote mattered, the candidates would have run different campaigns and the popular vote result would likely be different (says someone still bitter about the 2000 election).

Now obviously the import of superdelegates was known before the election, and so a a similar ex ante rules argument could be made. Though I would argue that the federalist model of delegate counting is something that has a clear analogue and history in US presidential elections, whereas the superdelegate issue is otherwise a relic of a bygone time of machine politics. Also, many of the superdelegates are not elected officials.

posted by: Paul on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]


Yes, I agree with you, but I was attempting to make the best argument that I could merely for the purposes of argument.

Did you know that there are "extra" superdelegates are chosen particularly because the "regular" superdelegates are too white and male? I think it's roughly another 60-80.

posted by: John Thacker on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]


As someone who has been none to delight making arguments for arguments sake, I can understand that. Do you have a link to the information about the "extra" superdelegates?

posted by: Paul on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

Even though it comes from a participant at a self-admitted Democratic-based media group, its the best explanation/count I've seen but no history.

posted by: LG on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

What I don't understand is how are superdelegetes constitutional. Why should someone by occupation get a disproportional vote compared to the rest of the population.

posted by: Kevin on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

The underlying assumption of most people is that the popular vote should count more than the preferences of party hacks -- but that is not at all the way the primary system is designed. The system is working the way it was designed to work -- that is to prevent voters from forcing the party to nominate someone that the party leaders don't want. It's not democracy, but the name of the party is merely coincidence.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 02.12.08 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?