by D. Cupples | Barack Obama's campaign argues that he is more likely to beat John McCain in November, because Obama won more states than Hillary Clinton in the primaries and has a slight lead in the popular vote. Hillary's campaign argues that she would more likely beat McCain, because she won bigger states and because some of the states that Obama has won will likely vote Republican in November.
I don't know who's right, so I thought I'd highlight some differences between the Democratic primaries (and caucuses) and November's general election (which awards each state's Electoral College votes) -- in case that helps people keen on predicting.
1. How Candidates Win States' Votes
a. Democratic Primary
The Democratic Party doesn't like seeing candidates walk away empty handed, so it awards consolation prizes. That is, in the Dem primary, most (if not all) states proportionally award delegates.
For example, Hillary Clinton won 51% and Barack Obama won 47% of the votes in Texas' Democratic primary (as opposed to Texas' Caucus, which isn't fully counted). Thus, of the 126 delegates at stake in Texas' primary, Hillary got 65 delegates (about 51%) and Obama got 61 delegates (about 47%).
b. General Election & Electoral College Votes
In the General Election, most states enjoy watching losers leave empty handed. There are 538 Electoral College votes, and the candidate who gets 270 wins the election. Each state has a certain number of Electoral College votes and awards them on a winner-take-all basis (except Maine and Nebraska).
Texas, for example, has 34 Electoral College votes. In November, if John McCain wins 51% of Texas' popular vote and the Dem nominee wins 49%, John McCain would win that state and get all 34 of Texas' EC votes.
2. General vs. Primary Elections: Different Contexts
a. Who's Voting for Whom?
The Democratic Primary gives mostly Democratic voters (except in open-primary states like Texas) a choice between two or more Democratic candidates.
The General Election in November will give all voters the choice between one Democrat and one Republican (unless a third-party candidate runs and wins the majority of votes in a state).
b. Red States v. Blue States
States that have more Democrats and have historically given Dems their Electoral College votes are called "Blue States." States that similarly lean Republican are known as "Red States."
Because primaries give voters a choice among only one party's candidates, a Democrat can win a Red State's Democratic Primary and still lose that state's Electoral College votes in November.
For example, John McCain won the Republican primaries in the "Blue States" of California and Vermont. Unless there's a major change in those states' voting populations, they'll both likely give their Electoral College votes to a Democrat in November -- not to McCain.
Similarly, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming are among the "Red States." Obama and Clinton each won two of those states during the Democratic primaries. Those "Red States" will likely give all their Electoral College votes to McCain in November -- not to the yet-to-be-determined Democratic candidate.
I don't know whether Obama or Hillary has won more "Red State" delegates during the primary. Perhaps I'll do a count and post it on another day.
4. Voter Turn Out
Generally, more voters show up for the general election in November than for the primaries. In other words, we haven't heard the preferences of many Republican and Democratic voters. I'd rather not dig up statistics on all 50 states, so the table below includes only five examples -- just to give you an idea of how few people vote in primaries.
.....................2004 General......2004 Primary*......2008 Primary
* I use the term "primary" to include a state that has a caucus instead. Also, the numbers are rounded off and include both the Republican and Democratic Parties.
There are all sorts of polls about which Dcm candidate is preferred by Democratic or Dem-laning voters. Gallup's most recent, for example, puts Obama at 45% and Hillary at 45% (with 9% unsure or preferring someone else). The problem is that the margin of error is 3% points, meaning that they are statistically tied.
That and the survey included interviews of only 1,282 American adults who said that they were Dems or Dem-leaning voters. that's an average of only 25.6 people surveyed in each state (if Gallup actually surveyed people in every state).
My conclusion: we're living in uncertain times. Maybe -- though not necessarily -- the Pennsylvania primary on April 22 will reduce the uncertainty.
Memeorandum has other commentary.
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