Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Nomination Contest Format Map

I scoured the web to try to find a map of the nomination contest format for the Democrats. In the end, unable to discover one, I created my own. In states with both primaries and caucuses, I labeled the state with whichever format the media pays most attention to, usually the one with the most pledged votes up for grabs. And be sure to read the definitions below--they are crucial. (Click the map to enlarge it.)

Closed: Only party members may vote, and they must have been registered with the appropriate party prior to election day.

Quasi-Closed: Technically speaking, only party members may vote, but voters may register with the party at the caucus door, or will be registered automatically by virtue of voting in the party's primary. (It took a good deal of digging to work out this category. I think I got them all right, but you never know.)

Open: Both party members and independent voters may vote. In some states, crossover votes are also permitted (e.g. Republicans could vote in the Democratic primary) but I did not distinguish between these two cases.

What do we learn from all this? Mostly that there is regional bias toward certain formats. It may also be interesting to compare this to the Obama/Clinton contest. (I recommend this updated version of the map I noted in the "Rust Belt and Island Warfare" post.) The most obvious trend is that Obama has won the vote in every caucus except Nevada, and even there he won the plurality of delegates. (OK, Hillary won American Samoa's caucus.) Given the regional clumping of caucuses though, I can't say whether Obama's success is explained better by the format or the demographics.


Raised By Republicans said...

The problem with the argument Dr S. is trying to imply that he is confusing the issue by only looking at one side.

Sure, Obama has won nearly all of the caucuses but it cannot be said that Clinton has won all of the primaries - although that is probably the desired implication.

Basically what we have is a situation where Obama and Clinton have divide the primary states among them and Obama has won all the Caucus states.

Why is this interesting? Well, there are a lot of reasons. I'll highlight the ones I like. Caucus voters are much more likely to be well informed voters. It takes more effort to participate in a Caucus so there is a lot of self selection. Caucus voters are far less likely to vote based solely on name recognition than are primary voters.

Of course both primary voters and Caucus goers are better informed than the average general election voter (I would guess). But Caucus goers are usually party activists who pay attention to politics a lot.

It is interesting that while the party leadership backed Clinton very heavily from the start - going so far as to tailor the primary schedule to suit her advantages - the activists are disproportionately rallying around Obama. Why?

Why is it that the best informed rank and file members of the party don't like the candidate chosen for them by the party leadership? Could it be that the rank and file membership is has simultaneously found out what they want and realized that the current party leadership won't deliver?

Dr. Strangelove said...

I was not trying imply something as preposterous as the notion that Clinton has won all of the primaries. I think I deserve a little more credit than that.

First and foremost, I posted the map on the blog because I am just plain proud of it. The map took a hell of a lot longer to piece together than one might think because the details of who is eligible to vote in each primary or caucus are hard to ferret out. (Alas, Wikipedia and The Green Papers will only get you so far.)

Once I had finished the map, I tried to make sense of it. I recalled that Obama had won nearly all the caucuses. I saw from the map that the caucuses were largely clumped together. So I wondered if Obama's spectacular success in the caucuses might be due as much to favorable demographics as a (possibly) favorable format. That was it.

As for your note that, "Caucus goers are usually party activists who pay attention to politics a lot," this makes sense for typical caucuses but this year defies history in many ways. In many caucuses, turnout in the caucuses has been several times the previous record--and many of those coming to caucus are first-time voters and independents. In Alaska, for example, a third of the voters registered right there at the caucuses. Newspapers are replete with stories of busloads of college students (and other young voters) flooding the caucuses and making lines out the door. And this, by the way, is a fantastic strategy that only someone as charismatic as Obama could possibly pull off.

Raised By Republicans said...

Sorry, Dr. S. I misunderstood the point. You've made the point that Obama's success should be seen as less impressive because he's really won most dominantly in the cuacuses. But never have you followed that up by pointing out that he's also won most of the primaries too.

I think I can be forgiven for thinking that you were trying to make the point that Clinton's candidacy should be seen as the "primary winner" and Obama's as the "caucus winner."

As for the increase in could be that people are just WAY more interested and so make more effort to participate - which usually correlates to them paying better attention (being more informed). The level of information a voter has is not entirely something inate and immutable. They can change it for themselves from one election to the next.

Dr. Strangelove said...

An overwhelming influx of people who have never been to a caucus (or in many cases, who have never even voted before) this year is inconsistent with the notion that caucus attendees this year were mostly party activists, or people with a history of involvement.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Make sure you check your results at -
that incredibly well-researched site has all this information at a glance. It explains all the rules for each delegation and state in great detail. I can't pimp that site hard enough.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Primary elections were first adopted as a result of progressive reforms against smoke-filled rooms in the early 1900s. So, CA was a typical example. These were few. Then in the 1960s, after the civil rights movement and the debacles of 1964 and 1968, the Democratic party promoted primaries to ease what we would call a 'democratic deficit.' The map reflects, basically, that certain areas of the USA resisted the initial progressivism in this regard and were not under pressure in the 1960s or 1970s to change.

The open/closed nature of primaries or caucuses depends a lot on this history also. Open primaries are usually not wanted by parties - they are promoted when voters can be persuaded that there is a "problem" with the system. Either it's the legacy of progressivism (as in CA - where parties are very weak and not well liked) or in the south. I suspect that the % of independents is much higher in open-primary states. It's a feedback loop.

The Law Talking Guy said...

There is also an obvious population issue: states with smaller populations are not under pressure to change the caucus format. It is notable that Washington state, with a big population, is under pressure to change. Its voters adopted a primary election. The Washington primary is on 2/19. Washington, however, allows states to decide if the primary will matter. Dems ignore it altogether; Republicans decide 1/2 their delegates by primary.

Note, it's not true that small population causes caucuses: vermont, rhode island, new hampshire, montana, are examples of small states with primary formats. I just think that states with small (or rural) populations are under less pressure to change generally.

Raised By Republicans said...

I shouldn't say that ALL caucus goers are activists. But when you talk about tens of thousands of people participating in a caucus statewide, you're not talking about a random sample of the voters - exactly the criticism the Clinton campaign makes when they try to downplay Obama's wins by saying "Well, they're mostly caucuses and we all know they aren't representative."

And really, that's the argument you were hinting at with your original posting.

I do think it's fair to say that because it is much more difficult to go to a caucus and participate in one, caucuses have a higher precentage of the most well informed voters and a higher concentration of people with histories of local participation and activism.

So I restate my question: Why should such biased samples of voters so overwhelmingly reject the candidate annointed by the national party leadership - Hillary Clinton?

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG: I did a lot of research at for this map. it's a very good site. But for my purposes, it was not quite accurate enough. The level of detail it gives is not uniform. For example, it lists Iowa as a closed caucus, which is technically true, except you can sign up for the party at the door, and many, many did. To find out which other states had quasi-closed instead of actually closed systems, I went to dozens of individual state party websites and individual secretary of state websites for each state. I did my homework... this time.

USWest said...

Impressive, Dr. S! Thanks!

The Law Talking Guy said...

Dr.S - I wasn't suggesting you hadn't done your homework. I was offering that could have lightened your load substantially - but, of course, you already found and used it.

Whatever you can say about the level of "activism" among caucus goers, it is certainly true that being a caucus-goer rquires more more politically activity than just being Joe or Jane Voter. You've got to give up an evening, possibly find a sitter for the kids, and so forth. That's a commitment of time that most people won't make. After all, the voter turnout isn't usually around 1/3 or less in most primaries, and all that requires is 20 minutes or so of your day.

Of course, the "problem" with caucuses is precisely that they are composed of a special subset of voters (those who give a shit). To the extent their preferences diverge from those of the electorate as a whole, the caucus may be a poor tool for selecting a candidate for a general election.

My personal prefererence for caucuses is that I think primary elections are too expensive to run and focus us on TV ads. Even in CA, a system of caucuses would be less of a mass media campaign than a primary. Of course, as a Tivo user, I didn't see ANY television ads for the primary election in CA. Not one. Not a billboard, not a radio ad - nada. Not even direct mail. It makes me wonder if there is a problem with mass media campaigns that, increasingly, they only reach the poorer or less active segments of the electorate anyway.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I wonder... I thought that Democratic candidates alone spent $100 million on Iowa, even more than New Hampshire. And I thought I heard Iowans saw so many political ads on TV they were sick of them. So I am not sure caucuses reduce money or use of mass media. They do, however, narrow the electorate.

Dr. Strangelove said...

One other thought... If caucuses require a significant commitment of time and often financial resources... Isn't holding a caucus instead of a primary kind of like having a poll tax?

The Law Talking Guy said...

Iowa was first, of course, so it's a bit of a strange case. I strongly suspect the per-citizen cost of caucuses is less than primaries.

As for poll tax, keep in mind that a caucus is NOT a vote for public officeholder, but for a private office holder (the party delegates). So the idea of a "poll tax" is simply irrelevant.