Blame the Democrats’ Proportional Delegate System? Not Really

As the last few ‘big states’ line up to make their stand in the 2008 Democratic primaries, you can expect to hear more offside remarks about the proportional method the Democrats use to award their delegates. This is contrast to the way most states award delegates in the Republican primary, which follow (more or less) winner-take-all rules, similar to the Electoral College system used in the general election.

So, I wondered, what would the Democrat race look like at this point if they utilized a winner-take-all system in their primaries? Would they have been able to wrap up their primary campaign earlier and pivot to begin the campaign against Republican John McCain?

To calculate this, I took a relatively easy method: using data from RealClearPolitics, for each state, whichever candidate who is estimated to have won the majority of delegates for that state, instead award them all the delegates. States in which both candidates have the same number of delegates, I left alone.

This calculation is admittedly non-optimal, as it doesn’t account for various odd delegate apportioning rules in various states. For instance, in Nevada, Clinton edged out a win in the popular vote, but Obama actually got a few more delegates; similarly the infamous ‘Texas Two-Step’ left Obama in the delegate lead due a surge in delegates from the caucus phase, even after Clinton’s widely reported win in the primaries. However, I’m not convinced that a winner-take-all system would eliminate such weirdness. So, I think its still a fair calculation.

By this method, the current delegate count of Obama’s 1415 vs Clinton’s 1251 would become… drumroll… 1448 vs 1235. (The total is slightly different because in the earlier states other candidates got some delegates here and there.) That count, while slightly further in Obama’s favor, is probably still not enough to have ended the campaign by now. Add in the expected wins for Clinton in Pennsylvania and Obama in North Carolina, and even grant Clinton Indiana and Guam, and you get 1563 to 1469, a difference of 94 delegates. Still not enough to end the campaign… in fact, with the remaining smaller states also doing winner-take-all, this situation would seem much more likely to prolong the campaign, as Clinton would certainly have a chance to overtake Obama with even slight majorities in the remaining 6 states not covered.

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