Sabato's Crystal Ball

What if Democrats Used Winner Take All?

Without proportional allocation Obama would trail

Wesley Little, Special Guest Columnist April 3rd, 2008

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Wesley Little is the Political Chair for Washington & Lee University’s “Mock Convention”, the nation’s most accurate mock convention since its inception in 1908, and a political columnist for several Virginia news papers, including the News Advance and the News-Gazette.


Even as the Obama and Clinton campaigns fight frantically to establish the appropriate yard-stick by which to judge the will of the American people, one fact has been largely ignored: Obama’s significant delegate lead is largely a product of the Democrats ‘ unique delegate allocation system.

A remnant of the bitter convention of 1968 and the McGovern-Fraser Commission that followed, Democrats now award their presidential convention representatives in a proportional manner, under which delegates are given to all those surpassing certain percen tage thresholds. We have to wonder, what would the race look like if the Democrats used the same “winner-take-all” system used in the Republican Party? The results are quite surprising, to say the least.


Table 1. Pledged Delegate Totals Using Hypothetical “Winner Take All” System

Barack Obama Hillary Clinton Still to Come
TOTAL 1260 TOTAL 1427 TOTAL 566
Alabama 52 Arizona 56 Guam 4
Alaska 13 Arkansas 35 Indiana 72
American Samoa 3 California 370 Kentucky 51
Colorado 55 Florida ? Montana 16
Connecticut 48 Massachusetts 93 North Carolina 115
Delaware 15 Michigan ? Oregon 52
Democrats Abroad 7 Nevada 25 Pennsylvania 158
District of Columbia 15 New Hampshire 22 Puerto Rico 55
Georgia 87 New Jersey 107 South Dakota 15
Hawaii 20 New Mexico 26 Unassigned 0
Idaho 18 New York 232 West Virginia 28
Illinois 153 Ohio 141
Iowa 45 Oklahoma 38
Kansas 32 Rhode Island 21
Louisiana 56 Tennessee 68
Maine 24 Texas 193
Maryland 70
Minnesota 72
Mississippi 33
Missouri 72
Nebraska 24
North Dakota 13
South Carolina 45
Utah 23
Vermont 15
Virgin Islands 3
Virginia 83
Washington 78
Wisconsin 74
Wyoming 12

If the Democrats were to allot their current state delegate totals in a winner-take-all format, Clinton would actually have a significant delegate advantage. Despite having won only 14 recognized contests to Obama’s 30, Clinton would currently have a 120 (1738 to 1618) total delegate lead and a remarkable 167 (1427 to 1260) pledged delegate lead. These numbers give Texas’ “prima-caucus” delegates to Clinton and do not include Florida, Michigan or the 693 total delegates and 566 pledged delegates still to be won in the next few months.

Obviously, the Clinton campaign cannot argue for changing the system this late in the game, especially since they agreed to the ground-rules of the process before the campaign started. Yet in a race that has become principally about winning the several hu ndred uncommitted super-delegates, this argument could be used to provide cover for electors currently unwilling to go against the race’s “clear leader”.


Table 2. Combined Pledged and Superdelegate Totals Using “Winner Take All”

Barack Obama Hillary Clinton Still to Come
TOTAL 1618 TOTAL 1738 TOTAL 693
Alabama 60 Arizona 67 Guam 9
Alaska 18 Arkansas 47 Indiana 84
American Samoa 9 California 441 Kentucky 60
Colorado 71 Florida ? Montana 24
Connecticut 60 Massachusetts 121 North Carolina 134
Delaware 23 Michigan ? Oregon 65
Democrats Abroad 11 Nevada 33 Pennsylvania 188
District of Columbia 38 New Hampshire 30 Puerto Rico 63
Georgia 103 New Jersey 127 South Dakota 23
Hawaii 29 New Mexico 38 Unassigned 4
Idaho 23 New York 281 West Virginia 39
Illinois 185 Ohio 161
Iowa 57 Oklahoma 47
Kansas 41 Rhode Island 32
Louisiana 66 Tennessee 85
Maine 34 Texas 228
Maryland 99
Minnesota 88
Mississippi 40
Missouri 88
Nebraska 31
North Dakota 21
South Carolina 54
Utah 29
Vermont 23
Virgin Islands 9
Virginia 101
Washington 97
Wisconsin 92
Wyoming 18

The Clinton campaign could contend that it is the proportional allocation system’s inherent “over-fairness” that is denying her the significant delegate gains that she justifiably deserves from winning states like Ohio, where Clinton’s 10 percent margin o f victory only garnered her 9 more delegates than Obama. This may be an effective argument for Sen. Clinton to justify going forward in the race, especially if she is able to pull closer to even in the popular vote after the contests in Pennsylvania, Ind iana and North Carolina.


Wesley Little can be contacted via email at littlelw@wlu.edu.