by Lynette Long
On March 4, 2008, Texas held its Democratic Primary, affectionately called the Texas-Two Step. After the polls closed at 7 pm, primary voters could participate in a caucus. Sixty-five percent of the pledged delegates were awarded based on the primary results and the other 35% based on the caucus results. According to CNN, 2,867,454 votes were cast in the primary: 51% (1,458,814) for Senator Hillary Clinton and 47% (1,358,785) for Senator Barack Obama, and a smattering of votes (49,855) for John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd combined. In the Texas caucus 42,538 votes were reported on CNN but only 41% of the votes were tallied. Estimates are that 100 people participated in each of the approximately 8,000 caucuses for a total of 800,000 people. The election officials in the state of Texas were completely overwhelmed by the number of voters. Obama was allocated 56% of the caucus votes and Clinton was allocated 44% of the votes. Caucus voters were required to have voted in their precinct. Consequently, caucus voters were a statistical subset of primary voters, but they did not vote the same way. In terms of pledged delegates received in the Texas Two Step, Clinton garnered 94 pledged delegates and Obama got 99 pledged delegates. Obama came out of Texas five delegates ahead of Clinton in a primary she won. Astounding!
Comparing the Texas primary to the Texas caucus has some unique challenges. During the primary other candidates besides Clinton and Obama were on the ballot. To equalize the percentages, the ballots cast for Edwards, Richardson, Biden, and Dodd were eliminated and Clinton’s and Obama’s percentages recomputed -- assuming the eliminated voters would split their votes in the same proportion as the rest of the electorate. The recomputed percentages are Clinton 52% and Obama 48%.
Clinton’s adjusted percentage of 52% of the primary vote is 8% points higher than her 44% in the caucus vote. Clinton moved from a four point win to a twelve point loss, a sixteen point shift. Obama gained these eight percentage points moving from 48% in the primary to 56% in the caucuses. There is a statistical fact that the larger the sample size, the smaller the margin of error. With such large sample sizes, the margin of error would have been small. This statistically significant sixteen point difference is “the caucus factor,” a major factor in the Democratic presidential primary. The existence of a caucus factor poses three important questions. What accounts for the dramatic difference between the two results? Was the “caucus factor” present in the other caucus states? What do these results imply regarding the validity of other caucus results?
No one doubts the accuracy of the almost three million Texas voters who voted in the primary that selected Hillary Clinton as their choice for the Democratic nominee -- but then why wouldn’t the caucus voters, a sample of the primary voters, make the same selection? The simplest explanation is that caucus voters are a sample of primary voters but not a random sample of primary voters. Caucuses are held in the evening and take several hours. Senator Clinton's core voting groups, (senior citizens, shift workers, women, and women with children) are less likely to attend caucuses. Senior citizens are less likely to go out at night, have difficulty driving in the dark, and go to bed earlier. Mothers with young children are too busy in the evenings to spend several hours at a caucus. And some people don’t go to caucuses because of the public nature of the declaration. Voting is a private event, only you and God know who you voted for. At a caucus a voter must publically declare for his or her candidate and resist influencing by the opponents supporters.
Another factor that contributed to the Texas caucus factor was the less regulated nature of the caucuses. Participants in the Texas caucus complained about the lack of validation of voter identity, undue influencing, voter intimidation, voter fraud, and voter suppression. Numerous groups in Texas have challenged the Texas caucus results. In fact there were over 2000 complaints of voter fraud and intimidation in Texas and nothing was done. It is impossible to determine how many of these violations occurred and how much these violations impacted the results.
Finally, Democratic insiders will say that success at a caucus depends on organization. Did the Obama Campaign simply out-organize the Clinton campaign which contributed to their success in the Texas Caucus?
On February 9, Washington State caucused to determine the distribution of the pledged delegates. Obama won 21,629 to 9,992 votes or 68% to 31% and received 53 of the 78 pledged delegates. Ten days later Washington State had a primary election in which no delegates were awarded, yet 669,856 people chose to vote in this beauty contest. Obama won this contest by 51% (354,112 votes) to 46% (315,744 votes). How could Obama win by 37 points in a caucus and only 5 points in the primary, a 32-point difference? The caucus factor is at work again. Which method accurately reflects the will of the voters? More than twenty times the number of people participated in primary, should we trust the masses or the sanctioned election?
Nebraska also had a caucus and a primary. The February 5 caucus, in which 36,571 people participated, yielded very different results than the May 13 primary in which 89,921 voters privately cast their preference for the Democratic Nominee. Obama won the caucus by 36 points, 68%-32%, but the primary by only two points, 49%-47%. There was a 34 point difference between the two results. As a result of the Nebraska caucus and primary, Obama got 16 delegates, Clinton got 8. The caucus counted, the primary didn’t. The results make no sense since even if you combine the results of the primary and the caucus, Clinton had more “votes” yet she garnered half the number of delegates Obama did.
Idaho is the final state that had both a caucus and a primary. Obama won the caucus, held on February 5 by 62 points, 79% -17%. A total of 20,535 people participated in the caucus. The primary which was held on May 27, 2008 had 40,190 votes cast, or approximately twice as many votes as in the caucus. Obama won this contest 56% to 37% or by 19 points, a more reasonable victory. Comparing a 62 point victory to a 19 point victory yields a 43 point caucus factor. As a result of the Idaho caucus and primary, Obama received 15 pledged delegates and Clinton received three delegates. The caucuses counted, the primary didn’t.
If we average the difference between the caucus results and the primary results in Texas (16 points), Washington (32 points), Nebraska (34 points), and Idaho (43 points), the result is an astounding 31 %. This figures proves the inaccuracy of the caucuses.
Further proof of the caucus factor can be shown by contrasting the difference between the results of the caucuses and the primaries collectively. Fourteen states had caucuses -- Senator Obama won thirteen of these caucuses. The probability of that occurring in a hotly contested race where popular vote is a statistical tie, is a statistical impossibility if the caucuses were a true representation of the voters. In the states where primary elections were held, Senator Clinton has won 21 primaries and Senator Obama has won 18 primaries, reflecting the close nature of the Democratic Primary race.
The difference between the margins of victory during caucuses and primaries again illustrates the inaccurate nature of the caucuses. The average point spread in the 13 caucuses Obama won is 32 points. The average of the point spread in the 17 primaries Obama won, is 21 points. This eleven point difference is the caucus factor.
The results in Texas, Washington, Nebraska and Idaho, the number of caucuses won by Obama, and difference between the average margin of victory in the caucuses and primaries, all point to the existence of the caucus factor. The variability of the results of the caucus returns themselves also points to the unreliability of the caucus results. Senator Clinton won two primaries in demographically similar states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, by the same ten point margin. Yet when caucus results in similar states are compared, the disparity of the results is profound. Obama won Idaho by 62 points and the demographically similar Wyoming by 23 points. If the caucus results were reliable, the results of these two similar states would not be so disparate.
Voters who participated in the caucuses had more influence in the election than voters in the primaries. In California, 4,677,788 votes were cast and 363 delegates were awarded. In New York, 232 delegates were pledged in a primary that had 1,748,833 votes cast. In Alaska a total of 8,868 persons “caucused” for 13 pledged delegates. A person who participated in the Alaska Caucus had 11 times more influence in the Democratic Primary than a voter in the New York primary and 19 times more influence than a voter in the California primary. With so few voters accounting for delegate selection in caucus states, results and delegate totals can be easily influenced and manipulated. Another way to think of it is less than 3% of the population participated in caucuses yet they accounted for 14 states.
The caucus factor is a real statistical event which inflated Obama’s lead over Clinton and misrepresented the will of the people. If all the caucus states had primaries, Obama’s margin of victory in those caucus states would have been smaller and most likely Clinton would have won some of the caucus states. The Democratic Primary was extremely close and questions should be raised regarding the validity and reliability of the caucus results. Unfortunately, a win in a caucus state was given the same weight as a win in a state with a primary election, allowing Obama supporters to claim, “He’s won more states,” even though Clinton won more primaries. Even more disturbing is the fact that of the 14 Caucus States, eight are Dark Red states. The Democrats allowed 1the Red States like Wyoming, Nebraska, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota, Colorado and Nevada and the Southern States like North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana and the pick their nominee. Not a great coalition for the fall.