Thursday, March 6, 2008

What Would Happen in a Michigan Democratic Primary Re-Vote?

With the Democratic nomination race extending indefinitely, the political pundits are buzzing about the possibility of a re-vote in Florida and Michigan. For what its worth, the possibility seems greater that Michigan will pull this off. After all, the Michigan Democratic Party was already prepared to host their own party-run primary (complete with voting by mail and Internet) before the state legislature got involved and changed the plans. They also have a more difficult case to make with the credentials committee since Obama's name did not even appear on the ballot.

So, what would happen if Michigan pursued such a primary? Well, a good place to start is with what happened when they held their first primary in January. Remember, Hillary Clinton was the only major candidate on the ballot in Michigan (Kucinich, Dodd and Gravel's names also appeared). However, Clinton took just 55.3% of the vote statewide, compared to 40% for "uncommitted." Uncommitted actually won in Washtenaw (Ann Arbor...home of the University of Michigan) and Emmet Counties. This primary also was held following Clinton's victory in New Hampshire (and before Obama's win in South Carolina). Given that Clinton took just 55.3% of the vote in a contest where neither Obama nor Edwards appeared on the ballot, it seems unlikely that she would receive a higher percentage in a re-vote. If we assume that Clinton would receive 55% to 45% for Obama in Michigan, then Clinton would gain about a 12 delegate edge in the state.

Now, we can get an even better sense of how things might go in Michigan from the exit polls that were taken in January. One of the questions asked on the exit poll was who the respondent would have voted for if all the candidates had been on the ballot. We can look at these figures in two ways. The simple way is just to see how these voters broke down in the exit poll. 46% said that they would still vote for Clinton, 35% would have voted for Obama, and 12% would have voted for Edwards. If you split the Edwards vote evenly between Obama and Clinton, then the vote would be 52-41% in favor of Clinton. This would yield a 16 delegate edge for Clinton in the state.

Another way to look at the exit polls is to use them to get a sense of how many Clinton voters would have voted for Obama and assume that anyone who didn't vote for Clinton in January (when she was the only candidate on the ballot) would not do so now. Based on the exit polls, 18% of those who would have voted for Obama if his name had been on the ballot ended up voting for Clinton. So, this suggests that about 6% of those who voted for Clinton in January actually wanted to vote for Obama. If we subtract that 6% from Clinton's total and give the remaining vote to Obama, the split in Michigan would be about 50-50. In this case, Clinton may not pick up any delegates.

Of course, a lot has changed since January and a party-run primary with early voting available on the Internet or by mail could change things significantly. In addition, turnout among Obama supporters may have been suppressed given that they knew that his name would not be on the ballot. Nevertheless, based on what happened last time, it appears as though the best case scenario for Clinton in Michigan would be a 16-20 delegate edge and it is likely that she would get less than that or even no edge at all. It all depends on how you crunch the numbers.

UPDATE: Just to elaborate a bit on what may happen with an event that is run by the Michigan Democratic Party, let me refer you to a page that was set up by the Michigan Democratic Party when they were originally set to sponsor their own primary on February 9th (before the MI state legislature got involved). In short, the MDP had already arranged for a party-run primary (technically called a caucus, but not really a caucus). Thus, it stands to reason that they could simply implement the plan they originally had but for a later date. The key parts of the document are as follows:

"Voting centers will be open between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. EST. You can vote at any voting center in the county where you live anytime during those hours. ... Voters must complete a ballot, including a public declaration that they are a Democrat and are or will be a registered voter before the November election."

If the party followed this plan, voters would have to state that they were a Democrat. Keep in mind that Michigan does not have party registration.

"Yes, you can vote by mail if you qualify. ... Unlike traditional absentee voting in Michigan you do not need a reason such as age or disability to vote by mail. Applications must be received by February 2, 2008 at 6 P.M. (or earlier if the Caucus date is moved).A ballot will be mailed via the U.S Postal Service to those who apply and are registered to vote."

And this...

"Yes, you can vote over the Internet if you qualify. Follow the same application procedures as voting by mail."

The Michigan Democratic Party held an event just like this in 2004 so it would probably be relatively easy for them to print ballots and set up internet voting in short order (they had already been planning on this as late as last summer). Setting up in-person voting sites may be a bit more trouble, but they could likely pull that off as well. Simply put, because they had already planned to hold an event like this, the Michigan Democratic Party should be in a position to pull off a primary-like event, complete with early voting (by mail or Internet).

UPDATE 2: A Rasmussen poll finds that Obama and Clinton are tied in Michigan if that state were to hold a re-vote. This fits with the above analysis that took 6% off of Clinton's total from the first primary since those supporters actually preferred Obama.


Kristin said...

Michiganders are notorious for crossover-voting in primaries in order to create mischief for the opposing party. So what happens to all those Obama and Edwards supporters who crossed over to vote in the GOP primary? (Some Dems voted for Romney in order to give the GOP a third frontrunner after Huckabeee won Iowa and McCain took NH.) I presume that they are now ineligible from voting in any new Dem primary or caucus. Plus, if there is a new primary or caucus (Gov. Granholm mentioned a caucus today), will it be open? If so, will we see Republicans who didn't bother to vote in their primary come over and vote for Obama in order to throw off Clinton?

Anonymous said...

"turnout among Obama supporters may have been suppressed given that they knew that his name would not be on the ballot."

may have been suppressed??? gee, d'ya think?

Clinton barely won a majority against None Of The Above. Very hard to imagine she could do that well against Obama.

And, huge point, winning a primary by 55-45% doesn't necessarily translate into the same fraction of delegates. Look at Ohio: Clinton wins by about 10% of the vote but nets only 10-12 delegates from the 141 delegate pool.

aumshantih said...

It's more likely Republicans will cross over to vote for Hillary, as Rush Limbaugh asked them to do on March 4th. The Republicans *know* that McCain can beat Hillary, but are afraid of McCain Obama match up.

Anonymous said...

I'm in MI, and my parents and grandparents both voted early for Clinton.

This re-do, if it happens, caucus or primary, won't offer that option. So that's 2-4 more votes Hillary doesn't keep, but Obama does not gain. This might be common, I'm not sure.

Mark Nickels said...

I'm from Michigan, and Michigan, in terms of statewide primaries, is Wayne and Oakland counties, Flint and the areas between Detroit and the Ohio border. Western Michigan has grow but not all that many dems there. Plain and simple. Obama will walk away with Michigan, and it amazes me you do not see it. At the time of the Michigan primary, it wasn't clear that he was not a fluke, not the rhetorically (if not numerically) threatened front-runner.