The Near-Impossibility Of A Brokered Convention
by Chris Bowers, Thu Apr 05, 2007 at 10:26:52 AM EDT
However, as much as I would like for a brokered convention to take place, I just don't think that it will happen. The basic reason is that unless two candidates are virtually even in delegates, there will be a lot of insider, super delegate pressure on the candidate trailing in delegates to drop out and endorse the leader. Further, it will be extremely difficult for any two candidates to really be all that close in terms of delegates, for several reasons which I explain in the extended entry:
- The winner of a state caucus / primary receives delegates in a disproportional amount relative to his or her vote percentage. For example, in 2004, the winner of 29 of 30 states to hold events on or before March 2nd received a higher percentage of delegates than he received at the ballot box. Overall, Kerry received 75.9% of elected delegates, despite only receiving 50.2% of the caucus vote, and 61.0% of the primary vote. Every other candidate received a lower percentage of delegates than s/he received at the ballot box. Even small victories can allow a candidate to rack up large delegate advantages.
- Over one-quarter of delegates are not elected. Even as the delegate system allows a candidate a larger lead among elected delegates than s/he received in terms of votes at the ballot box / caucus location, with nearly one-third of all delegates not elected (the super delegates), party insiders can easily apply enough pressure on a second-place candidate to force him or her to drop out long before the convention (or, at least remove any chance s/he might have at winning the convention). Insiders would be scared to death of the nominee being decided at the convention, as they fear it would seriously damage the chances of the party to win back the White House. As such, a leading candidate does not need to win 50% of delegates in the states: s/he will only require a minimum lead of, say 150 or 200 delegates, and support of the super delegates, in order to warp things up early on.
- Intra-party voting blocks dissipating. In past nomination processes, the election has dragged out because some candidates were exceptionally strong among some regions and demographics within the primary electorate. For example, in 1988 Al Gore had tremendous strength among southern whites, allowing him to win many primaries, and Jesse Jackson was dominant among African-Americans, allowing him to win many primaries. Further, neither candidate ever did very well in a state without a large concentration of their best-performing demographic. As a result, the primary electoral was fragmented into voting blocks, and it was extremely difficult for any one candidate to sweep several states in a row. However, the Democratic Party just is not as fragmented as it once was, and don't expect wide, regional and demographic swings in favor of one candidate or another. In other words, if someone has a national lead, even if small, that candidate will probably lead in every single state as well. For example, despite a lead of only around 11% nationwide, Clinton leads in every single state in the nation, with the exception of Iowa and the home states of most other candidates. Among the Democratic primary electorate, regional and demographic differences are just not as meaningful to voting tendencies as they once were. Pew has more data on this here, and I have written about this in the past.
- No candidate has "hard" support. Simply put, no candidate's base of supporters is so strong and unyielding that s/he won't suffer major defections in s/he does poorly in early states. A recent Pew poll put the percentage of true undecideds in the Democratic electorate at 71%, and I actually think it might be a little higher than that. Factor in that many candidates will drop out before February 5th, and that the supporters of the candidates who drop out will flock disproportionately to the candidate in the lead, and the possibility of a virtually tied campaign going into February 5th becomes even more remote.
So, in summary, while I would like to see a "brokered" convention for both sides where the nomination is determined at the convention and not in the states, it just strikes me as an extremely narrow possibility. Be prepared for the presumptive nominee to be crowned on February 5th, or possibly even earlier.