Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Group That Might Change It All? A Closer Look at the Democratic Change Commission's Membership

Earlier today in a post about the Democratic Change Commission's first meeting -- set to take place this weekend -- I set myself the goal of finding out how many superdelegates from 2008 were among the group's members. The logic there is that if the group is made up entirely of former superdelegates, then the likelihood of that portion of the nomination equation being changed drops significantly. But there are three points on the commission's to-do list. Let's look at them again and then examine how the members' backgrounds may influence the commission's ultimate recommendation to the DNC:
  1. The window of time in which presidential nomination contests are held
  2. The impact of superdelegates
  3. The caucus system
So, if superdelegates comprise a majority of the group, that [hypothetically] negatively affects the chances of that issue being meaningfully reformed. And that logic holds for the other two issues as well. If caucus states are overrepresented on the commission relative to primary states, that affects action on the system of caucusing. Also, if earlier states are represented in higher proportion on the commission, they may be more likely to protect the status quo.

Before we turn to the numbers, let's revisit my back-of-the-napkin analysis from when the commission was named in March.

The Membership

My first inclination is to look not at who specifically these 37 commission members are, but to focus on where they are from and what that says about the group collectively. Let's look at it by the numbers:
  • 37 members (2 co-chairs and 35 members)
  • Representing 26 states (plus DC, Puerto Rico and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe)
  • 7 members are from 7 red states
  • 24 members from 19 blue states (and four more from DC)
  • Of the 15 states within ten points in the presidential election, 13 are represented on the commission (only Indiana and North Dakota are excluded)
  • All of the January 2008 Democratic contest states are represented (Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida)
Now, what does any of that have to do with the changes this commission may bring about? Well, it has a "take care of your own" feel to it. The membership hails from the Obama coalition of states and of those outside that coalition, most are states that were within ten points last November. These states won't necessarily have privileged positions on the 2012 calendar but they will be represented on the commission. Part of the Obama success story was primary season organizational efforts that paid dividends in the general election. The flip side here is that the membership isn't a reflection of future goals (in terms of states to target), but represent states where those organizational efforts were the strongest/most vital.
First, let's augment this with a look at the caucus states representatives on the Democratic Change Commission (DCC). Of course, we should probably start this by noting that proportionally there are far fewer caucus states than primary states. About a quarter of the states (12) held Democratic caucuses in 2008. On the DCC, six of the members are from caucus states and that amounts to just under a sixth of the total membership.

Prognosis: The likelihood of some change to the caucus system -- uniforming the process across caucus states, for example -- actually has few obstacles.

How about superdelegates? How many former supers are on the DCC? From the 2008 cycle, 12 former superdelegates are among the members of the commission and that is roughly a third of the membership. However, just because there are a fair number of superdelegates on the commission doesn't necessarily mean that they'll stand in the way of some change to the superdelegate formula.

Prognosis: Perhaps less likely than a change to the caucuses, but the chances for change are not bad on the whole.

And primary/caucus timing? It'll never happen. Frontloading is here to stay. I'm kidding, but when you look at the numbers there may be a significant obstacle here. This, after all, is the most difficult plank on this three-pronged platform to change. How can we quantify this, though. For our purposes, I'll look at DCC members from states that held contests prior to March. [Yes, I know. That's over half the country.] And there are 28 members from pre-March states out of the 37 person group. That's quite a few. But the obstacle theory doesn't necessarily hold here. If all or most states are already early, as they were in 2008, those early states are more likely to be amenable to just moving everything back a month if no one is better or worse off for the move. Texas and Ohio and the other handful of March states get something of a boost (Well, that's debateable given the likely March logjam. But it isn't a given that at 2012 or 2016 race would play out and last as long as the race in 2008.) and all those February states just shift back a month. Basically, things would, on the Democratic side, revert to their pre-2004 levels.

However, we could also see members complain about the difficulty of pushing such a shift through unreceptive (read: Republican-controlled) legislatures. In other words, state legislators wanting their constituents -- the Republican ones at least -- to have an influence over the 2012 Republican nomination would basically thumb their noses at the Democratic rules if they asked for there to be such a February to March shift. In fact, such legislators may even see that as an opportunity to keep their state in a less crowded, more advantageous position on the calendar.

One final thing we can look at here is how pre-2008 February states are represented on the committee. By this logic, new early state's in 2008 may be more willing to go back to the way things were with the 2004 calendar. This seems less likely now that I'm typing this out, but I've got the numbers and I'll go ahead and share them. Instead of 28 members from pre-March states, there are only 16 (a little less than half) that were from pre-March states in 2004.

Prognosis: There are a lot of early states represented on this commission and that may or may not bode well for some reform on this particular aspect of the group's plan. However, this group was handpicked (possibly making the above numbers moot), so if they desire to make a change -- like the February to March shift -- then they are likely to be able to push it through. But they'll have to tackle the issue of the problems that could create with the RNC. There have been some contacts kept between the parties on this, but without bipartisan action, it is unlikely that we'll see any sweeping reform to the system.

Recent Posts:
Democratic Change Commission Meeting This Weekend

Why the Sanford Thing Matters

How Not to Emerge as a GOP Darkhorse, Part II


Anonymous said...

What are the chances they change the disproportionate distribution of delegates in each state? I am fairly sure they Clyburn is quite happy with African American votes counting for more than others', which is the case since urban areas receive more delegates per 1,000 or 10,000 or whatever the case is. Oh man, I hate being a democrat right now, I feel so helpless.

Josh Putnam said...

I'd say the chances of that are zero. I don't even know if that issue is on the table at the Democratic Change Commission's meetings. The formula that decides the number of delegates each state has is determined by the state's population and how loyal the state's voters have been (in the aggregate) to the parties. Population is a no-brainer -- the electoral college and number of representatives in Congress are built on that. The loyalty issue is in place to reward states that have consistently voted for one of the parties' presidential candidates, or with one of the parties' gubernatorial or senate candidates more often than not.

African Americans aren't the determinative factor here then. The extent to which they continue to support the Democratic Party in elections across all offices is what drives delegate numbers up in those states.

Here's the 2008 formula from TheGreenPapers:

Computation of (intermediate) Base Votes
for Jurisdictions with Electoral Votes

The rules of the Democratic National Convention call for the following formula to be used in determining the allocation of delegate votes to each jurisdiction sending a delegation to the Convention.

Each jurisdiction with electoral votes is assigned a number of Base (delegate) votes based on an "Allocation Factor" multiplied by 3,000 arrived at through a calculation involving the following factors:

1. State's Democratic Vote (SDV): The jurisdiction's popular vote for the Democratic candidate for President in the last three Presidential Elections (1996, 2000, and 2004).
2. Total Democratic Vote (TDV): The total popular vote for the Democratic candidate for President in the last three Presidential Elections (1996, 2000, and 2004).
3. The state's Electoral Vote (SEV).
4. The total Electoral Vote of all jurisdictions (538).

The formula for determining a jurisdiction's Allocation Factor is:

Allocation Factor = ½ × ( ( SDV ÷ TDV ) + ( SEV ÷ 538 ) )

The number of Base votes assigned to a state is Allocation Factor × 3000 (Fractions 0.5 and above are rounded to the next highest integer).

To summarize, half of a jurisdiction's base vote is determined by the number of Presidential Electors assigned to that state and half are computed by the number of people who voted for the Democratic candidate in the last three elections.