Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Republican Gang, Part Six

Well, it's been a day since my last post, so just about everything must have changed, right?

Sort of.

Yesterday was the day of the Santorum Sweepstakes. There's really no other way to put it. Santorum won not just the totally insignificant (and superfluous) Missouri primary, but also the not-so-insignificant caucuses of Minnesota and Colorado.

Who'd have thought it? I wouldn't, for one. Missouri wasn't really a surprise, to be honest. Romney had skipped the primary and Gingrich wasn't on the ballet; it was a contest lacking any and all importance and it just doesn't count. Santorum nevertheless campaigned in the state in what seemed to me a rather risky gamble: if he had lost the primary to Romney, he ran the very real risk of making himself a laughing stock.

He didn't lose, though; he won quite handsomely. And then he went on to win Minnesota, a victory that does count, and that was a bit of a surprise. And then, to just about everyone's astonishment, he took Colorado, too. And that, frankly, was a real upset.

In yesterday's post, I pointed out that Romney had won Colorado in 2008 with some 60% of the vote. I predicted he wouldn't do so well this time round. Boy, was that ever a case of unintentional understatement! In the end, Romney managed a relatively paltry 35%, whilst Santorum walked away with 40%.

In Colorado, by the way, some 65.000 voters turned up. That was some 5.000 less than in 2008. If you add and subtract and divide a few things, you'll realise the scale of Romney's defeat. Effectively, he got about half the votes he did in 2008. And it's not for want of campaigning (although, to be fair, Romney did perhaps not fully commit to the state).

In Minnesota, things were, perhaps, even worse, with Romney ending up with just 17%. Ron Paul easily surpassed him with 27%, whilst Santorum jauntily strolled to the finish with 45%.

So, has everything changed? Well, not really. Yes, there is certainly a buzz going around. Yes, the race has experienced another shake-up, after the Gingrich mutiny in South Carolina. But has the situation truly altered? Is Santorum suddenly going to become The Nominee?

No, I don't think so. What yesterday's results seem to indicate is two things. First, the vagaries of the caucus system. Second, the Whirr/Clack Mechanism Syndrome.

I will address the first issue here (the second will have to wait, just a bit).

I, like many others, tend to view caucuses with some affection. It's a weird sentiment, to be sure, but caucuses bring out an "aw, shucks" reaction in me. They're quaint, for want of a better word. They're even cute.

They're also notoriously unreliable and quite undemocratic, for a great many reasons. Perhaps the major reason is simply one of numbers. In Colorado, for example, some 1.100.000 voters voted for McCain in 2008. That's over a million people. In the caucus that year, 70.000 people voted (and of those, only some 13.000 voted for McCain). Even assuming all Republicans had reconciled themselves to McCain retrospectively at the time of the caucus (i.e.: all caucus voters had voted for McCain) that still means a ratio of 0,06. In other words: just 6% of the people voting Republican in the general election would, even in this very unreal scenario, have bothered to vote for McCain in the caucus. And in reality, it was just over 1%.

That's not democracy by any stretch of the imagination. And no, it doesn't really help to point out that the caucus-goers are die-hards, that they're the real backbone of the political movement. It doesn't really help, because, quite simply, those caucus-goers don't represent real voters. Their views are simply not the views of the people who ultimately go out and select their president.

The second reason - akin to the first, but different - is that caucus results don't accurately reflect the ideas of voters at the time they're held. Given the time difference and given the very different scale and scope, it's always difficult to compare general election results with caucus or even primary results. But the specific problem with a caucus is that it doesn't represent the views of the voters even at the time the caucus is held. That can't be right, surely?

Consider, again, Colorado. Romney won with 60% in 2008. He lost with 35% in 2012. Now, there are some reasons why Romney lost this time round, but the numbers just don't add up. Or subtract, or whatever. Romney got half the votes he got four years ago. Why? I have no idea. A 5% difference would be fine. A 10% difference would be understandable. But a difference of 25%? In Colorado?

Caucuses, simply by virtue of the fact that they squeeze their results out of very small and very restricted platforms, are just not very meaningful. I wish that were different - I like 'em, as I said - but it just ain't.

And, as a result, I must admit that I'd be in favour of abolishing the caucus system entirely.

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