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Monday, June 02, 2008

Clinton's dishonest popular vote claim has a new caveat

Hillary Clinton claims to have won the so-called popular vote, but if you pay close attention to her words she is now using a critical qualifier: "in presidential primaries."

Many people won't notice Clinton's caveat, but the meaning of her carefully chosen words could not be more clear: her definition of "popular vote" now includes only primary states. In the past, she excluded four caucus states that did not report vote totals: Iowa, Maine, Nevada, and Washington. Now she's excluding all of them.

By excluding caucus states, Clinton is dismissing the preferences of voters in fourteen states, home to more than 56 million Americans and nearly one in five voters. And by Clinton's new rules, they might as well have never voted.

As she might say, how can you win in November if you don't count one-fifth of the Electoral College?

For Hillary Clinton, this has nothing principle. It's a simple math problem: the only way she can claim any sort of "popular vote" victory is by refusing to count all the votes.

The fact is that Barack Obama wins the so-called "popular vote" if you count every vote in every contest with delegates at stake (whether or not you include the Texas caucuses, which some say would be double-counting). Moreover, if you expand the vote total to include all contests, whether or not they had any bearing on the selection of delegates (Michigan, including votes cast for Hillary Clinton and by supporters of Barack Obama, and the unsanctioned contests in Nebraska, Washington, and Idaho), Obama still leads.

The only scenarios under which Barack Obama trails are ones in which Clinton arbitrarily excludes caucuses and refuses to recognize that a substantial share of Michigan's uncommitted and write-in voters were Barack Obama supporters, a fact which is universally recognized outside of Clinton-land.

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Despite Barack Obama's popular vote lead, these statistics are wildly misleading; you simply can't add together the results of so many different contests, each run under a different set of rules, and expect the sum total to express any true sense of the popular will. You need a common denominator to make sure every state has a fair say. That's why we have pledged delegates.

Those who persist in advancing this idea of a "national popular vote" are, in my view, pushing a fundamentally dishonest concept. But now Hillary Clinton has taken the dishonesty to an entirely new level -- even if you reject my underlying premise.

Hillary Clinton is certainly entitled to dispute my view on the relevance of the popular vote. She is not, however, entitled to a different set of facts; if she insists on the "popular vote" metric, she should be congratulating Barack Obama for his victory.

The fact that she is claiming the victory for herself, and that she is choosing her words so carefully, using the word "primary" to exclude one-fifth of Americans, speaks clearly to the deliberate nature of her deceptive claim.

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Update at 9:09PM: Here are the actual vote totals to support the assertions I made in this post. The methodology is explained in the chart itself. For reasons I stated in the article, none of these are good measures of the overall popular will. I think the most accurate one is probably the "Sanctioned, excluding Texas caucuses line." It's also important to note that at least 362,000 of Clinton's votes (and about 121,000 of Obama's) were cast by McCainiacs -- McCain supporters with no intention of voting Democratic in thefall.

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