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Coalition Politics, Anyone?

The estimate that it is mathematically impossible that anyone become the clear leader in their party’s Presidential nomination race after Super Tuesday may or may not be right.

In 2000, I can remember Dick Morris confidently predicting that it was impossible for the popular vote to go one way and the electoral vote to go another.  But that’s exactly what happened.  The focus ended up on Florida (because the popular vote was so close) and to a lesser extent Tennessee (because Al Gore ignominously lost his own home state.)  But the reality is that the Electoral College favours the small states because they count two votes for the Senate seats for each state, and George Bush won more small states.  Since their popular votes are more heaving weighted in the Electoral College, they negated the 500,000 vote plurality that Al Gore had, so George Bush became President.

So much for impossibilities…

The Democrats have a better chance at getting a clear leader because there are fewer "viable" candidates in the race.  The major variables are related to the volatility of the electorate, both the voters in the primaries and caucuses and the superdelegates.

The Republicans, with their Cecil B. DeMille movie of a field (a little smaller since Fred Thompson threw in the towel) not only face the prospect of no clear winner after Super Tuesday, but also of not obtaining one when the primaries and caucuses are finished.  This could lead to something that is beyond the living memory of much of the American electorate: a brokered convention, with the wheeling and dealing in formerly smoke filled rooms.  Most recent party conventions have been staged media events (and not very strong ones at that,) but in the past conventions were exciting news.  Perhaps we will see this again.

There are two lessons to this.

The first is that our system and mentality is ill-suited for any form of coalition or brokered politics, even though in some ways such a system is the best way to avoid the rigid polarisation that has dominated American political life for so long.  No one is really looking for this kind of result, although it is very possible, especially for the Republicans, who unfortunately have become too much ideological purists to make the most of such a situation.

The second is a piece of advice, especially for the Republicans: quit basing your voting decision on who you think will win and just vote your preference.  If a clear winner comes out of Super Tuesday, fine; if not, all the money spent on the Convention won’t be such a waste.  Your candidate can use your support as leverage for your position whether or not he gets the nomination.


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