Rural state caucuses: very small numbers of people making very important decisions

In the 2008 Pennsylvania primary for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama 55-45 — a margin of over 200,000 votes. She picked up 12 delegates on him: 85 to 73. But that was only enough to offset Obama’s edge in the Idaho caucus, where he racked up a 15-3 delegate edge despite the state’s dramatically lower population.

And that was a key part of Obama’s victory, and one of the main reasons that it was clear Obama would win for a couple of months before Clinton conceded. The Obama team understood that the race was for delegates — not a race for popularity or momentum or press as the convention neared.

Of course, it’s sort of ridiculous — isn’t it? — that a caucus win in Idaho should offset a significant primary loss in a major swing state like Pennsylvania. But that’s the way primary politics work in the U.S.

So today Romney won “big” in the Nevada caucuses, and with just over 45% of precincts reporting tonight so far, he has a little over 7,000 votes. Really?

Yes, when all of Las Vegas has reported, the vote counts will look a little less absurd, but the system is still deeply problematic.

Take a look at the vote count so far, with about 44% reporting, in Lander County, which has a population density of approximately one person per square mile:

Between Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, we have four of the first five contests in states with small populations and/or with election processes that involve very few voters.

Are those voters representative enough of the electorate at large to deserve such an outsized influence? The answer is clearly no, in my opinion.