I think the popular vote is the better, unmediated measure. The delegate rules are byzantine and don’t necessarily have any connection to the broader popular will–see Texas. Now, if there were no such thing as super-delegates and the race were to be decided by pledged delegates alone, that’d be one thing. But the super-delegates are going to decide. They can make their decision on any basis they like, but if they want to follow what the voters have said, they’d be much better advised to look at the popular vote rather than the pledged delegate count. Of course, the Obama campaign and the media–a redundancy?–have effectively made the race all about pledged delegates. But it doesn’t have to be.
UPDATEA good point via e-mail:
The problem, though, is that states which held caucuses have only a fraction of the actual voter turnout of primaries.So you can’t use popular vote as a true and accurate measure of voter’s intent in a mixed primary/caucus system. A caucus may bring out only 5-10% of the eligible Democratic voters, while a primary may bring out 50% as in Pennsylvania yesterday. And since Obama has done exponentially better in caucus states than in primary states, his total in the popular vote is artificially low. Assuming that the caucus results, say, in Wyoming mirrored the sentiment of Democratic voters in the state, Obama would have gained tens of thousands of more votes in a primary than he did in the caucus.
Alas, another excellent point via e-mail:
The major problem with using the popular vote is that the campaigns, particularly Obama’s, were not set up to maximize popular vote totals. Even if you could extrapolate raw votes from the various caucus states, it still would not tell you what the overall breakdown would have been had both campaigns been gunning for a win in overall votes from Day One. Both candidates would have spent far more time in the more populous states. So it’s not fair to judge the race this way. The only reason we’re talking about this is that it’s a measure that Hillary might win, but awarding her any credit for this “victory” (which would have to include the two uncontested states) is just swallowing her spin.
If the winner of the states with the largest collective land area in square miles was awarded the nomination, there would have been a fierce battle in Alaska, but those aren’t the rules.
A counter-point to the first e-mail:
Responding to the “good point via e-mail,” his core assumption about caucus results is flawed. Caucuses by their very nature draw out the most committed and ideological elements of each party. In the Republican Party, the religious right dominates the party organization (chosen in caucuses) while candidates like Bush and McCain win nominations (chosen in primaries). Because primaries require a much shorter time commitment – minutes as opposed to hours – they draw out the more casual voters, which tend to favor candidates who are more moderate and/or have higher name identification. If those Democrat caucus states were primaries, I guarantee you those margins would be closer and that Hillary would have won at least a few of them.