Among the most astute next-day analyses of Super Tuesday that I've seen is this one from the Votemaster at electoral-vote.com. He provides the following tables, which speak volumes:
The asterisks are caucus states; the non-asterisks are primary states.
Obama did extremely well in caucus states and Clinton did very badly in them. How come? Turnout in caucus states is always low, usually about 10-20% of the electorate. Only highly motivated people bother to show up, especially the Democratic caucuses, which go on for hours and people have to publicly defend their choice. Obama has a smaller, but extremely active and loyal following, especially among younger voters. These are precisely the people who can swing a caucus state by showing up in droves and working hard to convince the other voters that Obama would make a great President. In primary states, the media, especially TV ads have a much bigger influence. Now it becomes clear why Obama won North Dakota but Clinton won Oklahoma, a demographically similar state in the same part of the country: North Dakota had a caucus and Oklahoma had a primary.
This explanation may be too simple, and I would be surprised if the other analyses I've seen (invoking everything from Hispanics to the Kennedys) have no merit. However, the Votemaster's simple hypothesis has remarkable explanatory power: Every one of Obama's top five wins were in caucus states; and of the seven Super Tuesday caucuses, he won them all.
I wanted to bring this note up in light of the extensive discussion we've had recently on the caucus system, chronologically: my post disparaging the Iowa 'crockuses', Sara's rebuttal explaining the history and reason for caucuses, Sara's follow-up Part I on Democratic party rules and delegate selection and Part II on how caucuses build party identity particularly through the platform selection process, which she explains.
In a nutshell, Sara's compelling defense of caucuses included:
(1) providing an entry point for grassroots control of the party platform
These days, for instance my E-Mail includes about twice a week, proposed resolutions from the Progressive Caucus. You can suggest edits, and they are being debated on line. People will then take them to Precinct caucus, introduce them, and start them up the system.
(2) requiring open discussion fosters greater activism
In fact this is one reason I love the caucus -- you have to actually stand up and state and defend your choices and positions. Because success at Caucus frequently depends (really depends) on pre-caucus debate and organization, it is a totally important party building process.
and (3) it requires finding consensus
[...T]he point of the process is to find the fulcrum of the party strength, and that isn't done by having a ton of one vote minorities hanging on to the process. So at all levels we give sub-caucuses that don't make the option of joining another caucus. The negotiations to join or not join can be powerful.
Sara also put out the idea, in comments on another post, that that "I think you will find that caucus states are more liberal or progressive and have more healthy parties."
I put that all out there as background for considering why caucus states went for Obama. I don't think it's enough to say that caucus states are more progressive -- certainly, Obama's top wins in Idaho, Kansas, and Alaska, are not representing more progressive states than Clinton's wins in New York and Massachusetts (and California). But this data does suggest that caucuses push the party in a more progressive direction, if you consider Obama the more progressive candidate (I think I do) and especially if you note that his wins were actually in the more conservative states -- showing just how powerful an effect the caucus has.
So, let me try to be rigorous about suggesting some possibilities:
- Maybe caucuses select for more progressive voters (the leftiest of the left) and these voters are biased towards Obama
- Maybe caucuses create more progressive voters (by fostering intraparty meetups) and these voters are biased towards Obama
- Maybe caucuses select for highly motivated voters of any ideology, and the Obama campaign was especially good at harvesting/creating these voters
- Maybe Obama voters are better at pulling undecideds over to their side when they meet, in person, at the caucus