We were wondering whether the proportional delegate system and superdelegates are really part of the problem, or whether it's simply that this is such a tight race.
Our conclusion: don't blame proportional delegate allocation, and maybe don't blame superdelegates either.
We went back through all the Democratic nominating contests held so far and reallocated the delegates on a "winner-take-all" basis, a system the Republicans use in some, but not all, states, which many believe is why the GOP nomination process appears to come up with a winner sooner.
The Democrats have finished 36 contests to date (including Samoa and the Virgin Islands, but excluding Florida and Michigan, which awarded no delegates). According to the website RealClearPolitics.com, Obama has earned 1134 pledged delegates out of that process so far and Clinton has earned 996, for a difference of 138.
What if we re-allocate the pledged delegates on a winner-take-all basis? Well, it's closer, with Obama still leading with 1096 delegates to Clinton's 1075, a difference of only 21 delegates. In other words, winner-take-all just makes it a closer contest, not a run-away for either candidate. It would still come down to the 796 "superdelegates" to decide the nomination.
So, you say, let's get rid of, or at least pare back, the superdelegates so that someone can win without going all the way to the convention. It's certainly true that without superdelegates, either Obama or Hillary would eventually win. But neither would be anywhere close at this point, and it would again be very close.
Again, let's allocate each state's superdelegates on a winner-take-all basis to the candidate who carried the state. Now we have Obama leading Hillary by 1396 to 1325, a margin of only 71 votes. (By the way, that's almost identical to RealClearPolitics.com's margin for Obama when superdelegates are included now: 1302-1235, for a difference of 67!) That's certainly close enough for both candidates to continue competing at least through April, and probably all the way to June.
It's also close enough that Florida and Michigan would make a big difference, especially on a winner-take-all basis, and so it might still all come down to a convention challenge over seating those state's delegates.
The bottom line is that this is simply a very close race between Senators Obama and Clinton, with each taking a number of states. In such a tight race, no delegate allocation system is likely to give one a significant enough advantage over the other to force him or her out of the race early. And while the superdelegates virtually assure that neither candidate can win this BEFORE the convention, it is not clear that elimination of the superdelegates would avoid a convention fight the way things have gone this year.