Monday, February 11, 2008

Voting Meets Frankenstein's Monster

At a site called Election Inspection, they've gone into a detailed analysis of the Texas state senate districts, which is how they divvy things up in their weird primary-caucus hybrid. The upshot of the whole thing is that they predict that Clinton will win the popular vote by about a five-point margin, but Obama narrowly taking the delegates 98-95. Maybe they're right, and maybe they aren't.

I should note, though, that the press tends to overemphasize the popular vote, treating the results of the primaries and caucuses the way they do the winner-take-all electoral votes in the November general election. I remember on Super Tuesday CNN had some fantastic graphics, yet on both the GOP and Democratic sides they colored in states with solid single colors according to which candidate won the plurality of the popular vote, and when they went in for more detail, what we saw were not the congressional districts that actually decide the delegate allocation, but the plurality winner by county, which was kind of interesting but didn't have a direct bearing on the outcome of the contest.

Now, I understand the reasons for this. One reason is that that was probably all the information they had on election night. While the delegates might be assigned by congressional district, results would probably be reported by the counties. If you take a look at the totals for the Democrats, state-by-state, you can see that they still haven't figured out how to assign all the delegates in states like Washington and Colorado as late as a week later. But another reason is that it's just an easier way to report the news. Clinton won these states over here, Obama won these states over there, etc. Never mind the delegates, which were all that supposedly mattered. It's like if the weatherman spent all his time telling you the dewpoint but never told you the highs and lows.

Realistically, though, in a lot of the states where it was close, the actual vote leader didn't really matter so much; all we needed to know was that it was nearly tied and that we'd have to wait a while to figure out which candidate ended up with one more vote than the other. But Wolf Blitzer sure was frothing at the mouth to declare Obama the winner in Missouri, where he ran away with 36 delegates, and Hillary Clinton was left with only... the exact same number of delegates. So all he really won there were bragging rights.

But does that matter? After all, the rules are pretty clear: the first candidate with 2,025 delegates wins. I think it does matter. If Obama had lost Maine over the weekend but ended up with the same number of delegates by improving his victory margin in some other state, the headlines wouldn't be touting his weekend "sweep" and or his "momentum." Furthermore, the news and perceptions of momentum have an influence on the all-important superdelegates, who are elected officials or Democratic National Committee members who vote just like earned delegates do, yet are free to change their minds.

Looking ahead, the current delegate totals are practically tied, but Obama will probably pull away somewhat with wins likely today in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. The rest of February looks favorable to him, too. So that makes Texas and Ohio, voting on March 4, pretty much must-wins for Clinton. If everything goes according to the script in February (bear with me here), but Hillary wins the big states in early March, we could very well be back to where we are now with barely a difference between their delegate totals. Of course, maybe Obama's February steamroller will continue into March and everything will be settled, or maybe he'll falter somewhere along the way and Hillary Clinton will take a commanding lead.

It looks likely, though, that the both the superdelegates and the unresolved issue of the nullified delegates from Florida and Michigan will come into play. It would behoove the Democratic party to at least try to resolve the latter problem before the convention in Denver, which they could probably do by holding caucuses in those states, unless Hillary sticks by her fear of Obama's caucus wins and instead keeps hoping for her self-serving request to seat the delegates represented by the uncontested primaries they had in Florida and Michigan in January. *sigh*... if the Democrats screw this one up and lose in November, they'll only have themselves to blame.


At Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 5:09:00 AM PST, Blogger Noel said...

My biggest pet peeve on Super Tuesday night was that the networks seemed so flummoxed by the concept of proportional delegates that they refused to speculate on who might be winning what. I find it hard t believe that CNN couldn't talk to the right people in each state to get some sense of what the formula is for apportionment, and then hire some mathematicians to crunch the numbers. I mean, the multiple panels of gasbags they employ are willing to ruminate on nearly every aspect of what's unfolding *except* who might end up with more delegates, and roughly how many they might end up with. Come on, CNN dudes. Just tell us it's an estimate. We won't hold you to it.


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