Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Meaning of "Win"

February 6, 2008, 8:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m.; February 7, 2008, 11:00 a.m.; February 9, 2008, 8:45 a.m.

Once again, mainstream media coverage of politics leaves a good deal to be desired.

(State29, who has been writing up a storm recently in his inimitable style, thinks I'm being unrealistic to expect any more from the media. State29, "John McVain or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the RINO," February 6, 2008.)

We're being told who "won" this state or that. We're told estimates of candidates' "total" delegate counts.

But if the story is what happened yesterday [Feb. 5, "Super Tuesday"], and if what determines who is nominated at the Democratic National Convention is "delegates" not "states," what ought to be reported -- at least first -- is how many delegates Obama and Clinton picked up yesterday from primaries and caucuses.

[Feb. 6, 2:00 p.m.: Scroll to the bottom of this entry. Clinton got 8 delegates more than Obama yesterday; 641 vs. 633; in other words, she got 50.31% of the delegates -- something I'd call about as close to a "tie" as you can get in politics, rather than a "win" for anybody.

Feb. 7, 11:00 a.m.: CNN now reports that of "pledged delegates" (i.e., all minus super delegates) Obama now leads with 635 to Senator Clinton's 630 -- still essentially "a tie" in my book. For another interesting, if otherwise totally meaningless, set of numbers, consider the total votes cast: Clinton: 50.2% (7,347,971), Obama: 49.8% (7,294,851). What I find fascinating is how close Clinton's percentage of delegates (50.31%) is to her percentage of total votes (50.2%). Karen Tumulty, "Super Tuesday: The Most Interesting Number of All,", February 6, 2008.

Feb. 9, 8:45 a.m.: The New York Times has a very good analysis of the reasons for, and solutions to the problem of, the disparity in delegate counts. Mike McIntire, "Media and Candidate Methods of Counting Delegates Vary and So Do Totals," New York Times, February 9, 2008.]

To the extent the media want to insist on talking about "winners" and "losers" that is the data upon which those characterizations should be based.

Like the electoral college presidential "election," in which a candidate can lose the popular vote but still win the electoral college vote -- and the White House, an election in which states do matter -- (a) a candidate could "lose" a state yesterday (that is, get fewer popular votes than the other candidate) and yet get more delegates, or at least more delegates in total from all the states, (b) therefore, who "won" a "state" yesterday is almost totally irrelevant, and reporting, let alone emphasizing, those popular vote totals only confuses the audience, and moreover (c) to the extent states' results are interesting, when the delegates from that state are allocated proportionately (rather than "winner takes all" as with some of the Republican contests) it's misleading to talk about winning and losing "states" (since neither Obama nor Clinton ever "won" anything more than a slice of the irrelevant popular vote and some proportional share of the very relevant delegates).

Moreover, to understand what happened yesterday it is also kind of irrelevant who now has how many "super-delegates" (officials chosen as delegates on the basis of their elected or appointed positions rather than the results of primaries and caucuses). In addition to the fact it tells us nothing about yesterday, it's also irrelevant because super delegates are both (a) free to change their support from time to time before the convention, and (b) very likely to do so by going with whoever appears headed for victory -- so that yesterday's results could actually have an impact on re-aligning those delegates preferences, rather than the other way around.

It's also irrelevant how many delegates they picked up in the primaries and caucuses prior to yesterday (often added together in media reports).

What we need to know about yesterday -- and what I've not found it easy to discover -- is how many delegates Obama and Clinton picked up in the primaries and caucuses held on February 5.

Knowing that, it then becomes an interesting footnote, or sidebar, to know who "won" the most "states" (Obama did), who "won" the most states holding caucuses (Obama won all of them), and who (once all the dust has settled) will have the most total delegates tomorrow (super delegates, prior primaries, and the results from yesterday, for which it looks like Clinton).

But for now, I'd just like to know what happened yesterday -- what happened that mattered, that is. As the TV police drama's Sargent Joe Friday used to say in "Dragnet," no commentary, "Just the facts, ma'm."

If you have a link to a site that makes it clear please add it in a comment. Thanks.

. . . And so now [1:45 p.m.] I see in a comment from "The Gazette's Librarian" [See John McGlothlen's blog, "Looking in at Iowa"] and the referenced Real Clear Politics site, an ability to create the numbers I seek. By using the RCP table, adding up the delegates from prior primaries/caucuses and the super delegates, and subtracting that number from their total delegate numbers, I get:

Senator Hillary Clinton: 641 delegates earned Feb. 5 (900 total less 259 super and prior)
Senator Barak Obama: 633 delegates earned Feb. 5 (824 total less 191 super and prior)

(In other words, Hilary may, now, have a total that exceeds Barak's by 70 or so, but the difference yesterday was a margin of 8 for her, not 76 -- when, not that long ago, she was running a good 10-20% points above him in national polls, as I recall.)

Just because this is the "Information Age of the Internet" doesn't mean we aren't still dependent upon, and thankful for, our librarians.
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Anonymous said...

RealClearPolitics has pages for delegate counts, but I don't see an option for reviewing Feb. 5 results only. Hope this helps.

2008 Democratic Delegates
2008 Republican Delegates

(Thanks for your blog, Nick. It's a must read for Iowans.)

Anonymous said...

Whoops. Now I see that the states' results are actually sorted by date.