Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Democrats and Delegate Math

On Saturday, about 5,000 Wyoming Democrats caucused to select their pick for President of the United States. When the votes were tallied, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was declared the victor over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by a 56-44 margin. Importantly though, based on the way Wyoming apportions its delegates to the Democratic National Convention, each candidate received seven delegates and, when the party’s “super” delegates were included, Mrs. Clinton actually received more delegates (11) than Sanders (7).

Howls were heard in midtown Manhattan the following Monday. It’s a rigged system whined “Morning” Joe Scarborough, why do they bother holding these contests if the person with fewer votes wins more delegates, he complained. Other than the fact that this is the system within which Sanders agreed to run (nothing obligated him, he is not, after all, a registered Democrat), the fact is that the system both Scarborough and, increasingly, Sanders and his campaign rail against is the system that has kept him in this race. 

Right now, the Associated Press shows Clinton ahead by 250 pledged delegates (1,287 - 1,037) and 688 when “super” delegates (party leaders, elected officials, and others who are themselves delegates, including Sanders) are included (1,756 - 1,068). The total needed to clinch the nomination is 2,383. Clinton has also received about 2.4 million more votes than Sanders (a roughly 58-42 split) and bested him by three in the total number of states won. 

But the Sanders camp complains that the super delegates are somehow undemocratic, why should the party elders get to put their thumb on the scale and go against the will of the people of their states when the voters select one candidate but the super delegate chooses the other. Ok, let’s look at the Sanders argument. Reset the “super” delegate total to zero and count the super delegates from states that have already voted. If you do that, you find that Clinton would still maintain her lead if super delegates were required to vote as the people in their state did. Here, Clinton would lead 260 - 138, which would make her total lead versus Sanders 377 (250 pledged plus 122 super) and, if Clinton wins New York, would add another 44 super delegates to her lead (in addition to whatever pledged delegates she nets). 

On the other hand, suppose that the primaries and caucuses were winner take all. That seems to be the lament of the Joe Scarboroughs of the world. Why should the candidates split delegates when the voters choose one over the other? We do not apportion electoral votes in the general election, why should we do it with primary contests? This is not an argument the Sanders forces make and it is obvious why. If the states were winner take all, Hillary would lead 1,659 - 745 and, if you added the super delegates in the manner Sanders wants, her lead would stretch to 1,919 - 883 and put her well within striking range of the nomination. 

You see, for as much mileage as the Sanders team has gotten out of their recent winning streak, the reality is that most of those wins have come in places like Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii, which, combined, have fewer delegates than Ohio. In fact, you can add in Wisconsin and you still fall short of both Florida and Texas. Clinton’s margins of victory in Florida and Texas were larger than Sanders’s wins in every state he has won combined. 

If anyone has a right to complain about the process, it is Clinton. She has won nearly 60% of the popular vote and won larger states like Texas, Florida, Illinois and Ohio by large margins that would have yielded massive delegate hauls instead of having to split them with Sanders. In fact, the split of pledged delegates to date slightly under reflects the popular vote totals - Clinton has won 58% of the vote but that has “only” yielded 55.3% of the pledged delegates. That number may change after New York, but the Sanders campaign has no room to complain.

What has happened is a candidate and campaign that is scratching out just more than 4 in 10 votes and wins in small, arguably less (small d) democratic caucuses in low turnout locations like Wyoming has spun a weak hand into some suggestion of unfairness when the opposite is actually true. Moreover, Sanders is losing even worse among Democrats. He does much better in states that are “open” to Independents and cross-over Republicans, itself an arguably unfair rule - after all, why should non-Democrats get to choose the nominee of the Democratic Party? With that said, the (big D) Democratic rules have helped Sanders remain competitive in a race that would have been over if different rules applied. He and his campaign should stop complaining about the rules and the media that is helping him spin his story should be ashamed of themselves.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 


State delegate totals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016

4 comments:

  1. "Clinton’s margins of victory in Florida and Texas were larger than Sanders’s wins in every state he has won combined." Yes. Even when he does win, he barely wins. And I love how no one else is talking about the splitting of pledged delegates.

    You need only to look at the state of South Carolina to know that Bernie Sanders has it good on the Democratic side.

    100% reporting Delegates Votes
    Trump (won) 50 32.5%-239,851

    Rubio 0 22.5%-165,881

    Cruz 0 22.3%-164,790

    Bush 0 7.8%-57,863

    Kasich 0 7.6%-56,206

    Carson 0 7.2%-53,326

    Yet on the Democratic side, Sanders got delegates even though Clinton blew him out of the water!

    100% reporting Delegates Votes
    Clinton (won) 39 73.5%-271,514

    Sanders 14 26.0%-95,977

    He got less votes than Cruz and Rubio got on the Republican side, and they got 0 delegates.


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    1. It's really baffling that this is not reported about in a straight forward manner because the evidence is so clear that, in true (big D) Democratic fashion, we want to help the little guy which allows someone at 40% of the vote to look like a winner (with the help of a compliant media who swoon over things like crowd counts and ignore policy).

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  2. God forbid that the political journalists on MoJoe and elsewhere would actually dig beneath the surface.

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    1. I know, right? Unfortunately, they are long past the point of informing and are now merely trying to boost ratings by creating fake narratives and "story lines" that advance the viewer to the next fight.

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