February 5, 2008

Remember The Rules

Primary elections are about getting delegates. Today, something like 40% of the states will have at least one primary election and after today, more than half of the total delegates will be awarded, for both parties.

For the Democrats, the primaries are all proprotional in nature. That means that if you get about 10% of the statewide vote, you get your proportional share of delegates. Clinton and Obama will get over 10% each, and since he's dropped out (and was never particularly popular anyway) he and the other dropouts and local favorites will not be significant factors. So if there was a proportional primary in the state of Columbia, and Columbia had been awarded 85 delegates, the Democratic vote and resulting delegate allocation would look something like this:


Writ large across the real United States, that means that it is quite unlikely that either Clinton or Obama will walk away from today with a commanding enough majority to take the lead. The example above would be a "decisive" win for Clinton -- by a margin of fifteen delegates out of eighty-five. The Democrats, in other words, have set themselves up for a primary that will last beyond today.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have a hodgepodge of different rules. Some are proportional, like the Democrats. Others are winner-take-all. If Columbia were such a state, and it had 40 delegates to the Republican convention, its primary might look like this:


This is very near a split decision, but because McCain gets just a few more votes, he gets all the delegates. Note that he does this despite the majority of Republicans preferring someone else. Huckabee becomes the "spoiler" here -- assuming that his votes would have otherwise gone to Romney. But wait, not every Republican winner-take-all primary is like this. California, for instance, allocates delegates based on the overall winner of congressional districts within the state as well as statewide. If Columbia were such a state, this same vote would produce different results, maybe something like this:


It would matter here where the candidates were strong. California is a state like this -- so if McCain is the plurality winner, but Romney is strong in the Central Valley and other inland regions, Romney could take a significant portion of California's delegates despite McCain's overall win.

So it's not likely that McCain will win enough delegates today that he will go over the top and clinch the nomination. Romney will win Massachusetts and the western states with large Mormon populations. Huckabee could win in a few southern states like Alabama and Tennessee; doing so would pull delegates out of the mix. Nevertheless, the Republicans are in a better position to bring their primary to an end than the Democrats. The race would go on, but what McCain really needs to do is get a commanding enough lead that he will obviously get sufficient delegates in the future primary to later clinch the nomination. I figure that's about 800 pledged delegates after tonight to make it painfully obvious to Romney and Huckabee that they won't even be able to be kingmakers. My prediction is that McCain will get pretty close to that tonight.


zzi said...

Your data tables are brutal. Is that an ad I see? ... and how does The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett stake up against Eye of the Needle?

Burt Likko said...

No ads. This is a strictly non-commercial site (see legal disclaimers at the bottom of the second column). I've got a Dilbert comic gadget in the second column, but that's not something I derive revenue from; it's just there for fun. It's also not something that the author of the comic derives revenue from, at least not directly.

Also, I've not read Eye of the Needle. This is the first Ken Follett book I've ever read. I'm enjoying Pillars, but it's also pretty brutal in its unremittingly grim portrayal of life in twelfth-century England.