Tag Archives: Primaries

Election Season Starts Friday!

As we begin primary voting in Minnesota (early voting here starts Friday, January 17th) we are reminded that the actual election season, not just the never ending campaigning season, is upon us.

One thing you should know before discussing the primary process, there are new rules for how delegates are to be awarded.

The total number of delegates in play on the first vote will be 3,768. To gain the nomination, a candidate will have to get a majority of this this number, or 1884 plus one or more, on the first vote. There are the usual “pledged” delegate vs. “unpledged” (the latter sometimes called “superdelegates”) but with fewer of the latter than in previous years, and they will not be voting on the first ballot. If no candidate meets the 1884+ threshold on the first ballot, all the delegates are released from prior pledges, and superdelegates are thrown into the mix. Then, 4,532 delegates are in play, and a majority, or over 2266, will be required to win.

That is something of an oversimplification. If a single candidate goes into the convention with something like 2,267 pledged delegates, then superdelegates will be allowed to vote. Notice how close the supermajority of pledged and the 50% threshold of all, are. It feels like astrology, but I digress.

Among the pledged delegates, there is a 15% threshold rule per state in allocating delegates. If a candidate gets 15% or more of the vote/caucus delegates, they are in the running for allotted delegates. Then, among those who pass 15%, the delegates are allotted proportionately. If no one gets 15%, then the threshold shifts to one half of whatever the front runner got. So, if the leading candidates gets 12%, then the new threshold is 6%.

Here are two of many possible examples of what could happen in a given state.

The Iowa Caucuses are on February 3rd. In polls, Biden and Sanders are about even, with Buttigieg and Warren competing for third place and all seem to be at or above the threshold. However, the difference between public opinion polls and outcomes is potentially large in a caucus state, because the variation affected by “ground game” is directly reflected in polls when there is a primary, but not in a caucus. In Iowa, keep an eye on Klobuchar, who claims to have a wining or at least result-surprising ground game in the Corn State. That is not a false claim. In other words, anything can happen in Iowa. Iowa will be deciding the commitments for some 41 pledged delegates.

I currently predict, and this is a pure thumb suck estimate, that the four current front runners (Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren) will roughly split Iowa’s 41 pledged delegates, with Sanders taking the largest share, and Warren the smallest share.

Then comes the famous New Hampshire Primary, on February 11th. New Hampshire has 24 pledged delegates, a very small number, but the Granite State is famous for being a tail wagging the giant sausage making political dog of democracy. There is a good chance that New Hampshire will break in a very similar way as Iowa, with Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg all reaching the threshold and sharing delegates with Biden and Sanders getting equal numbers at the top, Warren third, and Buttigieg fourth. But, either Warren or Buttigieg, or both, could fail to meet the 15% threshold. The latest Boston Herald poll has Buttigieg way below that number and Warren near it. Other recent polls have both below it. New Hampshire may well be the make or break moment for Buttigieg.

Then comes the Nevada Caucus on February 22nd. As usual, Nevada has less polling than other states, but there is enough to identify Biden, Sanders and Warren as, once again, the top tier, but with Warren repeatedly polling at just below the threshold. Buttigieg hovers just below them, and not looking like he’d get the 15% threshold. There is a good chance Biden and Sanders will split Nevada’s 36 pledged delegates roughly evenly. This could be a make or break caucus for Warren. But, maybe not.

Then, on Feb 29th, we have the South Carolina primary. The first two events are mainly white semi-rural or rural people deciding who should be president. Nevada Democrats have significant diversity but mainly Hispanic, and a strong labor component. But elections are won or lost on the basis of African American support in this country, and South Carolina is the first event with significant African American participation. Here, Biden is way ahead of everyone else, with Sanders and Warren sharing a distant second place, and hugging that 15% threshold a little too closely for comfort. It is possible that Biden will walk away with all of South Carolina’s 54 pledged delegates. Recent polling has shown Steyer as a factor in this state, and if that is correct, it could be Biden and Steyer splitting those delegates at about a 2:1 ratio. That all depends on if we believe Steyer is for real. I, personally, am not sure.

At this point, what we know now will still be true: Biden and Sanders are front runners. Warren is a factor, likely Butigieg is a factor. If nothing unusual happens, we will be entering Super Tuesday with a Biden-Sanders fight. However, Warren could outperform and pop, or Butigieg could take the threshold in three of these four states, or Steyer could buy his way in, er, I mean, well, whatever, you know what I mean. The point is this: We are watching a horse race with two odds-on horses, both old white guys but one progressive and one centrist, and one of them likely to win. But, there are these two or three other horses in the race that could woosh by either or both of them in these first four furlongs.

But then, Super Tuesday comes along. Sixteen entities, mostly states, vote on Super Tuesday, for a total of 1357 pledged delegates. Using information from polling, or if no polling exists, the thumb-suck-estimate method, assuming that no candidate has an unexpected break-through event in early states (or otherwise), and assuming that Biden, Warren, and Sanders are the only candidates likely to be viable for most of the primaries (Klobuchar will take a good number of Minnesota votes), the following shows a reasonable estimate of the outcome of Super Tuesday. Remember, this is based only on polls (this is not a predictive model) and polls are sparse in many of these states.

This is, in my view, the “null model” of what is going to happen between now and the day after Super Tuesday. It is a model to be defied by individual candidates, broken by the voters, altered by circumstances, manipulated by the Russians, etc. There is more uncertainty in this season’s Democratic primary than seen in the recent past, especially with a couple of billionaires showing up at the last second to buy the presidency, and according to the polling, making a dent.

Falsehood: “Voters are kept from political involvement by the rules”

Voting is not party involvement.

We hear a lot of talk these days about “voters” being repressed in their attempt to be involved in the Democratic primary process. There may be something to that, and it might be nice to make it easier for people to wake up on some (usually) Tuesday morning and go and vote in a Democratic or Republican primary or visit a caucus. But there is a difference between a desire for a reform and the meaningful understanding of that reform — why we want it, how to do it, and what it will get us — that makes it important to do what we Anthropologists sometimes call “problemetizing the concept.”

We can start with the statement that in the primary system, “Voters should not be kept from involvement by rules that make it impossible for them to engage in the democratic (small “d”) process.” That sentence seems reasonable, even important, and is essentially a call for open, instead of closed, primaries, or in some cases, for replacing a caucus with a primary. Continue reading Falsehood: “Voters are kept from political involvement by the rules”

Fixing The Super Delegate Problem

Super Delegates exist for good reasons. In order for them to do their job, which hopefully is never, they need to have two characteristics. These are:

1) The capacity for thoughtful and well informed decision making at the convention, in case something untoward has happened to require this.

2) Independence with respect to whom to vote for … in other words, being unpledged.

A big downside of Super Delegates is that they tend to endorse a candidate early in the process. This is their right as Americans and it may be seen by some of them as their duty as politicians or party officials (which most are). This results in a lot of problems, not the least of which is people wanting to get rid of Super Delegates, forgetting that they can have a very important role now and then.

So, I have a solution that I think would work. It is blindingly simple. It will be opposed by elected officials and party officials who like being Super Delegates, because as part of my plan, they don’t automatically get to do this job.

Here’s the plan.

First, you decide what percentage of delegates should be unpledged (the more correct term for “Super Delegate”). Let’s say, for now, 10%.

Then, you have a primary or caucus in a given state. Say there are 100 delegates in total normally awarded in that state.

Then, you proportion the delegates across the candidates, for the first round of voting at the national convention. Say each candidate got half the votes in a primary, this means you are sending 50 delegates for each candidate. So far this is very simple, very democratic.

Then, the last step in choosing delegates among these that have the potential to act as super delegates should the need arise.

At the convention, there are two possibilities. One is that there are no Super Delegates, and everyone votes as pledged proportionately. The other is that the 10% of designateed Super Delegates are released, and can do what they feel is right.

At the opening of the convention, when rules are being adopted, the motion is put to the convention as to whether or not the designated Super Delegates be released. The default rule is that they are NOT released. Normally, a rule suspension (which would be required to release the delegates) would require a 60% vote. So, if the full body of delegates at the convention choose with a 60% majority to release the delegates, then they are released. Normally, this would not happen.

The down side of this is the possibility that a candidate can pack the delegates with unfaithful individuals. I’m Candidate A, you are Candidate B, and I am going to play this game with you. I get a bunch of potential delegates, actual individuals who have a good chance of becoming delegates to the national convention, to pretend to represent you. They get elected as your delegates in this state where we each got 50% of the vote, but I secretly have 60+% of the individuals in this delegation at my bidding. When it comes to rule suspension, my people vote to suspend the pledge rule. I do this in every state, and now the Super Delegates can vote for whomever they want, plus I’ve got these sleepers that, if there is as second ballot, I own. If the race is close, this could give me the majority on the first vote, if it is somewhat less close, it could cause a failed ballot the first time around, then I get my other sleepers to vote for me, I win, you lose. Bwahahahaha.

This sort of game playing is a) likely to happen (similar things have happened before) and b) not likely to be very successful. But it could be successful enough. Therefore, it might be a good idea to make the required super majority to be 65% rather than 60%.

Anyway, with this system, most election years, there really won’t be any Super Delegates, effectively, but they are there if needed.

This could work. Somebody start a petition or something!

Who Will Win The New York Democratic Primary?

As you know, I’ve been applying a model to predict the outcome of each of the Democratic Primary contests, and have done pretty well at predicting results.

All of the future contests are primaries, not caucuses. It turns out that the two modes have very different patterns. Many have suggested that this has to do with how the process works, and somehow caucuses, or open contests, favor Sanders, who has won several. However, it also turns out that caucusing is a northern thing (and Sanders does somewhat better in the north, or more accurately perhaps, rarely wins in the south). Caucusing is also a white thing, apparently. Caucuses happen in non-southern mostly white states, and these are states that Sanders can (but does not always) win.

Since the remainder of the contests are primaries, I used my simple ethnic-based model, which predicts the outcome of the various contests based on the estimated percentage of African American voters. I used only data from previous primaries to develop a simple linear model. This model applied to all of the future contests, starting with New York, tells us that Clinton will win in New York.

After that, Sanders wins in several smaller and mostly norther states, but also, California . Clinton wins in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which are relatively large. If this plays out as predicted, between now and the end of the primary season, Hillary Clinton will pick up about 795 delegates and Sanders will pick up about 778 delegates.

How many delegates does each candidate have so far? Clinton has approximately 1310 and Sanders approximately 1094. (This is approximate because in some states it is actually a little hard to count because of the nature of the system.)

Here is a table showing all of my projections from here on out. I’ll probably redo the model a few more times, especially if anything unexpected happens, so stay tuned.

Democratic_Primaries_Clinton_Vs._Sanders_New_York_To_End

Who Won The Democratic Debate of 17 January 2016?

I have studiously avoided picking a Democratic candidate to support. I will not have to decide until Super Tuesday, when Minnesotans caucus to support one or another candidate. I like Hillary Clinton for a number of reasons, including the simple fact that she has considerable experience in the Executive branch, and is a person who can get things done. If I got to pick the president (skipping the election process entirely), I’d probably pick Sanders because I’m all in on the revolution in American policy. Both candidates are actually in close agreement on most of the key issues. Neither came to the game with a strong climate change policy, and that is a strong negative for both of them, but they have gotten on board at least rhetorically. Not good enough, but the best we have. Both are against involving the US in a Middle Eastern quagmire. Both seem to be in favor of election reform, but Bernie is right that he’s the one acting like it already happened while Clinton is not. Yet, we can’t hold that against Hillary any more than we held it against President Obama when he won two elections. The electability argument may have favored Clinton at one point during the current primary race, but that same argument has been effectively made against her, and Sanders’ electability quotient seems to be rising.

Regardless, I strongly oppose the internecine arguing and sniping among supporters of both candidates. I sense that much of the really nasty anti-Clinton/Sanders yammering comes from people who are fairly new to the process and have yet to be disappointed by the outcome of such efforts that tend to harm one’s own chances of being represented in the White House.

Notice how much sniping there was during the debate among the actual candidates. Some, but not much. Also, they pointed out agreements on a number of occasions. All three candidates (and no, I’ve not forgotten O’Malley) made strong points against the Republicans, especially Donald Trump, but there were not enough such jabs.

[Note: Some of the sniping in brought to you by your friendly opposition party. See this.]

Still, I hope that both Clinton and Sanders supporters take a page out of the play books of their own candidates and cut back on the damaging attacks. One of those two candidates is going to get the Democratic nomination, and regardless of which one goes against the Republican, it is essential that individual wins. Supporters of the candidate that looses have to put their big kid pants on, suck it up, and get into the fight full steam ahead to assure that this happens.

I think of it as a recreational boxing match between marines in combat. Have a fair fight, try to win, but after the fight is over, the guy you knocked out is going to have to be in a condition to save your life later. If you kill your opponent, you’ve killed an important ally. This is why I think the most severe intra-party attacks are probably by noobs and youngies. They’ve not seen the loser of a primary jump into the general election context and help their former opponent win. That does, in fact, happen. Notice that Bill Clinton helped Barack Obama win, and Hillary Clinton served in the top cabinet post in President Obama’s administration.

OK, so that’s what I needed to get off my chest. Now, who won the debate?

I scored the candidates using a very subjective informal system during the entire debate. My scoring was based not on how much I personally agreed or disagreed with the candidate’s position. Again, the candidates are actually very close on most positions anyway. Rather, I scored the candidates on how they presented their case. Even there, I did not score on how much their approach resonated with my thinking, but with how I felt their rhetorical approach met the needs of a candidate talking to the American people.

I was looking at the candidates debating like a campaign advisor might look at their candidate, to refine the rhetorical and tactical approach.

Let me give you an example. I took points off Sanders’ discussion of “Medicare for All” in which he said that the middle class would have to pay taxes to get that benefit. He made the point that the overall output of the average middle class family would go down because the increase in taxes would be less than the current cost of expensive medical insurance, mainly by cutting out the insurance companies. I agree with that, but he lost points because he needed to put it another way. Overtly and even proudly claiming a tax increase, no matter how sensible, is not a good campaign strategy. He loses points not for being honest, but for having a policy that guarantees that enough voters can be turned against him on that one issue to throw a close election.

This is not unimportant. There are better ways he could have made the same case. After all, Medicare is not paid for with income tax. Future expanded Medicare does not need to be either. Indeed, as a policy, sinking health care cost into general income tax is a bad idea, possibly, because of Congress. Congress is constitutionally empowered to do whatever they want with that money. A strong Republican Congress during a serious budget crisis could eliminate universal health care way too easily under those conditions. So, he lost a couple of points for not referring to a modest payroll contribution to replace overinflated premiums.

I did the scoring on my facebook page, here. Feel free to jump in and complain!

The outcome of the scoring was that Clinton and Sanders got almost the same score, not different enough to matter. O’Malley got a lower score simply because he talked less, and I did not adjust for that (though I recorded the data in a way that would allow that adjustment).

Meanwhile, what did people think? The only real indicator of the outcome of this debate will be the official scientifically conducted polls that happen over the next few days. I’ve not seen any such polls yet. It takes a few days to do a poll, so a poll dated January 18th or 19th will not necessarily reflect the debate’s influence. I’ve argued in the past that online polls are actually useful, contrary to popular presumption, because of the way things work these days on the Internet. Online polls have tracked very closely with scientifically conducted polls for the Republicans. This may be true as well with the Democrats. Hard to say.

Online polls show a HUGE surge for Bernie Sanders with this debate, with Sanders garnering results in the 80% range in many polls. This is not a small thing. This may be in part because Sanders supporters are crazy poll clickers and will go out of their way to create a buzz (there is material evidence for this). But Clinton supporters should also be clickity clicking, so this effect can account for only a portion of that difference between the candidates.

It may well turn out that this debate is part of the transition I documented and described here, which is parallel to a transition that happened in the Clinton-Obama race.

If Sanders did in fact win this debate by such a large margin, then this will have to be reflected in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary. Sanders will have to win the Iowa Caucus by a decisive amount (close to 10 points?) and he will have to win New Hampshire by a landslide (he is effective “favorite son” there), in order for us to say that he won this debate at the level indicated by online polls.

Then, we are faced with the rest of the primary process. The electability issue will not go away for Sanders unless he beats or matches Clinton in the South, or at least, does fairly well. If Clinton creams Sanders in South Carolina, that is bad news for Sanders. Some Sanders supporters have indicated that Sanders won’t win the South anyway, and that may be true, but if he totally loses every southern state including Florida and Texas in the General, than we may end up President Trump-Cruz, and you can kiss the Supreme Court and doing anything about climate change good buy for many decades.

The fact that Sanders seemed to do well in this particular debate, held by the Congressional Black Caucus, might be important here. Clinton has the advantage with “minority” voters, for her family-related policy, her long term links to relevant issues, and the fact that she was married to the first Black president. Sanders is an old white Jewish guy from an all white state. African American vs. Jewish American relations are cold, on average. But Sanders kicked a lot of that to the curb with his social justice stands during this debate, and in general during his campaign. African Americans traditionally have had important friends in New England liberals, and in Jewish American intellectuals and their famous “New York Ideals” (sensu Cruz). The recent move to disassociate traditional allies by #BlackLivesMatters activists may or may not permeate to southern Democratic Party voters.

Personally, I wish Minnesota was not voting on Super Tuesday along with Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia. I’d rather have a bit more time with the Fish Finder before I have to cut bait, if you get my drift.

A tale of two polls: Santorum may win Michigan Primary

Two different polls paint very different pictures for Tuesday’s primary in Michigan. The PPP Poll released February 26ths puts Romney ahead of Santorum and makes a very solid argument that Romney is ahead and that it will be difficult for Santorum to move enough voters into his camp to take the lead. The Mitchell Research poll, released on February 27th, makes a good argument that although Romney was ahead as of last Thursday, Santorum has in fact moved enough voters into his camp to be numerically ahead of Romney by 2% points in a poll with a 3.34% margin of error.

Let’s have a look at the details. Continue reading A tale of two polls: Santorum may win Michigan Primary