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Election News or Mis-information?

Tom Tomorrow
© Tom Tomorrow

Ok, I need to clear up some misinformation that I’ve been seeing in almost all of the media. The media keeps reporting the popular vote totals from the Iowa caucuses. Based on the popular vote, they keep calling the results for Clinton and Sanders a “dead heat”. There is just one problem: the popular vote totals do not determine the primary results. It is the delegate counts that count.

So what if Hillary Clinton got 49.8% of the vote and Bernie Sanders got 49.6%? That does sound awfully close. But Sanders won big in just a few districts (districts with large populations of young people, like university towns). As a result, Clinton actually got 28 delegates, while Sanders got 21 (2 delegates were “uncommitted”). That means that Clinton got 55% of the delegates and Sanders got 41%. That doesn’t sound quite so close, does it?

How did that happen? Within a district, you only need to get 51% of the vote in order to get that delegate. If Sanders got 100% of the vote in a college town, he would still only get one delegate.

It works the same way in the national election, where most states are “winner take all”. It is a weird system, but it is the one we currently have and it is too late to change the rules for this election (although I really think we should change the rules).

But it gets worse. Because the Democratic party has “superdelegates”, Clinton currently leads Sanders by 384 delegates to 29. And that is not close at all.

Up next is the New Hampshire primary, where Sanders (from Vermont) is very popular. But New Hampshire only has 32 delegates total. So Sanders could win every single delegate from New Hampshire (an unlikely complete blowout), and it will make little difference. After that are states like Nevada and South Carolina, where Clinton is favored.

Now, having said all that, I do want Sanders to keep getting lots of votes. Why? Because as long as he is still in the primary race, he will highlight the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans, and he will push Clinton to the left. Both of those things are very important. Right now, Clinton’s biggest problem is how she can avoid alienating Sanders’ followers and turn them into Clinton voters in the general election.

UPDATE: By the way, I’m not just picking on Sanders and the Democrats. The same thing happened on the GOP side. The media keeps calling it an upset win for Cruz, with Trump second, and Rubio third. Again, that is based on the popular vote. But the delegate count tells a slightly different story. Ted Cruz did get the most delegates, he got eight. Donald Trump got seven delegates, just one less than Cruz. And Marco Rubio also got seven delegates, the same as Trump. So where are the headlines talking about a tie between Trump and Rubio?



  1. Diogenes wrote:

    CPG Grey Explains, Primaries:

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink
  2. ThatGuy wrote:

    They certainly need to amend the nomination process to be more democratic. Ditto the general election. Delegates and the electoral college just don’t make sense anymore… assuming they ever did.

    In particular, the notion of superdelegates is particularly awful. Maybe I’m overly salty about this right now as a Sanders supporter, but seeing a close race (at least for the first few states) actually be a blowout because of folks who are unaccountable to voters is insane. Imagine if Clinton had won Iowa in a big way but the superdelegates backed Sanders. What sort of democracy is that?

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  3. Mike wrote:

    This “Bernie’s not electable” is silly – no one knows what the outcome would be in a general election, and it is clear that there is a huge pool of disaffected voters who are looking for a change from business as usual. If the Republican establishment gets its way and they end up with Rubio as the nominee, I’d expect a lot of the folks who are voting for Trump/Cruz now, to look very seriously at Bernie. Bernie is exciting a generation in a way that neither HRC nor anyone on the Republican side has or can.

    The Democrat’s nomination process is as rigged as DWS can make it. Pushing HRC to the left to get the nomination means only that – that she’ll lean left to get the nomination. Her actual administration would likely be another thing entirely. The only good thing I see coming out of an HRC administration is that it’s not a Republican administration, but I don’t seriously expect an urgent or strenuous push for a progressive agenda.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thatguy, it is more difficult than that. The primary “elections” are not elections at all. They are the system by which political parties pick their candidates, and they have never been democratic. After all, a person like Ross Perot can just create their own political party and declare themselves the candidate. How would you fix that (and would you want to?)

    And the superdelegates in the Democratic party are almost all elected officials, so they are accountable to voters. Does it bother you that the Republican party got to pick their Speaker of the House without any input from voters?

    The only way to fix this would be to eliminate political parties entirely, which I would be completely in favor of doing.

    The other big problem is our “winner take all” voting system, which we have talked about in the past.

    And finally, the Electoral College was specifically designed by the founders to be undemocratic. The founders specifically did not want the president elected by the people. They wanted the people to designate Representatives (called “Electors”) who would get together (in the “Electoral College”) and pick the next president. They left it up to each state as to how to pick those Electors. We were able to amend the constitution to make that more democratic, so it (in theory) should be possible to amend how our elections work to get rid of our stupid “winner take all” (also called “first past the post”) elections.

    Mike, who knows the oucome would be in a general election? Well, the Republican party thinks they know, which is why they are pushing Sanders and (continuing with) attacking Clinton.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink
  5. ThatGuy wrote:

    I suppose I’d edit my first post to say “ make them democratic” rather than “more democratic” but my intent still stands. If Ross Perot (or someone similar) wants to stand up their own party and run, there is nothing stopping them nor should there be, but when a major party is holding a contest to see who they should run, they ought to make the process a democratic one if they’re going to pretend to care about voters.

    Picking the Speaker of the House by the House voting doesn’t bother me, it’s effectively the same idea as how the US legislates. We don’t vote on every law but we send (or try to send) people with our approximate views on the issues to vote for or against on our behalf. In the context of superdelegates, however, how many of those elected officials were elected on the promise of choosing Clinton or Sanders in the primaries? Moreover, most superdelegates appear to be not elected officials (in the sense of House or Senate members or Governors), but DNC members (only some of whom are elected by primary voters). In any event, when you have this level of disconnect between the candidate and the voter, I think you get too close to the old system for picking US Senators, via State congresses, and too far from direct voter input. The result of which, in this cycle, is the Party doing far too much to promote one candidate while sidelining others before many voters have even heard of them.

    Agree that getting rid of political parties (or at least these political parties) would be great, but I don’t think you can, really. I think a better bet is your next point, eliminating the FPP system and go for a more representational approach, which could/should open the door for third, fourth, fifth parties to at least control some seats in legislatures.

    My argument against the Electoral College mirrors what I see as the virtue of more directly electing senators rather than going through State legislatures. We obviously already rely on representatives of voters to govern, and I wouldn’t change that, I’d just rather see voters more directly involved in selecting their representatives rather than working, at least at several stages, through several other sets of delegates.

    Finally, I see the GOP push for Sanders as a combination of thinking he’ll be easy to defeat nationally (again underestimating him), making Hillary spend more of her war chest earlier, and trying to get as many Democrats as possible to either not vote or vote against the ultimate nominee because they’re bitter their horse lost. We saw this with PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) in 2008; Hillary voters who came to dislike Obama so much through the primaries that they voted McCain.

    Fortunately, I’d say Sanders and Clinton are running relatively clean campaigns, which is nice. Unfortunately, I’m starting to see a lot of opposing primary voters take fairly nasty shots at each other (you support Bernie because you’re a sexist and/or have been brainwashed by 20+ years of GOP smears on Hillary vice you support Clinton because you’re an establishment shill and/or no true liberal).

    So at least some aspects of the GOP “campaign” for Sanders are working, but I do think there is naivete in anyone’s belief that he is unelectable, especially against a GOP crowd that is far more to the right than Sanders is to the left.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  6. ebdoug wrote:

    Interesting to look at the candidates as judged by Politifact. Hillary has the most true statements:40. Bernie has no “pants on Fire”.
    Over on the Republican side, it is lie after lie after lie.

    Remember both Politfact and Factcheck started as conservative organizations.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink
  7. BTN wrote:

    I thought that the 28 v 21 delegate count included Iowa superdelegates?

    Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 5:26 am | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    BTN, it does.

    Friday, February 5, 2016 at 12:43 am | Permalink