Friday, February 17, 2012

Delegate Count Media Misinformation

The Wall Street Journal and FOX credit Mitt Romney with 123 delegates to the Republican Nationa Convention in Tampa, Florida in August. CNN says no, it's 127, unless it's 106. CBS argues it's 111, the New York Times 105, Quinnipiac 102, RealClearPolitics 98, and National Public Radio says it 73. Every news source seems to disagree just as widely about the counts for the other three candidates as well.

Everyone seems to agree there will be a total of 2,286 delegates, and it will take 1,144 to win the nomination. Everyone also seems to agree that there are four remaining candidates. That's about where the agreement ends, however.

Reviewing the table below, you'll find that there's very little agreement among news outlets as to the current delegate count.1 I'm sure I could check a few more sources and find a few more sets of widely differing numbers. Why all the confusion?

CNN calculator106373527
CNN scorecard127373827
New York Times105712918
Real Clear Politics98443220
Wall Street Journal123723219

The assignment of delegates for the Republican National Convention is left to each state. Some hold primaries, some hold caucuses. In some states, the delegates are assigned winner-take-all to the winner of the primary, in others the delegates are assigned proportionately. In some caucus states, the delegates are bound to the results of a popular vote tallied separately from the actual selection of delegates. There are almost as many methods of assigning delegates as there are states, or so it seems.

And the confusion doesn't stop there. Some states also declare particular members of their party establishment as delegates, and those "superdelegates," as they are often called, may or may not be bound to the results of the popular vote in the state. On top of all that, in states where the delegates are bound to a particular candidate, they may only be bound for the first vote at the national convention, or the first two or three votes.

Since I first noticed some of the problems at the Real Clear Politics (RCP) site, and it's easy to see their error, I'll use it as an example of how so many sources can be so wrong and in such disagreement.

In Iowa, the first contest, RCP reports that Santorum received 7 delegates, Romney 6, and Gingrich and Paul, 0. But just to the right of those numbers, they note that the Iowa contest was a non-binding caucus, which means the delegates aren't actually pledged to anyone. First state, first mistake. The total pledged delegates are zero, not the 13 that Real Clear Politics reports. If you take the time to examine the RCP table line-by-line, you'll have as little trouble spotting the inaccuracies as I did.

I'm not going to go line-by line through all these results, but by now it should be fairly easy to understand why there's so much confusion about the delegate counts.

So are there any of these numbers you can trust? After a review of the numbers in the chart above, I can say there is indeed a winner. You'll notice that NPR is listed at the bottom and separated from the others by a double line. NPR has indeed counted only the delegates the candidates can take to the bank. At least for the first round of voting at the Republican National Convention. After that, all bets are off.

So far there have been nine state contests. At the end of those nine state contests, here are the actual delegate allocations. Pay special attention to the last column. (Note that 2 delegates have been won by Huntsman, accounting for less than 1% of the delegates.)


Out of 295 delegates allocated to the states that have held their contests so far, Romney, the leader, has only 25%, and 61% are still unpledged.

So why does this matter anyway? For that, let's turn to Katrina Trinko, writing for the National Review Online yesterday.
If you think Rick Santorum won Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado, you’re wrong.

Let me explain: Santorum did win the caucus votes in all those states. But because none of those states have bound delegates, that means the state’s delegates to the national convention could theoretically vote for someone besides Santorum for the nomination, someone like say, Ron Paul, whose campaign is aggressively working to control as many state delegates as possible. In Minnesota, where Paul nabbed 27 percent of the caucus vote, the Paul campaign estimates that 75 percent of the current delegates are Paul supporters. In Colorado, where Paul got 12 percent of the vote, 50 percent of the delegates are Paul supporters. Now delegates face elimination rounds, so it’s unclear if the Paul campaign will be successful or not in maintaining these percentages. But the campaign is hoping to pull it off.
The rules relating to delegate selection are arcane and confusing. But the Paul campaign has a considerable advantage here in that they both are very much aware of the rules, and are encouraging their supporters to know them and to embrace the process and become delegates.
I'll leave the rest of the math as an exercise for the student.

...and that's all I have to say about that.
1 The data in the table for each of the listed sources is as of the time of writing this post, and can be expected to change.

1 comment:

  1. After crunching some numbers based on a probability table that I constructed, given projected percentages of delegate distribution, I've concluded the following:

    P(Paul|Percentage)=0.2964, or about 80 probable votes through 02/17/2012.

    I included the 2 votes credited to John Huntsman, thus eliminating his consideration. When adding them back, it only created an error of about -0.007


    My projection statistically eliminates Santorum from the race.