Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday Democratic Delegate Cheat Sheet--How to Understand the Results

If either Obama or Clinton runs away with a state like Missouri or Alabama with a 10%-20% victory, the news media is likely to make a big deal of the size of the candidate's margin in that state. But keep in mind that we are in a delegate battle now, so a larger than expected victory is really only important inasmuch as it translates into delegates. Given that the Democrats are allocating delegates proportionally, it is possible to come up with an estimate of how many delegates a candidate is likely to receive for each additional percentage of the vote they win in an state. Of course, this is just an estimate as some states, like California, allocate some of their delegates by congressional district which means the statewide vote may not exactly match up with the shares of delegates won by each candidate.

To give you a sense of how much more important the vote is in the big states compared to the medium-sized states consider the following example. In California, each additional percentage of the vote won by the candidates is worth 3.7 more delegates. In comparison, every 1% of the vote in Missouri is worth .72 delegates. If either Obama or Clinton win California by 3% tonight, the victory will net them about 11 delegates more than the other candidate. Yet, since the polling has been neck-and-neck there, the 3% win probably wouldn't be a big deal to the news media. However, in Missouri, the candidates would need to win by about 15% of the vote to get the same 11 delegate advantage from that state. Despite the fact that a 3% win in CA is equivalent to a 15% win in MO, you can bet that the media would make a much bigger deal of the 15% victory.

The other reason why this is important is because the candidates' home states of NY and IL are the 2nd and 3rd largest voting today. The media may not focus much attention on those states because they are not expected to be close and likely will not be. Yet, it makes a much bigger difference whether the candidates carry their own states by 70% rather than 66% than it does whether they win Connecticut by 2% or lose Connecticut by 2%. In the latter case, winning Connecticut by 2% rather than losing it by 2% will only translate into about a 2 delegate difference. On the other hand, if Obama wins IL by 70% rather than 66%, that would mean 6 additional delegates. If Clinton wins NY by 70% rather than 66%, that would mean 9 or 10 additional delegates.

Keep all of this in mind while you watch the returns tonight. And don't forget, check in to the blog as you watch those returns come in...I'll be posting early and often.

No comments: