Sunday, March 16, 2008

Evidence of the Uncertainty of Delegate Math: Obama Picks Up Delegates in California and Iowa

One of the interesting stories of the week has been the fact that Obama has picked up more delegates this week from contests that happened a month or more ago than either candidate has picked up in contests held in March. First, there was this story from Carl Bialik noting that while all of the major news organizations had estimated that Clinton would win 207 delegates in California, the total will actually be 203. That means that 4 delegates were subtracted from Clinton's tally and added to Obama's, for a net Obama gain of 8 delegates.

(One other note about California: these adjustments mean that my delegate predictions were only off by 2 delegates, rather than off by 7 as it originally appeared.)

Then, on Saturday, the next step in the Iowa caucuses produced a dramatic change in the delegate count from that state. The networks essentially use the initial delegate counts from the precinct caucuses on January 3rd to estimate how many delegates each candidate would eventually receive from the state. However, partly because of some changes due to aggregation and partly due to the realignment of a significant number of Edwards delegates, the delegate count tilted heavily in Obama's favor after the county conventions on Saturday. The original estimate from Iowa was that Obama would win 16 of the state's delegates, Clinton would win 15, and Edwards 14. However, Obama was the big victor in the county conventions on Saturday and the new estimates are that he would win 25 of the state's delegates, Clinton would take just 14, and Edwards 6. Because Clinton actually lost a delegate and Obama picked up 9, that amounts to a 10 delegate net pick-up for Obama in Iowa over the weekend.

Altogether, Obama added 13 delegates to his total in the past few days while Clinton lost 5 delegates, an overall net gain of 18 delegates for Obama. To put that total in perspective, Clinton only picked up 9 delegates in Ohio on March 4th.

So, should we expect to see this kind of movement in other caucus states as they move from the precinct to the county level and beyond? Probably not. Most of Obama's additional delegates came from former Edwards supporters and there were many of these in Iowa since he actually finished second in the state. The only other state to hold a caucus before Edwards dropped out was Nevada, where he won only 4% of the vote. In the remaining caucus states, you may see an adjustment of one or two delegates in either direction because of how votes are aggregated as the process moves forward, but nothing like the 10 delegate swing you saw in Iowa this weekend.

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