Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Amusing American Primary

By which I mean the Democratic one; the Republican side is just scary.

After Sanders lost all five states last week, he faced more calls to drop out of the race.  There's a lot of things in that statement alone that amuse me.  One is that in Illinois, Clinton and Sanders split the delegates equally; while in Missouri, Clinton won one extra delegate on the basis of 1500 votes1.  A small shift in those two elections, and there'd probably be a fair bit speculation about a Sanders comeback, for no real change in the status of the election.

Another thing is that we have only just passed the halfway mark of the primay, with the release of the Democrats Abroad results yesterday.  And yet people have been advocating that Sanders drop out since Super Tuesday2.  This all strikes me as part of the US's peculiar attitude towards democracy, with elections for positions that in most countries are appointed yet at the same time trying to suppress voters from actually having their say.

Plus, for the Democrats, as long as Sanders continues to run a more positive campaign, I don't see a long primary as a bad thing.  It didn't hurt Obama to develop networks and connections around the country; arguably helped the Democrats have a very good 2008.  Hell, given that Clinton is so well known, subject to national attacks for almost thirty years, it probably wouldn't matter if Sanders did go negative.

Another thing that amuses me about this election is how lopsided it is.  At the halfway point, Clinton has won an overwhelming 57.8% of the delegates.  And yet, if we group the states into different geographical regions, we see the following delegate totals3:

Region Clinton Sanders
North-East 64 92
Mid-West 331 348
South 719 351
West 48 53
Other 12 13

We see that Clinton is actually losing in all regions other than the South!  Her lead is a combination of winning the South heavily, and the over-representation of Southern states so far.  Indeed, the South makes 53% of delegates voted on so far compared to only 32% in total.

This is not to try and argue that Clinton is really losing.  The simplest extrapolation of the above, assuming the ratios in each region remains the same, would lead to Clinton 2139 vs Sanders 1912, a 5.5% margin in delegates.  But it's the kind of thing that definitely surprised me when I first realised it.

The last thing I want to note relates to the question of a long primary.  Because unless Sanders drops out or primary voters start to coalesce around Clinton in huge numbers, the race is not going to be over till 7th June, when six states including California vote.  To win a clear majority before then, Clinton would have to pick up at least 65% of delegates from here on.  What makes that unlikely is that in the Democratic race, every state awards its delegates proportionally.  So if the Democratic party isn't happy, they really only have themselves to blame.

1 Throughout this post I'm using the projections of the Green Papers.  I remember them being the best 8 years ago.
2 I saw plenty of people online say he'd lost when we failed to win Iowa, almost too eager to proclaim the death of his campaign.
3 Here I use US Census Bureau definitions.

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