Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Meanwhile, in the USA

Sad news, as Ted Kennedy is revealed to have a malignant brain tumour.

Meanwhile, the neverending story visits Kentucky and Oregon tonight and (spoiler alert) Obama will clinch a pledged delegate majority, but Hillary will win Kentucky and fight on.

Cherniak makes a good case for Hillary staying in the race until the end and I do think Obama's win at a contested DNC would generate a certain amount of excitement and create some momentum. However, the logistics of running a Presidential campaign are such that the Democrats simply can't afford to wait until late August to crown a nominee.

Puerto Rico holds the final primary on June 7th. I think a fair solution would be for the super delegates to make their choices public soon thereafter, so that Obama's win can finally become "official" and he can focus on setting up a national campaign and attacking John McCain. The DNC will, I'm sure, give Hillary a prominent role at the convention and find some way to recognize the strength of her campaign, but to delay the inevitable by nearly three months for...well, I can't think of any good reason...just wouldn't be fair to Obama, to Clinton, or to the Democratic Party.

UPDATE: Clinton takes Kentucky by an impressive 65%-30% margin.

...and Obama's looking good in Oregon - 63% to 37%, with 11% of the polls reporting.

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  • "but to delay the inevitable by nearly three months for...well, I can't think of any good reason...just wouldn't be fair to Obama, to Clinton, or to the Democratic Party."

    Agreed. It wouldn't be fair to the American people who have suffered 8 horrible years of GOP rule.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 7:04 p.m.  

  • In some ways, I think the Dems would be better off to adopt the Republican primary system of winner-take-all that is utilized in most states. Sure, it might not be as proportional as the current system; but using that system, coupled by eliminating superdelegates (I never understood the need for it) would ensure that this kind of drawn out fight wouldn't occur.

    By Blogger BCT 2.0, at 7:05 p.m.  

  • I don't have a huge problem with the super-dels (kind of like ex-officio), but they need to find a way to make sure the thing always wraps up by June. So that means either trashing the super-delegates or moving up the convention and, well, I can't really see them wanting to move up the convention.

    Of course, they'd still have the theoretical "West Wing scenario" where a 3 person race could lead to a deadloked convention.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 7:39 p.m.  

  • The problem isn't the superdelegates. It's a close contest because of the polarized nature of the main candidates. It's possible that a close fight in the GOP primary (winner takes all) could be contested down to the wire.

    By a strange coincidence, the Liberal leadership convention in Montreal 2006 had roughly the same numbers. There were 4700 elected delegates and 1,100 unelected ex-officio delegates.

    Dion started the convention with just 16% of the elected delegates. But, the polarized support for Rae and Iggy allowed dion to come up the middle and win. Goes to show that strange things can happen under any set of rules.

    I remember the Montreal Convention well. I was rooting for dion up to the moment he won the contest. Strange days!

    By Blogger JimTan, at 8:51 p.m.  

  • I agree with your analysis; however, I should point out that Puerto Rico's primary date has been changed to June 1st. This means that the last primaries will in fact be those of Montana and South Dakota, which take place on June 3rd.

    Which is to say, the neverending story should be just two weeks away from its end (one hopes).

    By Blogger - K, at 10:53 p.m.  

  • BCT: unfortunately, that would have meant that Clinton was the de-facto nominee. And considering how absolutely terrible her campaign has been in the face of the honest-to-goodness competition she never expected to have, the Democratic system is looking pretty damned good right about now.

    A campaign as terrible as Clinton's would have presented serious, serious challenges in the fall. Best to let it end.

    By Blogger Demosthenes, at 1:52 a.m.  

  • It is funny that most people that want Clinton to end her campaign are not Clinton supporters. Why isn't Clinton ending it? She retains a solid shot at a moral claim to the nomination. That won't get her the nomination, but it will help her in 2012 (and would help her if she decides to make an independent bid for president).*

    Now, she won KY and Obama won OR, so tonight is a wash right? Wrong. Clinton won KY by 250,000 votes, Obama won OR by (w/ 83% reporting) 90,000 votes - lets give him 100,000.

    This means Clinton is winning in the popular vote by some metrics. A good result in Puerto Rico could easily put her ahead if Florida is counted (it is unlikely but possible she could be ahead in the popular vote without Florida too). She needs to win the remaining primaries by about 175,000 votes and she has a solid claim if they seat Florida.

    Will that win it for her? No. But remember - Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart took it to the convention. Ted Kennedy did too, by the way - and neither had numbers near to being as close as Clinton does (nor an opponent as weak as McCain).

    A contested convention is only a scary prospect for Obama if the there really is a contest. If not, and if he really has got this thing as locked down as he does, then he can safely ignore Clinton, just like how McCain ignored Huckabee after Super Tuesday.

    Anyhow, Clinton's only chance of winning (or coming close) is if Obama implodes (for instance, if something comes of the Rezko business). If Obama implodes, then wouldn't it be nice to have a backup option? Look at the last two weeks - Clinton has stopped attacking Obama, and is playing nice. The real reason folks want her out of the race is that they live in constant fear that Obama will do something stupid. Unlike most politicians, Obama has little in terms of accomplishments or abilities to turn to were such an event to occur. Yet that is precisely why it is in the interest of the Democratic party that Clinton contest this - without acrimony.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 4:51 a.m.  

  • *Appendix (how plausible is a Clinton independent run)
    Possibly not as implausible as you'd think given how the Democratic primary broke down on demographic lines as it did. Those in Clinton's camp are solidly there (less than a third of Clinton supporters in KY said they would back Obama).

    Numerically one way might be to estimate intrade - a political stock market where people bet [real] money on various outcomes (payout is $100 if something happens, $0 if it doesn't, trading volume on Clinton stuff is pretty large). They have a separate bet for Clinton winning the Dem nomination and winning the presidency.

    Clinton winning the presidency was last sold at $4.6/share, while her winning the nomination was sold at $6.2.

    So what - Clinton can't become president if she doesn't win the nomination, so obviously her score in the first group is lower. However, I ask, is it lower by enough? With a sufficient number of trades (here we are talking about hundreds of thousands of trades) these two "stocks" should be in equilibrium - the chance of Clinton winning the nomination times the chance of her winning the general should get you the share of her winning the election. However, these numbers would imply a 74% chance of Clinton winning. By contrast, Obama, who runs ahead of Clinton in matchup polls has a 60% shot at winning. This certainly contrasts with most projections (for instance the blog 538 suggests Clinton's chance of winning is more like 54%, based on large-scale trial runs using polling data and regression of demographics).

    So if Clinton's chance of winning the general (if she won at the convention) was really more like 54% (and that assumes a non-acrimonious convention, and no cries of "she stole the nomination from the first black president", etc.) Then at least some of that is explained by her running as an independent.

    More precisely 20/74*4.6 is about the chance she will run as an independent and win. That works out to 1.2%. Now, if Clinton ran as an independent, what do you suppose the chance would be that she lost? The most likely result of such a state of affairs would be no electoral majority, which throws things to congress (which would probably go for Obama). So if her chances of winning such an election were 10%, then the chance of her running as an independent is more like 12%.

    Or maybe intrade is not an efficient market. If that is the case, you should sell short on Clinton winning the presidency because it is overvalued.

    PS: yes this is pretty damn wild speculation. I approach prognostication more like a gambler than anything... I look for the most underpredicted prediction, rather than the one most likely to happen. That way, when I am right (which is rare) I get immense bragging rights.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 4:52 a.m.  

  • Clinton running as an independent would just give McCain the win. Given her history with the party, I just don't see it happening.

    And yes, I agree that going to the convention is fine if everyone recognizes Obama has won it. That way he can focus on McCain and the national campaign. The problem is if she keeps attacking him and refuses to recognize that he's the nominee...that's when things get messy.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:04 a.m.  

  • The main difference in going to convention is 1. you have a backup if he screws up royally and 2. she doesn't start halfheartedly campaigning till a couple of months from now.

    I'm not so sure an independent run would "hand the nomination to McCain". The present baseline (based on head-to-head polls) is about 48.5-51.5 for Obama, with McCain having a more electoral college efficient distribution of votes. It is a 50-50 election, although McCain may well be worse off than that.

    I could see Clinton as an independent taking about 15-20% of the vote. That wouldn't come exclusively from McCain though, and would include a large number of Democrats who, without her in the race, have indicated they will support McCain over Obama (or stay home). The average ratio is about 2-1 (with 2 voting for Obama and 1 staying home).

    So it is more like 41.5-38.5-15

    When you throw in Bob Barr, who is polling at around 3% it looks more like...


    Moreover, the states where Clinton would run strongly in the general are, in many cases, states where Obama runs weakly and vice versa. That would be amplified by how much money each candidate would spend in each area, since you typically spend little where you have no chance. Both would realize that an outright electoral college majority for one single Dem candidate was unlikely, and would have stronger incentives to go after McCain, to prevent him from getting a majority, so the race would go to congress.

    Moreover, the effects of this on congressional vote turnout for the Democrats would be stunning. Since both Clinton and Obama supporters would be turning out in congressional elections, you would see a very large pick up there. Want a historical analogy?

    1860 won't work because while it had 4 presidential candidates, both the pro and anti-slavery faction had a more moderate candidate (Douglas and John Bell being the moderates, Lincoln and Breckinridge the not-moderates). However, because the unionists ran in congressional elections they split the vote. 1912 similarly doesn't work because the Progressive Party ran congressional candidates...

    but 1948 does. There you had two campaigns that primarily hurt the Democrats Presidentially - Henry Wallace ran as a pro-peace lefty candidate, while Strom Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat (remember this is back when the south was solidly for the Dems). Truman is famous for barely winning this election - but the story everybody forgets is that the Democrats picked up 75 seats in congress, one of the biggest pickups ever, as all parts of their base were roused by a multiparty presidential selection - even though Truman had little appeal to the parties lefties or to Dixiecrats. The Republicans would gain back some seats in later years, but the core of that 1948 group is a large reason the Dems controlled congress (which is far from powerless) from 1954-1994. By contrast Truman lost 54 seats in 1946 and lost 28 in 1950. It is usual for presidents to lose seats in midterm elections, but those are particularly high, and may reflect his weakness in core constituencies. The Democrats also gained 9 senators.

    In 1968 during George Wallace's independent run the Republicans lost seats across the north (where conservative Wallace was weak) but picked up a good number in the south (where Wallace was strong) and Indiana and New Mexico (where Wallace did reasonably well). Additionally Republicans picked up a net gain of 7 senators.

    In 1836 you can see an extreme version of this theory in action. The Whigs schemed to run multiple favourite son candidates against Martin Van Buren, such that he would lose to each individually, and then the election would be thrown to the House (which they didn't control but they hoped to exploit factionalism in the Democratic party). They lost the presidential election, but managed to gain 25 seats in the House (which only had 242 back then - so about on par with a Contract with America sized win).

    What about Ross Perot? Now Perot took votes from some Democrats and some Republicans, but most people suggest he took more from GOP voters (his base would be fairly similar to Clinton's in an independent run - though she might run better with women and hispanics). Well as you know, the GOP did well while Perot was running. They gained 9 House seats in 1992 - a remarkable feat considering the presidential coat-tail effect (ie. that Bill Clinton won the election). In 1996 you had a weaker Perot (8% versus 19% in 1992), and the GOP lost 8 seats. In 2000, no Perot, and the GOP lost 2 more (and 5 senate seats) - despite winning the presidential election.

    A final example? In 1980 very few people talk about John B. Anderson or Ed Clark. However, that is because they aren't third party nerds the way I am. Anderson was an angry Rockefeller Republican that had lost in the primary to Reagan. He pulled 6.6% of the vote (about 6 million votes). Similarly Ed Clark got 1%, about a million votes - he was the Libertarian candidate (the most successful Libertarian party candidate ever, unless you count Ron Paul's primary run, which got more votes, out of a smaller electorate). In 1980 the House Republicans gained 34 seats and 9 senate seats - taking the senate for the first time since the 1950's. Is some of that the Reagan effect? Sure. But remember the GOP lost 26 seats in 1982, and gained only 16 in 1984 despite a larger win in the presidential election (Reagan beat Carter in 1980 by 9.3 points, while beating Mondale by 18.2).

    Moral of the story - in every case where there was an independent run for president, the party that lost more votes to the insurgent campaign did considerably better than would be expected, but typically did worse (for two-term presidents or during midterm elections) when there was no third party candidacy. Obviously there are other factors, but the consistent presence of this trend suggests that it explains at least some of reality.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 12:22 p.m.  

  • PS: low turnout in Oregon (unless there are a crapload of votes in that 16%) have kept Obama's net gain there around 100,000 votes, while Clinton had a margin of over 250,000 from Kentucky.

    Want to know why Clinton isn't dropping out for sure? That puts her in striking distance of winning the popular vote (after Puerto Rico) + Florida + caucuses - a pretty reasonable case (that would be more reasonable if she had made it more consistently). If they seat Florida, it is hard to imagine that Florida's votes don't count. By that metric she would have won the popular vote. She can also gain about 70,000 votes if you use the Washington and Nebraska primaries instead of the caucuses (the former had higher turnout).

    It is a dubious claim, of course, that the popular vote matters more than delegates, since caucus states will always have lower turnout. But it is an argument Democrats will find appealing, and will look like an incredible comeback. So... you heard it here first.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 12:45 p.m.  

  • Hmmm...well, you've definitely made a good case on the third party run. I'm not sure I neccesarily buy the argument that she'd be pulling from McCain's vote to that large a degree but that's some impressive case study research and I hadn't considered the house/Senate spin-off benefits.

    You hace a PhD in US polisci/history or is this just a hobby?

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:50 p.m.  

  • "A good result in Puerto Rico could easily put her ahead if Florida is counted (it is unlikely but possible she could be ahead in the popular vote without Florida too). "

    You must know that Puerto Ricans are not full citizens of the United States, since you have a Ph.D. in politics. They do not vote in November. Should their vote be allowed to change the course of the Democratic primary, and the presidential election?

    There is a reason why Puerto Rico was put at the very end of the primaries.

    Here's a message for all Clinton sickos. You're been demanding, intimidating and threatening. It's time for Clinton to put up or shut up.

    Obama is within 70 votes of the finish line. I dare the Clintons to pull out of the party and/or sabotage Obama. Do they have the courage to do it? Don't just talk about it!

    You heard it here first!


    By Blogger JimTan, at 4:08 p.m.  

  • This stuff is mostly a hobby, stemming from my being a history/political junkie and a numbers person (I blame baseball cards). I am working on a polisci Phd (at Indiana University) - but I don't do any American politics stuff (I did AI/TA for intro to American politics, and will admit that a lot of my lack of appreciation for Obama's college student supporters comes from that experience*).

    I do international relations (democratic peace theory - but only because my real interests in empires are unemployable) and nowadays, mostly statistics. In undergrad I did an incredibly bad job of trying to model US trade policy based on what the swing states were in the preceding election. I didn't really know states either, so I just have the correlation of the two variables. My closest work to this nowadays is my crappy attempt to evaluate what kind of institutions drive successful innovation policies.

    The FivethirtyEight blog just ran a fairly simple test where states the Dems win against McCain 60% of the time went to the strongest Dem, while states below that threshold went for McCain. The result? McCain didn't get an electoral majority (he got 230 EV's, Obama about 182). Obviously a three-party race is hard to predict.

    jimtan, it was the decision of the Democratic Party to give Puerto Rico delegates - surely that implies that Puerto Rico votes are legitimate in the eyes of the party (in practice, of course, it is probably an empty gesture that has never mattered before).

    *while the students generally did poorly on tests, they did especially bad on all the civil rights-related topics. About 25% thought Jim Crow laws were good for African Americans (this was a definition question - I hope it was a result of them not studying, rather than actually believing that).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 8:28 p.m.  

  • "jimtan, it was the decision of the Democratic Party to give Puerto Rico delegates - surely that implies that Puerto Rico votes are legitimate in the eyes of the party (in practice, of course, it is probably an empty gesture that has never mattered before)."

    Right! The Democratic Party set the rules, and the rule says that delegates count. So, why are you talking about the popular vote?

    Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College by just 5 votes. Did he threaten to challenge the constitution of the United States of America? Did he say that he would be a better President because he was ahead by 500,000 votes? Did he threaten to launch an insurgency against the Bush Administration?

    Al took his loss like a gentleman. The Clintons should set an example by doing the same. After all, they knew the rules but ran a terrible campaign. They had so many shots at Obama. But, Obama prevailed.

    It's time for the Clintons to behave like senior leaders of the Democratic Party. Regroup for the battle against the GOP. They should leave the party if they don't get it. No more excuses or dirty tricks.

    They have two weeks to decide.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 9:21 p.m.  

  • I'm not saying the popular vote should decide anything. Doing so would seriously undervalue caucus states - even though caucuses are flawed mechanisms - I am saying that the popular vote gives Clinton an argument.

    It is precisely because Gore won the popular vote over Bush in 2000 (which many Democrats wish he had contested) that this becomes a compelling case for Clinton to Democrats. Considering that more people buy her argument, and that over 70% of dems don't want her to drop out before June, I'd say she should and will stay in.

    One of the polls I referenced...

    ""Suppose it is left to the party leaders and elected officials known as the super delegates to decide whether Clinton or Obama is the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. In which of the following ways would you MOST like to see them make their choice? Should the super delegates choose the candidate who won the biggest share of the POPULAR VOTE in primaries and caucuses across the country, or choose the candidate who won the most DELEGATES in the primaries and caucuses, or choose the candidate who is BEST QUALIFIED to be the nominee in their judgment?""

    Popular vote winner: 38%
    Candidate with most delegates: 12%
    Best qualified: 46%
    Unsure: 4%

    Want another?

    ""The Democratic nomination may be decided by so-called 'super delegates' who can pick any candidate they choose. Do you think the super delegates should support the candidate who won the most delegates in primaries and caucuses; the candidate who won the most overall votes; or the candidate they think is best, regardless of either delegate or vote totals?" Options rotated

    Most delegates: 13%
    Most votes: 46%
    Best candidate: 37%

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 12:46 a.m.  

  • "I am saying that the popular vote gives Clinton an argument. "

    Exactly! It's just another argument by the loser to prolong the race.

    You can pile on an endless number of arguments. Most qualified? Is that the most experienced (Clinton) or the most successful (Obama)?

    Is that the most popular? Then, you start to argue about how to rate popularity. How to standardize the votes of caucus and primary states? Should Puerto Rico be counted since they don't vote in November? Why should we count only the primary voters (historical)? Why don't we poll the current intentions of all voters?

    Why do we set rules at the beginning of the contest? It is to allow candidates to gear up for a common contest.

    Clinton can stay in the contest as long as she wants. The point is that a clear winner must emerge in June. Let both candidates make their closing arguments. Then, the superdelegates must choose ASAP.

    Clinton can refuse to concede up to August 25th. But, I want her to make a clear declaration in June. Is she going to support Obama unconditionally and loyally if he wins? Will she run as an independent if she loses?

    She is damaging the party by allowing fiction between the Obama and Clinton communities to grow. Revenge works both ways. She has to kill the rumours and threats if she wants a future in the party.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 2:49 a.m.  

  • “friends of the couple say that former President Bill Clinton, for one, has begun privately contemplating a different outcome for her: As Senator Barack Obama’s running mate.”

    New York Times today!

    Is this a good or bad idea for Obama?

    By Blogger JimTan, at 12:51 a.m.  

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