Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The US Elections: The MaD race

So, Mississippi has come and gone, leaving Obama with yet another big but curiously unappealing victory. Depending upon whose figures you trust most, he won by about 60% or 61% to Clinton's 38% or 37%. In the pledged delegate count, he notched up 17 of the blighters, as compared to Clinton's 11.

More or less simultaneously, we finally got some projections from the Texas caucus. CNN is predicting that Obama's lead there will translate to 38 delegates, as opposed to Clinton's 29. If you set this off against the primary in that state (which Clinton narrowly won) you end up with an overal Texan "victory" for Obama amounting to a net gain of 5 pledged delegates.

Torturous math, indeed! No wonder a lot of pundits have been bemoaning the Democrats' proportional voting system. If only those overly fair Democrats had adopted the hard and fast winner-takes-all approach of the Republicans!

But wait a moment. What would be the situation if the Democrats had done that? Assume, for a moment, that each and every state where the Democrats' contenders have competed had allocated all their delegates to the winner, regardless of his or her margin of victory. And while we're at it, let's take the uncertainty of the superdelegates out of the equation as well and assume all superdelegates pledged themselves according to the vote in their state.

According to my (possibly slightly shaky) math, here's where we'd be after the Mississippi primary:

Obama: 1695 delegates
Clinton: 1660 delegates

In other words, the race would actually be closer than it is now.

Now I'm not suggesting that these would have been the actual figures if the Democratic primary had been structured along the lines of the Republican one. I am suggesting, however, that it is quite likely that such a system would, in this particular instance, not have provided the clarity many people seem to take for granted.

The problem, of course, is that this race has basically been split down the middle from the word go. It's been Clinton vs. Obama all the way, and as the race runs, so do the demographics: whites and blacks; blue-collars and "upscales"; young and old.

And this is why yesterday's victory may well leave a slightly sour taste in Obama's mouth. Yes, he won big, but he won big because of the black vote. Gone, it seems, are the days when it appeared he was significantly broadening his appeal with white voters in general (remember Virginia?). Core components of that constituency - ordinary, everyday workers and "older" women - remain as elusive as ever, if not more so.

And this is also why Clinton can afford to be just a little bit optimistic. Her "big states" rhetoric falls a little flat when taken only in the context of the primaries (where a delegate from Wyoming counts every bit as much as one from Ohio), but come the fall and the vagaries of presidential electorial system, things could work out a little differently.

Math and Demography: it's a MaD race.

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