SOME DELEGATE ARITHMETIC YOU PROBABLY DON’T KNOW (part 1)

As a cautionary note, the following essay includes both footnotes and percentages. Those who cannot read or follow basic arithmetic should probably turn off their computers and go back to getting what they mistake as information from Fox News and/or equally moronic and dishonest e-mail chains.

While listening to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders criticizing one another at the debate held in Brooklyn on the night of Thursday, April 7th, I was struck by five thoughts [1]. First, that I could hear them from across the East River with my television on mute. Second, that the very worst thing that either said about the other was less damning than what Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz say about themselves. Third, that the Republicans are very unlikely to make general election attack ads about Clinton’s vote for authorization of the invasion of Iraq and coziness with Wall Street, or Sanders’ vote against the Brady bill and lack of technical detail as to how largest banks should be broken up. Fourth, that there may be people who confuse the Democrats’ disagreement over who better represents the party with the name-calling on the Republican side. Finally, that I hope that there won’t be too many people who are so easily confused voting this fall.

By now, you may know that there will be 2,472 delegates to the Republican national convention [2] in Cleveland [3]. You may also know that there will be very nearly twice as many delegates at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. This disparity is readily understandable to anyone who has visited both cities. It hardly surprises me that those with such poor judgment that they eschew visiting the home of our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and cheese steaks, and the Jewish hoagie are willing to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

The difference in total number of delegates at the parties’ nominating conventions doesn’t matter all that much. Even within a party, the preference of ten thousand caucus goers can yield significantly more delegates than the votes of ten times as many in a primary. What does matter is the percentage of delegates allocated by each party to each state.

I live in New York, which holds its presidential primaries tomorrow. 6.11% of the delegates to the Democratic convention will be from New York. Only 3.84% of delegates to the Republican convention will be from the Empire State. New York’s representation at the Democratic Convention will be 59% greater than at the Republican convention. 11.45% of the Democratic delegates will be from California, as compared with only 6.96% of the Republican delegates, a differential of 65%.

The numbers can get a little (but not all that much) distorted on the Democratic side. That’s because the number of Democratic “superdelegates” from one jurisdiction to another can vary vastly out of proportion with the number of “regular” delegates, which is an amalgam of population and how well Democrats have done there in the past [4]. Overall, there will be roughly one superdelegate for every six regular delegates. As a result, those party insiders can have tremendous influence over the outcome. And that is by design. The Democratic establishment doesn’t want another outsider nominee like George McGovern [5]. Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders among regular delegates is far more modest that which she holds among superdelegates.When you read that Secretary Clinton is a cinch to win the nomination (and she will, although I will be voting for Senator Sanders tomorrow), that’s not necessarily because she have a majority of the regular delegates.

One of the reasons that California and New York will be much more heavily represented in Philadelphia than in Cleveland is that both parties tend to take previous general election returns into account when allocating delegates among the states [6]. Recently, Democrats have done better than Republicans in California and New York. Accordingly, we would expect the situation to be reversed in Texas. Curiously, it’s not. Delegates from Texas will constitute 6.38% of the Democrats, which is 2% more than the 6.27% of the Republicans?

Wait a second. How can it be that states the Democrats carry by large margins are relatively over represented at their convention, but Texas, which hasn’t gone Democratic since man first landed on the moon [7] is very nearly equally represented at both conventions? If you’re thinking that this makes sense because the Democrats have so many more delegates at their convention, then please return to the closing sentence of the first paragraph and have someone read and explain it to you. I suggest getting someone much smarter than you are [8].

[In future installments, the hows and whys of the Texas anomaly, which states matter most to each party, why that matters in a close race, and my not-at-all-modest proposal for revising the delegate allocation system.]

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1. Which is about four above my monthly average

2. hence the requirement of 1,237 (i.e. 50% plus 1) delegates for the nomination.

3. Those from Cleveland responsible for the 1969 fire in the Cuyahoga River and blowing the 1997 World Series are probably very grateful to the Republican Party for knocking them down a peg on the list of the city’s most embarrassing events.

4. Superdelegates are those identified by the party rules and elders as so important that they must be included (e.g. members of Congress, Governors, close friends of George Clooney), without any need for trifling details such as being elected to be delegates. There tend to be fewer of these Very Important Democrats in places that tilt Republican. As a fairly extreme example, Indiana gets only 9 superdelegates, as compared with 83 regular delegates. In stark contrast, the District of Columbia gets more superdelegates (25) than it does regular delegates (20)

5. They should be praying for one.

6. And the District of Columbia. United States territories that don’t get to vote in federal elections are also represented at conventions, probably to give party officials an excuse to take a vacation in places such as Guam or Puerto Rico, and give the five most important Democrats from each of those places a trip to wherever the convention is being held.

7. Yes, I really am that old. Baby boomers may not have been the Greatest Generation, but we are the only one that sends text messages with punctuation and capital letters. Our parents never learned to use the technology, and many of our kids never learned to use the language.

8. That should be easy.