Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sanders Iowa Result: A Technical Draw That Translates Into A Huge Moral Victory

"With more than 99% of the precinct results in, Clinton led 49.9% to 49.6% over Sanders after seeing an apparently comfortable lead slip. The Associated Press and multiple outlets said the race was simply too close to call, though the Clinton camp claimed a narrow victory." - UK Guardian, 'Clinton Pushed to the Limit'

"It doesn't matter what the final numbers are, if you exceed expectations in American politics then you've won." - Nicole Wallace, 'Morning Joe', this a.m.

"There is no absolute win for any candidate. Every candidate gets some piece of pie. The delegates will be divided in proportion to their percentage of votes received. The media should so report to people and not confuse the common man." - Commenter on NY Times website.

In terms of the Iowa caucus for Democrats last night, Sanders's'  achievement of a statistical tie with the presumed front runner will no doubt be spun different ways by the pundits. But considering where he was merely six months ago, in single digits compared to Hillary, one has to reckon in Nicole Wallace's take quoted above.  One can also reckon in E.J. Dionne's take on MSNBC after 100% of the precincts were in this morning- reporting Clinton with 701 delegate votes and Sanders with 697. E.J. noted:

"Not since Eugene Debs ran on the Socialist ticket in 1912 has this set of ideas really gotten this kind of prominence and I think this speaks to a discontent in the Democratic Party and on the Left and in some ways this goes back to 'Occupy Wall Street'"  - noting Sanders's' admonition that one had to take the activist sentiment into the voting booth.

More astounding, as Chuck Todd pointed out this morning, Bernie Sanders got all his support money from 770,000 supporters nationwide, contributing an average of $27 each. Hillary, meanwhile, according to the WSJ report yesterday (p. A6), "has collected a total of $3 million (along with husband Bill) from Goldman Sachs for speaking fees since 2005." (Recall Goldman came out about the only winners in the 2007-08 financial crisis by making credit default swaps bets that banks would fail.)

Another take (which I lean to)  is that of mathematical journalist Charles Seife, in his book 'Proofiness: How You're Being Fooled By the Numbers, in which the art of "proofiness" is revealed. This is the art of using bogus arguments to advance a claim via spurious appeals to numbers or counting. In particular, one of the surest signs of proofiness is the failure to provide attached uncertainties to the measurements - any measurements!  That includes vote counts.

In respect to statistical ties in elections, Seife is adamant that it makes no sense to declare a winner, especially if the difference in percentage is within the statistical errors. The difference between Sanders's' delegate count and Hillary's was just that: 701 to 697. Reinforced by the fact that in one precinct  (as reported by Steve Kornacki on MSNBC's coverage last night) no accommodation could be reached between the two groups of caucus goers - after hours - so the precinct leader simply resorted to a freaking coin toss.  Hillary won the random coin toss which put 3 added delegate votes in her column. Subtract those from her total and add them to Bernie's and what do you get?

Well, 701 - 3 = 698 for Hillary and 697 + 3 = 700 for Bernie

Voila! All of a sudden Bernie now emerges the winner and the Clinton camp is in a state of apoplexy and dyspepsia. (Let us recall again, the Dem caucus process is not like the Repubs' where you just write a name on a ballot and count them one by one. In the Dems' case actual numbered votes aren't counted because the win in each precinct is decided by person to person "horse trading" leading to percentages of the total, with the delegate votes then allotted, see e.g.


This renders the Clinton camp's statement this morning totally laughable, i.e.:

"After thorough reporting and analysis. there is no uncertainty and Secretary Clinton clearly won".

Uh no, she just thinks she did, Given there were problems with the delegate counts and allocations thereof  in other precincts beyond the stupid coin flip  for 3 delegate votes (in one).
Seife in his book, pp. 162-63, points to disestimation as the number one source of proofiness in close elections, and the primary factor making it meaningless to declare winners in such elections. (He uses the examples of the 2000 Presidential election and the 2008 Senate election between Norm Coleman and Al Franken).

According to Seife (p. 162):

"As long as there are close elections, disestimation will continue to exact a toll year after year obscuring the truth" I.e. that there is no clear winner.

He admonishes political parties, candidates and the media to be aware of all of the following:

- Admit elections are fallible. Even with the most rigorous counting - under ideal conditions and with well designed ballots (or caucus procedures) - there will always be errors of a "few hundredths of a percent"

- Be aware of people entering vote count data incorrectly

- Be aware of ballots misplaced or double counted (more peculiar to the Republican caucuses)

He concludes that the most accurate statement one can make about such close elections amounts to qualifying approximations, i.e. for the case of the Iowa D caucus results:

Hillary Clinton won approximately 701 delegate votes


Bernie Sanders won approximately 697 delegate votes.

Especially, as I pointed out, counting and assessing delegate counts was anything but trivial in something like 90 Iowa precincts - including one that needed a coin toss to allot its votes!

Bernie Sanders should be proud of his showing in Iowa and for further perspective let's note:

- He pulled in almost as large a percentage vote (49.5%) as the two main anti-establishment Repubs  (Cruz and Trump) combined (52%)

- He will take away at least 21 to 22 delegates from the Iowa  Dem caucuses vs. 6 for Ted Cruz, the declared R-winner.

The number one knock from pundits, e.g. Chuck Todd on NBC this morning,  was "If he couldn't get a clear win in Iowa how can he do it in any other states?"

But they miss the point! Unlike the Republican primaries - which are 'winner take all'' - most of the Dem primaries allot delegates based on percentage proportions. Thus, Sanders can still come away with a significant set of delegate votes headed toward the Democratic convention in July. If he has enough, and I believe he will, he can make all kinds of deals to advance his policies into the D-platform,

We will have to see. But again, Bernie's accomplishment in Iowa must not be underestimated.

See also:




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