Delegate Math

My book keeps looking better! Huckabee’s staying in, and winning delegates, making it harder for people to dismiss the idea of McCain picking him as VP. (If nothing else, he’s making it more necessary for McCain to make him happy than to make, say, Steve Moore happy.) And Obama keeps winning. According to the delegate count estimates from Real Clear Politics, he’s up by 3 delegates, including Superdelegates who have already declared a preference. I’ve tried to slice the same data to make some rough estimates of what the future portends.

There have been 18 primaries and 12 caucuses so far (not including territories like the US Virgin Islands). Obama’s delegate margin over Clinton in the 12 caucuses has averaged 29%, ranging from negative 4% in New Mexico to positive 67% in Idaho. In the primaries, his average delegate margin has been a bit under 1.5%, ranging from negative 54% in Arkansas to positive 40% in Georgia.

DC, Maryland and Virginia should be very strong territory for Obama. DC’s margins should be massive, Maryland and Virginia somewhat less so. Assume they vote roughly like the primaries in Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana, but throw Delaware into the mix as well as a closer-to-hand data point. In that case, the delegates will split roughly 2-1 for Obama. Polling of Virginia and Maryland has Obama winning the popular vote by margins consistent with that conclusion.

Hawaii is a caucus state and a state where Obama is a native son. He should presumably do as well as he usually does in caucus states. That’s roughly a 2-1 delegate split.

Wisconsin is clearly Obama territory, but the margins are not so clear. Obama crushed Clinton in neighboring Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, but Obama is a native son in Illinois, and Iowa and Minnesota were caucuses. Demographically, Wisconsin looks very similar to Minnesota (90% white population, black and Hispanic population each around 4%, though Wisconsin is a bit less educated on average and a bit older). Obama should certainly be favored to win – the question is by how much? The only primary (as opposed to caucus) states where he has scored massive (>30% margin) lopsided victories in delegate count have been Illinois (his home state) and states where the African-American vote was decisive (Georgia, South Carolina). His best primaries where the African-American percentage of the population was not overwhelming were Utah and Delaware, in each of which his delegate margin was around 20%. Another comparison might be New Jersey, where Clinton had near-home-state advantages comparable to Obama’s in Wisconsin. Assume he does as well in Wisconsin as she did in New Jersey, and you get a margin of 10% in delegates. Averaging Obama’s margin in Utah and Delaware with Clinton’s margin in New Jersey gives an expected delegate margin for Obama of 16% in Wisconsin.

I’m going to skip over Ohio and Texas for a moment, then come back to them.

Rhode Island and Vermont are also primaries. Obama tied delegates in New Hampshire (with Edwards still in the race, remember), won a 4% edge in Connecticut, and lost an 18% edge in Massachusetts. He won the Maine caucus by a lopsided margin, for what it’s worth. Vermont should be more favorable to him than any of these, more like Utah. Rhode Island should be pretty even.

Wyoming is a caucus in the Mountain states. Obama has annihilated Clinton in these kinds of locations – his average delegate margin in the caucuses of neighboring Colorado, Idaho and Nebraska is 44%. Assume the same for Wyoming.

Mississippi is another African-American dominated primary. Assume it votes similarly to the average of Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Alabama.

All of the above assumptions add up to a 117 delegate margin for Obama from the states between now and the end of March. For comparison, that’s larger than the delegate margin earned by Clinton from California, New York and Arkansas combined (which include her two biggest state victories, her two home-state victories, and her largest margin victory).

Now we can talk about Ohio and Texas.

Between them, Ohio and Texas have 389 delegates. 117 delegates is a 30% margin. Clinton has only exceeded this once – in Arkansas – and has only approached it in one other primary – Oklahoma. Given that the first was her home state, and that in the second Edwards – who had only recently pulled out – garnered a significant chunk of the vote, it strikes me as vanishingly unlikely that Clinton will earn anything like the necessary margin of victory to hold Obama to a draw through the end of March.

Nonetheless, she has to be considered favored in both states, particularly Texas. Assume she wins Texas by a delegate margin equal to the average of her margin in Oklahoma and Arizona, two nearby states where she won the primaries. That’s a margin of about 19%.

Ohio has no real comparable to primaries that have already happened. Demographically – in terms of age structure, racial breakdown, and education – it looks most similar to Missouri, which was a tie. Assume Clinton has a bit of an edge here, though not as much of an edge as she has in New Jersey, where there is a bigger Hispanic and Asian population and which is a quasi-home state for her. Averaging Missouri and New Jersey results in a 5% Clinton delegate win.

If all of the above pans out, Clinton wins the “big state” primaries of Ohio and Texas but still comes out losing the total projected delegate count at the end of March by something like 70 delegates. That’s not enough to put it away. But it’s probably enough to make it impossible for Clinton to put it away. By the end of March, even if Clinton wins both Ohio and Texas, odds are the party leadership will know that they, not the voters, will be picking the winner. At that point, I assume that they will want to engineer things so that one of the two candidates comes out clearly on top in the voting. I can see how and why they would try to engineer an Obama victory at that point; Clinton’s winning as much as she is in part because she’s perceived as the safer and more established choice, and the best way to puncture that is for the establishment to abandon her en masse. But I can’t really see either how or why they would try to engineer a Clinton victory at that point. Obama would have already overcome very long odds, whereas she will have failed to clinch a sure thing. He will have raised more money, and more cleanly, than she will have. He will be polling better in the general election. He will have won more states. And, most important, how are they going to stop him? What are they going to do? Deny him the nomination they can do. But how are they going to engineer Obama losses at the polls in Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, Montana – what are they going to do? I don’t see that they have much leverage. If they want to avoid having the Superdelegates transparently pick the nominee, they have to add their shoulders to one candidate or the other and push that candidate to a meaningful delegate lead. I can see how they do that for Obama. I can’t see how they do that for Clinton.

Bottom line: I’m feeling good about my book.