Thursday, March 13, 2008

Slip-sliding away...

From the Wall Street Journal Blog - "The Numbers Guy"

March 10, 2008, 4:43 pm
Obama’s California Comeback

A little-noticed shift in the tally of California’s Democratic delegates may affect the primary between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton as much as the heavily hyped results last Tuesday in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island.


Sen. Clinton won primaries in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, while Sen. Obama won the Vermont primary and appears likely to win the Texas caucus. For the day, Sen. Clinton is likely to trim fewer than 10 delegates from Sen. Obama’s lead in the race for the Democratic nomination, which by most counts stands at about 100 delegates.

But Sen. Obama may make up all that lost ground in the media counts that are the closest this race has to an official scoreboard. A California politics blogger has argued that Sen. Clinton won 36 more pledged delegates in the state than Sen. Obama, rather than the 44-delegate margin that has long been included in the news organizations’ tallies. A spokesman for the state party confirms the blogger’s numbers.

The shift, if validated once the state certifies its election results this week and the party chooses its delegates, is a reminder that the commonly reported delegate totals are mere estimates, subject to change as states finalize election results. It also highlights how a blogger with intense focus on the numbers may be faster than the established delegate counters.

David Dayden Dayen*, who blogs at the site Calitics and serves on its editorial board, wrote last week that Sen. Clinton won 203 of the state’s 370 pledged delegates — and not the commonly reported total of 207. He relied on updated vote totals from the state, based on late counts of absentee and provisional ballots. Later, when he noticed that several major news organizations still were showing Sen. Clinton with 207 delegates, he wrote a follow-up post explaining his calculation and exhorting, “I know math is hard and everything, but get out your calculators, people.”

It’s hard to explain the difference because most news organizations don’t provide a breakdown of projected delegates, district by district. Some of the discrepancies may arise from the peculiar math of congressional districts. For instance, in the 16th district, Sen. Clinton received 50,056 votes; she needed about 58 more votes to get three of the district’s four delegates, but instead she split them evenly with Sen. Obama. In the 53rd district, which has five delegates, Sen. Clinton received a small plurality of the early returns, but has fallen behind, which swings that fifth delegate to Sen. Obama.

The statewide vote matters, too. On primary night, it appeared Sen. Clinton won the state by 10 percentage points. Now she’s up by 8.7 percentage points. That means she gets an 11-margin win among delegates apportioned on the basis of the statewide vote, rather than a 13-margin win.

There won’t be an official delegate total until California certifies its results and the state Democratic party chooses delegates, Bob Mulholland, advisor to the California Democratic Party, told me. But he confirmed that the party’s unofficial count is 203-167. “It’s been this way for a couple of weeks,” he said. The earlier counts, he said, were based on preliminary results, before all of the ballots had been counted. Mr. Mulholland estimates that more than one in four ballots weren’t counted on primary day: “We’re a big state. We have lots of ballots.”

On Monday, some news organizations were updating their totals. Earlier in the day, CNN showed Sen. Clinton up 204-161, with five delegates unallocated. A spokeswoman told me the site was waiting for California to certify its results before updating, but by this afternoon, the site’s California results page was in line with Mr. Dayden’s Dayen’s* 203-167 margin. The New York Times’s page for California results shows the 207-163 result, but a page listing delegate totals for each state showed the 203-167 margin. NBC and CBS still showed the 207-163 margin. An inquiry to New York Times polling editor Janet Elder wasn’t returned. An NBC spokesman told me, “Apparently, there are discrepancies between the state count and the individual county tallies.” Kathy Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News, told me, “delegate allocation is a work in progress.” (UPDATE: Ms. Frankovic told me later Monday that CBS would update its totals to reflect the 203-167 margin. “Thanks for alerting us to the problem,” she said.)

Mr. Dayen, who identifies himself as a 35-year-old television editor in Santa Monica, Calif., told me, “I think the 207-163 number was flagrantly wrong and nobody bothered to change it.”

*Correction: The California blogger who counted delegates in his state is named David Dayen. This post previously spelled his name incorrectly twice.
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