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January 2008

Superdelegate Games

I wasn’t expecting another meaningful update to my Delegate Graphs until the Democratic South Carolina Primary this weekend (unless they zeroed the Thompson or Hunter delegates), but between yesterday and today CNN updated a bunch of their delegate totals… basically taking delegates away from folks. I have only been tracking the totals, not all the state by state breakdowns, so I can’t tell EXACTLY what changed unfortunately… but I think what is going on is simply that CNN has taken some of the superdelegates (called unpledged delegates on the republican side) who they had previously placed in one person or another’s column and put them back into the undecided category, presumably because the latest CNN survey of those delegates showed that change in preference.

Anyway, here are the updated charts:

On the Democratic side the change was pretty minor. Clinton lost eight delegates, dropping from 210 to 202. Obama lost seven delegates, dropping from 123 to 116. Edwards lost one, going from 52 to 51. In terms of percentages, this helped Hillary and Edwards, and hurt Obama. But these were minor adjustments.

The change on the Republican side is much more dramatic. A *lot* of delegates that had been previously allocated to one candidate or another are now no longer in anybody’s column. And it hurt one candidate very badly. That candidate would be Romney. CNN’s estimates of his delegate support dropped from 72 to 48, losing 24… a full third of his delegates. McCain lost 5. Huckabee lost 1. In terms of percentages, this hurt Romney badly. Everybody else’s percentages went up.

Now, of course all this points out that these delegate totals are ESTIMATES. As mentioned, I think the big factor in these changes is superdelegates. CNN has to somehow determine which columns to put these people in. I’m using CNN’s estimates, but there are a number of other places also giving delegate totals… and they all have somewhat different numbers. Because they use different methodologies to determine how to count these “free” delegates. Some only count them if they have made a public declaration of their preferences. Some count them just if their public statement seem to favor one candidate or another. Etc. I’m not sure exactly what CNN’s methods are though. I do wish I knew if this change in the Romney total is due to an actual exodus of delegates who had previously been for him, or if it is just a change in CNN’s methodology. But I don’t know that.

Oh, and the other source of potential flux in some of these numbers is of course that the states that have caucuses rather than primaries usually have a multi-stage process. With the initial precinct caucus actually electing delegates to later county caucuses, who then elect delegates to an even later state caucus, who then finally elect delegates to the national convention. So the “delegate totals” reported for caucus states have to make assumptions that at each stage the delegates will do what they originally were pledged to do and not change their minds, etc.

For that matter, while there is strong tradition and pressure against it and it is unlikely, there is apparently nothing that would actually prevent the delegates at the national conventions from changing their minds and voting for Bugs Bunny rather than whoever they were pledged for originally… even on the first ballot. Remember, in all of this there is *NO* direct connection between the voters voting and what actually happens at the convention. The primaries and caucuses end up selecting actual human beings called delegates who then go to the convention and vote. It isn’t automatic. Delegates are people, not robots, and can do that human thing called changing their minds.

So anyway, my graphs are based on whatever the CNN methodology is for determining these delegate counts, and for whatever reason they took away a crapload of Romney delegates today from their totals, making the Republican delegate race look a lot closer than it did yesterday.

Now, again, I don’t know if that is a REAL change, or just a change in CNN’s methodology.

However, even with a change this big, it will be dwarfed by the number of delegates up for grabs on February 5th… and between now and then everybody is all amount momentum anyway, and everybody is considering McCain the frontrunner even though he has less delegates, etc… so… looking in detail at these things at this point is really only for delegate race junkies like me. :-)