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Yet more 2008 vs 2012 Comparisons

I had previously talked about the comparisons between the 2012 and 2008 Republican races here, here and here.  The last of those is the most relevant, and if you haven’t checked it out before, feel free to go back and do so now.  :-)

In any case, a few hours ago I saw this tweet from @DemConWatch.  It links to the article below. I’ve quoted the key conclusion, but please click through and read the whole thing.

Romney, McCain, and the long slog to 1,144
(Seth, Enik Rising, 2012 Mar 19)

Below, I’ve charted McCain’s and Romney’s delegate shares compared to the total number of delegates that have been awarded to date. So, for example, by the time 1,247 delegates had been awarded in 2008 (Super Tuesday), McCain had won 740 of them. (I’ve used RCP’s estimates of delegate shares in 2008 and 2012.) I’ve projected a linear path for both years.

So the big thing to note here is that Romney is accumulating delegates at a slower pace than McCain did four years ago. Also of note: Romney will not get to 1,144 delegates (a majority) by the end of the primaries and caucuses assuming he keeps accumulating delegates at his current pace.

The thing I immediately noticed…  the  total number of delegates was different in 2008 and 2012!  In 2008 there were 2380 delegates total.  In 2012 there are only 2286!  So using absolute numbers of delegates on the axes is not doing a direct comparison.  You need to look at these as percentages of the total number of delegates available.

So I redid the chart on that basis, using the data I had collected in my 2008 Delegate Race Page (which used CNN’s delegate counts, grabbed and put into a spreadsheet on a daily basis) and which I am now collecting in my 2012 Delegate Race Page (which uses the Soft Count from Greenpapers including DCW’s Superdelegate numbers also grabbed daily for a spreadsheet).

Now, both my 2012 and 2008 numbers include so called “fantasy delegates” projecting the eventual results from caucus states, etc, which many folks argue is not the right way to track delegates, but since both years followed that practice, it seems like a valid comparison.

In any case, the result is this:

Romney is indeed behind McCain’s pace, but only very slightly, and that only developed in the last few contests.  For most of the race so far, the pace of the two candidates tracked very closely, with Romney actually being ahead of McCain’s pace until Super Tuesday.  He certainly is not as far behind as he appeared in Seth’s chart from Enik Rising.  Rather, once you correct for both the calendar changes and the differing number of delegates, we see that the whole narrative of Romney being much slower to wrap things up than McCain was four years ago just falls apart.

I’ll note that using the Green Papers count instead of the RCP Count that Seth used puts Romney slightly BETTER than the pace he needs to get to 1144 rather than slightly worse than that pace.  And indeed, which sources you use for both the 2008 and 2012 delegate counts probably matters here. Given how much the various estimates vary I imagine how far the two lines are from each other may be quite different based on which delegate counts you use… but the above is what I get using the sources I chose to use for tracking in these two cycles.

I’ll also use this opportunity to update the comparison between 2008 and 2012 using the metric I prefer…  “% of remaining delegates needed to win”.  This hits 100% once a candidate is mathematically eliminated or hits 0% once they have the needed number of delegates to secure the nomination.

In 2008 on the Republican side the chart of this number for the various candidates looked like this:

As of right now in 2012 (a few hours before the March 20th Illinois primary) this looks like this:

Comparing these, as with the other chart, you can see that McCain in 2008 was indeed a bit better off at this point than Romney is this time around, but not by a huge margin.

Using the sources I noted above, as of today 43.3% of the delegates have been allocated (or at least estimated in the case of those pesky fantasy delegates).  As of today Romney needs 48.5% of the remaining delegates to wrap up the nomination.

The closest equivalent day in 2008 would have been February 6th 2008 (just after Super Tuesday, with incomplete delegate results from those contests as results trickled in over several days) with 42.4% of the delegates determined (or estimated).  At that point McCain needed 46.1% of the remaining delegates to win.  Unquestionably better than Romney today, just not by a HUGE margin yet.

In any case, the massive perception difference in terms of how well Romney is “wrapping it up” in 2012 compared to McCain in 2008 is almost all due to the spread out calendar.  In reality, Romney is actually only a little bit behind McCain’s pace four years ago.  It just SEEMS like he is much much further behind due to the fact it is the end of March at this point rather than the beginning of February which is when we were at the equivalent point in the delegate race back in 2008.

Finally, just for an additional comparison, here is the same graph for the Democrats in 2008…

(Minor wording edits and fixes were made in the 90 minutes or so after posting.)