Super Tuesday guide

I made myself a guide to the states (not all of them) voting today. It includes the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregate and the most recent individual polls (which will have been included in the aggregate as well). It also has the poll closing times.

Sanders Biden Bloomberg Warren others Polls close (PST)
Alabama 5:00
538 18.4 40.2 15.9 10.9 14.6
Swayable Mar 1-2 20 42 20 10 8
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 22 47 18 12 1
Arkansas 5:30
538 18.1 27.5 21 12.5 20.9
Swayable Mar 1-2 17 28 25 10 20
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 23 36 22 15 4
Hendrix Coll. Feb 6-7 16 19 20 9 36
Colorado 6:00
538 26.8 18.2 15.8 16.3 22.9
Swayable Mar 1-2 29 20 19 12 20
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 32 18 16 21 13
Elucd Feb 26-Mar 1 34 10 9 14 33
Magellan Strategies Feb 24-25 27 11 11 15 36
Data for Progress Feb 23-25 34 10 14 20 22
Massachusetts 5:00
538 26.8 18.2 15.8 16.3 22.9
Swayable Mar 1-2 27 17 18 15 23
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 26 26 15 28 5
Suffolk Feb 26-29 24 11 13 22 30
Minnesota 6:00
538 26.2 18 12 14 29.8
Swayable Mar 1-2 27 20 14 8 31
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 32 27 16 21 4
North Carolina 4:30
538 22.1 34.5 14.4 11.3 17.7
Swayable Mar 1-2 23 36 18 10 13
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 27 36 18 14 5
Elucd Feb 26-Mar 1 26 25 15 12 22
High Point Univ Feb 21-28 28 14 20 12 26
Tennessee 5:00
538 24.7 29 15.7 12.3 18.3
Swayable Mar 1-2 27 28 17 9 19
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 27 34 20 15 4
Oklahoma 5:00
538 30.6 22.1 13.7 13.6 20
Swayable Mar 1-2 26 38 11 13 12
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 28 35 19 16 2
Sooner Feb 17-21 13 21 20 9 37
Texas 5:00
538 28.2 25.5 16.5 13.3 16.5
Swayable Mar 1-2 28 27 20 12 13
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 28 30 20 15 7
AtlasIntel Feb 24-Mar 2 35 25 16 9 15
Emerson Coll Feb 29-Mar 1 31 26 16 14 13
Elucd 31 20 14 13 22
Note: some parts of Texas are in MST, where polls close at 6:00
California 8:00
538 31.2 21.7 14.7 14.9 17.5
Swayable Mar 1-2 29 21 19 10 21
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 32 25 17 16 10
AtlasIntel Feb 24-Mar 2 34 26 15 15 10
Point Blank Feb 29-Mar 1 34 22 10 14 20
Emerson Coll. Feb 29-Mar 1 38 21 11 16 14

I inadvertently left Virginia off the original. Here it is:

Virginia 4:00
538 21 39 14.6 12.3 13.1
Swayable Mar 1-2 20 36 20 11 13
Data for Progress Feb 27-Mar 2 24 39 18 17 2
AtlasIntel Feb 24-Mar 2 28 42 11 10 9
Change Res. Mar 1-2 25 45 10 13 7
Chris. Newport U Feb 3-24 17 22 13 8 40

 

Super Tuesday district magnitudes

I was curious what the district magnitudes were for states voting on Super Tuesday. That is, how many delegates to the Democratic convention are chosen in each district? In addition to a variable number per district, there are (almost) always two statewide districts. Each district–congressional and statewide has a 15% threshold. It is this complexity that makes these systems a strategic voters’ nightmare, given that we still have four “serious” candidates that are active and may be viable in many states (and two who may hover near 15% in many states and districts).

So here is a rundown of the states that are voting today, thanks to the Green Papers. All states are included there; see links at the top of the page for upcoming states. Another excellent source is Frontloading HQ. The table shows the mean by district, the district minimum and maximum, and the two sets of statewide delegates.

State CD Mean Min CD Max CD At large PLEO
Ala. 4.9 3 8 11 7
Calif. 5.1 4 7 90 54
Colo. 6.3 4 9 14 9
Maine 8 7 9 5 3
Mass. 6.6 6 8 20 12
Minn. 6.1 4 10 16 10
N.C. 5.5 3 9 24 14
Okla. 4.8 4 6 8 5
Tenn. 4.7 4 7 14 8
Tex.* 4.8 2 10 49 30
Utah 4.8 2 7 6 4
Vt. 17
Virg. 5.9 4 7 21 13
* Texas elects its delegates in its 31 state senate districts instead of congressional districts; Vermont has only statewide delegates

For comparison of how these break down at district level, here is how it worked in South Carolina (Green Papers for the delegates; South Carolina State Election Commission for the vote percentages).

BIDEN SANDERS
District Tot Qual Del Tot Alloc Del Tot Alloc Del
Vote Vote Vote Pct. Vote Pct.
CD1 103,538 65,251 6 45,340 43.79 4.169 4 19,911 19.23 1.831 2
CD2 78,881 52,156 4 36,503 46.28 2.8 3 15,653 19.84 1.2 1
CD3 51,321 33,842 3 22,287 43.43 1.976 2 11,555 22.52 1.024 1
CD4 70,394 44,856 4 27,509 39.08 2.453 2 17,347 24.64 1.547 2
CD5 69,852 50,690 5 36,916 52.85 3.641 4 13,774 19.72 1.359 1
CD6 93,204 70,304 8 55,855 59.93 6.356 6 14,449 15.50 1.644 2
CD7 71,043 51,116 5 37,469 52.74 3.665 4 13,647 19.21 1.335 1
PLEO 538,233 368,215 7 261,879 4.978 5 106,336 2.022 2
At-Large 538,233 368,215 12 261,879 8.535 9 106,336 3.465 3
Total 54 39 15
Delegates

For the record, the highest percentage Tom Steyer had was in district 3, where he had 14.55%. So close! (But the district elected only 3, so even 15% of the vote would have been insufficient.) He also had 13.06% in district 6. The closest Pete Buttigieg came was in district 1, where he had 12.55%. Elizabeth Warren’s best was only 9.29% (district 4).

The strategic voters’ nightmare that is US Democrats’ “proportional” system

With a “front runner” who so far is not mustering more than a quarter of the vote in polling aggregates (e.g., both Fivethirtyeight and Economist), and four other candidates in the 10%–20% range (here with some variation between different aggregators), it is a good thing the Democratic Party uses proportional representation to choose its nominating-convention delegates. Right?

Well, not this “proportional” system. I will now leave aside those zany rules of the Iowa caucus or the marginally more rational rules of the Nevada caucus, and focus on the closest thing we will get to a national primary: “Super Tuesday”. Specifically, I will focus on California for the the obvious reason that it is the biggest. And happens to be where I live and vote. Other states have broadly similar systems, but for smaller numbers of delegates.

This is one awful example of “proportional representation” (PR). Why? First, because it is not really PR due to the high threshold. Second, because it is ridiculously complex. Third (and flowing from the first two), because it is nearly impossible to know how one should make effective use of one’s vote.

My premise is to assume a voter wants to vote against Sanders. (Any resemblance to any particular actual voter may be coincidental. Or not.) With so many candidates still in the mix, one could at least feel good that it in a big state with a lot of delegates, the proportional allocation will mean your vote is not wasted. It could help select some delegates for whichever non-Sanders candidate the voter selects.

But that is not the case at all.

First, there is the threshold. It is set at 15%, which is extremely high. It is all the worse when, as noted already, so many trailing candidates are at risk of falling below 15%. It is not out of the question that all of California’s delegates could go to Sanders even if he has just 32% of the vote, as in a recent PPIC poll. That poll has Biden in second with only 14%. A delegate sweep is not the most likely outcome (8% are undecided, and many might be weakly supportive of their current choice and thinking strategically, like our hypothetical voter), but it is possible. One hundred percent of the delegates on a third of the vote certainly would not be a  “proportional” outcome!

Then there is the districting. Obviously, we know from studies of electoral systems for actual proportional representation systems that having many districts, and low-moderate district magnitude (number of seats–here, delegates–per district) reduces proportionality. On the other hand, if a candidate is just below 15% statewide, the districting might help that candidate, to the extent that there is regional variation in support. Failing to clear the statewide threshold does not preclude getting delegates in a district, as long as the candidate is above 15% in any given district, and that the magnitude of that district is large enough for the candidate to get a delegate with whatever his or her vote share is in the district.

The statewide delegates amount to around 35% of all the delegates awarded in California: 144 of the 415 total. In electoral system terms, the allocation is in parallel, not compensatory like many two-tier proportional systems. That is, a candidate who clears 15% gets a “proportional” share of the statewide delegates and adds on to this whatever number of delegates he or she has won in districts.

A statewide district of M=144 seems huge, right? Well, this being the Democratic Party, they have to make it further complicated. There are two statewide districts, in parallel with each other as well as with the many sub-state districts. The magnitudes are still large, at 54 and 90. (The former are the PLEO, or pledged leaders and elected officials.)

The districts for delegate selection are the state’s districts for the US House. They vary in magnitude for delegate purposes according to recent Democratic voting history in the district. California has 53 districts, and they vary in magnitude from 4 to 7. There are only two districts (numbers 12 and 13) that elect 7. The mean magnitude is 5.1. See the California Democratic Party Delegate Selection Plan (pp. 14-15 of the linked PDF) for the number per district.

(The Plan has no description of the specific allocation formula that I could find, but maybe I missed it; see also GreenPapers.)

So what should our totally hypothetical anti-Sanders voter do? Ideally, figure out which of the other (acceptable) candidates is above 15% in his or her district. Better yet, figure out which one might be marginal for a delegate. That would be a strategic vote based on local support and the district’s magnitude. But it is not as if such information is widely available. One can guess off district demographics, or noisy signals like local offices for the campaigns or yard signs, etc.

The PPIC poll has a regional breakdown within California. But the “regions” are blunt categories–Los Angeles, Other Southern California, SF Bay Area, and Other. There is some considerable variation, even with the caveat that we have 53 districts but four regions. Sanders leads in Los Angeles with 36% and the next up is Biden, at 16%. In Other Southern California they are on 41% and 15%, with Buttigieg also on 15% (the latter supposedly has just 9% in LA). SF Bay Area also has Sanders leading with only 31% and the next closest is Warren at 18% and then Bloomberg at 14%. If, like me, you are in “Other” it is really a mess! We have Warren 18%, Biden 17%, Sanders 16%, Buttigieg 14% (also 11% unknown, higher than other regions). Of course, a lot of these are in the margin of error of the threshold, and each other, and further district-level variation within each region is likely.

So maybe the best is just to figure out which ones are likely to be close to, or “securely” above 15% statewide. Forget the district, and focus on those two large magnitudes at the state level, in which small vote shifts for above-threshold candidates actually could change the delegate totals.

The previous numbers are based on only poll, of course. There is too little polling of this state. The FiveThirtyEight estimate for California is a little different: 27% Sanders, 16% Bloomberg, 14% Biden, 11% Warren, 10% Buttigieg. (The total for all listed candidates gets us to 89%, so 11% undecided.) Given the paucity of polling, these estimates are based not only on polls, but also on national trends adjusted for state demographics. And, as noted earlier, it risks no one but Sanders being over the threshold, even if that is not in the end a likely scenario, in part because allocating or removing undecideds likely puts at least a couple of other candidates over 15%. Plus, as mentioned, there will be some degree of regional variation that can make a sub-15% candidate statewide be well above that level in a district. But also, remember: many districts have a magnitude so low that even 15% locally would not be enough for a district delegate!

Or there’s voting sincerely. What a concept. Since I don’t like any of these candidates, that would mean staying home. But I don’t want to do that!

The zany Iowa allocation

Really, this is unjustifiable. I used to believe the Democratic Party actually used “proportional representation” for its presidential nominating delegate allocation. But this is not even close.

“Realigned vote” is the shares after participants in candidate-supporting groups that were below 15% in any given precinct shift to their second choice. This is the only good part of the whole process. The “realignment advantage” is just an indicator of how much a candidate gains (or loses) at that stage: the realigned vote share divided by the initial vote share.

How you get from there to the final delegate allocation is clearly some sort of black magic. It goes by way of this weird phantom called “state delegate equivalents”.

And somehow out comes an allocation in which a candidate who started off in second place, even after realignment, not only comes in first in delegates but somehow is over-represented to about the same degree as the first place party in your average FPTP election. (Delegate advantage is the delegate share divided by the realigned vote share.)

This is not proportional representation. Whatever it is, it is no way to run a presidential nominating process.

And I have not even mention the great app failure, or the possibility that some precinct-level allocations were just calculated wrong. (See spreadsheet of errors.)

Sources for data: NYT, WaPo, IDP.

See also a breakdown of available delegates by county and precinct. (The IDP link above has it even more detailed.)

Democratic primary: Don’t understate Biden’s dominance

The fragmentation of the US Democratic Party’s field of presidential pre-candidates exaggerates the weakness–real though it is–of the clear front-runner, Joe Biden.

Taking two poll trackers, Economist and FiveThirtyEight, here are those polling at five percent or more:

Pre-candidate Economist FiveThirtyEight
Biden 26 27.3
Sanders 17 17.8
Warren 16 14.7
Buttigieg 8 8.0
Bloomberg 7 5.0
(Sub-)total 74 72.8

It is noteworthy that even with so many candidates and different methodologies, the two trackers agree on the order. The only really substantial difference between them is in the estimate for Bloomberg. Not shown here, the two trackers also agree in the order of the next three: Yang, Klobuchar, and Booker. After that they diverge on the farther trailing candidates. (Economist has both Gabbard and Steyer at 1% but lists her ahead of him; perhaps we could say they agree on the order of the top ten.)

In the Economist tracker, the full list of all candidates who are given a vote percentage includes five listed as “<1%” (trailing two estimated at 1%). If we assumed all these five averaged 0.5% (which is probably too high) we still get to only 88.5% as a “total”. So that leaves too much for the thirteen who were running but have dropped out; the tracker does not report a percentage undecided. If we take Biden’s percentage over all those with at least 1%, he is just over 30%. Still pretty weak for a front-runner. But the one in second place, Sanders, would rise only to just under 20%. That’s a large gap.

Applying the same exercise to the FiveThirtyEight percentages–which have six candidates over 1%–we get a “total” of 86.3% and the top two at 31.6% and 20.6%.

The Democratic Party obviously does not use a nationwide two-round majority rule. But if it did, where would a top two 30–20 finish rank? How likely would it be that the second place candidate would win the runoff? I looked at this question in 2016; the graph at that post shows rather few real-world presidential contests with approximately 30–20 for the top two. But if one were to draw a line on the graph marking the region in which the gap is ten percentage points or more, no second-candidate comeback shows up with this large a gap until the leading candidate is around 35% (Austria 2016, the case that prompted the post). That is, even with a first-round candidate as weak as a third of the vote or less, comebacks occur only when the two are rather closer than Biden and Sanders are at this point. And this is, of course, before one even considers ideological placement of the candidates.

What I am getting at, in case it is not obvious, is that it is hard to imagine Biden not being the winner were there a hypothetical direct two-round primary–and even if the field stayed this fragmented up till the first round (which is itself unlikely). Perhaps Warren’s chances increase slightly if this nationwide primary were run under the alternative vote. She might pick up enough from eliminated candidates to surpass Sanders in the final two when calculated this way. It still seems a stretch that she could end up with a majority after reallocation of presences.

Now, let’s try a different hypothetical. The primary actually uses proportional representation to allocate delegates. Sort of. There is a 15% threshold, and the rules consist of a mix of statewide delegate allocation and allocation in congressional districts using varying district magnitude. If it were a single-shot affair rather than sequential across states and regions, only three candidates look like they would get any delegates (generously granting Warren what she needs to get over 15% in the FiveThirtyEight tracker or allowing for regional variance even if she stayed at 14.7%). In this scenario, Biden has 44% or 45% of the above-threshold vote. That might just be enough to win a majority of elected delegates or close to it, given a medium district magnitude on average. It would certainly put him close.

(There are 3,836 “pledged” delegates; 435 congressional districts plus separate statewide districts for the states that have more than one congressional district, DC, and various territories means ~480 districts, so an average magnitude of about 8.)

None of this is to say Biden can’t be caught by someone. And in the real and strange world, Iowa and then New Hampshire get to go before anyone else. According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden is in a tight three-way fight in their Iowa estimate, with Buttigieg still clinging to a slight lead over Biden and then Sanders (19.7–19.1–18.3), with Warren at just 13.4%. The New Hampshire estimate is similar, only with Sanders the one clinging to a narrow lead over Biden and Buttigieg (18.0–17.3–15.6) and Warren at 13.9%. (Gasp–the fifth place candidate is Tulsi Gabbard, on 4.9%.)

The odd (I am being kind) procedure the party uses in the real world could still produce a surprise, if Biden fails to get a plurality in either Iowa or New Hampshire, and if the pre-candidate (or two or more) beating him were to surge nationally afterwards. It looks unlikely to me. I think Biden has it, barring an occurrence of something even stranger than the method by which the party selects its nominee.

“Winnowing works”–or does it?

I keep seeing political scientists–among those who focus on the US case–using a hashtag that says, “winnowing works”. It has got sufficiently under my skin that I decided to rant about it just a little. Honest, just a little.

I take it they are indicating that it is a good thing that the process set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has led to several presidential precandidates dropping out already. Sure, in that sense, winnowing works–by definition. That is, the field is smaller than it was a few weeks ago.

But is it working at the task that is presumably the one we should judge it by–producing a strong nominee? I have my doubts. I have very serious reservations about the current top three (Biden, Sanders, Warren). This is (somewhat) independent of their specific policies or track records. They are all old, and each one brings some significant baggage or potential problems with electability.

Maybe I am just unhappy that candidates I disliked less than the rest of the field, like one emphasizing an issue that should be front and center and was one of the few governors in the field (Inslee), one I just happen to find appealing (Booker), or one who seems especially well positioned to win Great Lakes area states lost in 2016 (Klobuchar) are all languishing. But that’s the point. Some of these currently lesser know candidates might have been better choices (Inslee is already out). But they have been, or likely soon will be, winnowed out months before anyone actually casts a vote.

The DNC is doing something very strange here. On the one hand, it continues to pander to the insistence of certain small and unrepresentative states to go early in the process of voting, on the theory that voters seeing a candidate up close are better able to make choices than the rest of us. On the other hand, it has created these big media events (“debates” is not really an appropriate term) and qualifications based on national polling and contributors, which make mass-media name recognition especially important. Am I wrong to see this as a fundamental contradiction?

There are many, many things I do not like about the US process of presidential selection. But I am just not convinced that winnowing is working at delivering a good nominee, vetted by actual voters whether in little states or the Democratic electorate at large.

California primaries: Myth of the ‘independents’

By JD Mussel

Paul Mitchell of Capitol Weekly’s CA120 column tells the rather farcical story of the more than 100,000 Californian voters who thought they were registering to vote as independents and ended up voting in the American Independent Party’s presidential primary.

The American Independent Party is the far-right outfit originally established by Alabama segregationist George Wallace for his 1968 presidential run (which was aimed at sending the election to the House of Representatives). They ended up choosing Trump as their nominee this year, though he didn’t even appear on the ballot for the primary. I didn’t know California allowed electoral fusion before I noticed this dual nomination on the sample ballot I got in the mail last week[1].

[1] Yes, I have moved! I have now joined MSS at the University of California, Davis where I started my graduate studies last month.