Saturday, May 10, 2008

Percentages, Preferences and Defections, Oh My!

Bringiton (BIO) over on Corrente has posted an excellent article for those of the blogosphere who are unclear on Electoral College math. There are a few great charts there that demonstrate the allocation of supporters by Electoral College - and shows that Hillary won majorities in states with the most EC votes.

What does primary strength show? It is a representation of what is motivating the Democrats and Democratic leaning voters of a specific geographical location. Combined with exit polling and other surveys, you can make some educated projections of how a particular subset of voters is likely to vote in the general. The key that is being left out of the analysis in most situations is what is the balance between Democrat and Republican within a given geographical area?

Here's an example.

If 65% of Democrats in state X vote for candidate #1, this is a clear indication that they are motivated (a social scientist doesn't really care why they are motivated, only that they are) by whatever candidate #1 presents to them. The 35% who were not motivated by candidate #1 may or may not be sufficiently motivated by candidate #1 and/or party affiliation to provide a vote in the next round of elections. Again, we're not really concerned with why, only that an unknown percentage of that 35% will probably defect from candidate #1.

The degree of the defection is something that must take into account why a voter will persist in a preference even when the preference is no longer a low-barrier choice (i.e., on a ballot vs. a write-in). A preference is what is expressed through a direct choice (a conclusive preference) or through the absence of a choice (an inconclusive preference). Thus, someone who did not vote for candidate #1 in the first round can vote for that candidate on the second round, cast a vote for a different candidate on the ballot (low barrier), write in the name of a candidate not on the ballot (high barrier), or else refrain from expressing a preference at all (leaving ballot blank or not casting a ballot). The impact of a defection is made greater if the defection is defection to the opposition, rather than simply withholding support from Candidate #1.

If 55% of all voters in state X are Democrats, then there is a statistical advantage, and the threat of defection from the 35% is reduced in importance - the winning candidate can afford to lose people. With a majority advantage, the strategy for that state can turn to trying to sway unaffiliated and loosely affiliated voters who would otherwise vote Republican. How effective those appeals will be are uncertain and are not monolithic - an effective appeal to one group of swing voters may be ineffective with another.

However, if 55% of all likely voters in state X are Republican, then threats of defection are magnified in importance because now there are two vote deficits to make up. The majority strategy I described above kicks into operation for the Republicans as the majority.

Let’s put some numbers behind this. This is exaggerated in order to demonstrate the concept of relative advantage. I am not trying to represent the effect of converting non-voters into voters:

100, 000 Democrats in state X
Candidate 1 = 65,000
Candidate 2 = 35,000

If Democrats are 55% of all voters (I'm rounding to whole numbers):
Total voters = 181,818
Dems = 100,000
Reps = 81,818
Advantage = 18,182

Thus, candidate #1 would have to lose almost 52% of the first round voters who did not express a preference for them in order to have that defection erase the second round voting advantage. That is an unlikely figure in most elections, even highly divided contests. Defections of double digits are always troublesome.

If Democrats are 45% of all voters:
Total voters = 222,222
Dems = 100,000
Reps = 122,222
Disadvantage = 22,222

Okay, we're talking a whole 'nuther kettle of fish. In this case, any defection from the 35% of first round voters magnifies the existing electoral disadvantage, even if it is single digit defections. Put another way - you can't afford any defections in a state where you aren't the majority, which is why states that are strongly dominated by one party are bad places to invest political resources because there always are defections from your own side. Only if dominance in the other geographic zones is overwhelming can you afford to expend resources, and even then it is usually done so for future strategic advantage.

The short story is that when a party enjoys a strong statistical advantage over another within a state, then the level of defections by the other party does not matter very much because the dominant party's defections won't make a difference. Conversely, the strength of the subordinate party's candidate is also diminished because even low defection rates will not overcome the numerical advantage. Thus, winning a primary in a state where your party is in the minority is not an electoral advantage, even in a landslide win, because that does not change the relative strength of your party in comparison to the dominant party.

The point of a swing state is that neither party enjoys a strong advantage over the other, and thus defections are magnified for each side. In those cases, it matters that the candidate who won the primary is the nominee because of the reduced likelihood of intra-party defection, and because of way in which a winner represents the motivations of voters in that region and may thus attract voters from the opposition whose motivations are most similar to the motivations of their own supporters.

Huh? OK, let me try an example. If the motivation of the voters in state X is the desire to see the economy stabilized, then a candidate who is judged as someone who can stabilize the economy can get the votes from their own party and might be able to peel away similarly motivated voters from the other party if their own candidate is not convincing them on that issue. A swing state becomes swingable only if you are already contesting from a position of strength and can minimize your own defections.

This is at base why Obama is not able to make his primary support - which is roughly equivalent to Hillary's - morph into general election strength. His electoral support comes disproportionately from states where the Republicans are in a clear majority or from swing states where the motivations of his supporters diverge significantly from the motivations of Republican participants and thus he is at a disadvantage for pulling over voters. Trying to make up both the electoral advantage of Republicans and to overcome what looks like an increasing problem with intra-party defection is not a good situation to be in. As I pointed out in yesterday's post, claims that support to overcome both of these vote deficits will come from heretofore non-participating "new" voters doesn't pass the sniff test.Being the preferred candidate of party strongholds increases general election viability because of a reduced likelihood of party defections.

Being the preferred candidate of your party in opposition strongholds carries little advantage unless you can demonstrate (through primary votes) that you can cause significant defections from the other party. Being the preferred candidate of your party in swing states is important because of the ability to motivate greater defections from the opposition while holding on to your own base.

At the end, the question comes down to who will have the least defections from the Democrats while attracting the greatest defections from the Republicans.


Note: Post edited to remove typos and add another sentence to the paragraph discussing types of preferences.


orionATL said...

thank you, professor.

this is an excellent tutorial. thanks to posts like this i being ineluctably pulled into some minimal understanding of how the votes, analyzed en masse, make electoral politics so deterministic.

no wonder rove always seemed so smug. he knew what was coming down the pike.

but what ever happened to free-will.

Chevalier said...

Whoa, Anglachel. Each post of yours is one notch superior to the previous one.
(clap, clap)

"A win in a red state doesn't count": I thought that was totally logical when I first heard it, simple and intiutive.
You've managed to transform the same homily into a sophisticated argument, layering it, perfecting it, crafting a series of logical steps - you've made a water-tight case that stands up to mathematical prodding & emperical anecdotes.

Now only if we could introduce the DNC - esp Dean and Donna - to our brave new world of logic.

CognitiveDissonance said...

Yes, please send this post to Donna Brazile and Howard Dean. They seem to have forgotten the basics in their enthusiasm to dump the Clintons and the rest of us Bubbas from the party.

Teresa said...

What you've forgotten, professor, is that the goal is not to win the election, but to purge all things Clinton from the Democratic Party.

They will succeed at the latter -- and if they fail at the former? They will blame it on Clinton.

CMike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CMike said...

Though I am a committed Sen. Clinton supporter, I place a high value on party solidarity. Therefore I've been a little sheepish in mentioning one particular reason why I think Clinton would be a much stronger general election candidate than Sen. Obama. However, now that I think about it, Obama did tell Democrats that he thought he could get Clinton's voters in the general election but she could not get I'll go ahead and make my point.

Anglachel laid out a scenario. A political party has 55% support in a state and its leading candidate wins 65% of the vote in its primary. That candidate can win in the general election if he can add on just under half of his intra-party rival's vote total.

However, this assumes the other half of his intra-party rival's supporters stay home during the general election. What if those in his own party, who do not support him, go and vote for the other party's candidate? Then the candidate who prevailed in the primary would need to hang onto 76% of his intra-party rival's supporters to win in the general election. There's defecting and there's double-trouble defecting.

Should Sen. Clinton prevail and win the Democratic nomination I think ten to twenty percent of Obama supporters will not support her in the general election. They will sit it out. However, I just don't see AAs, Naderites, the Move-on crowd, Limousine liberals, "BO is a rock star" younger voters and others supporting Obama going to the polls and pulling the lever for Sen. McCain.

Should Sen. Obama prevail and win the Democratic nomination I think ten to twenty percent of Clinton supporters will not support him in the general election. And more than a few of them, including some working class whites and Latinos, might very well end up going to the polls and pulling the lever for Sen. McCain.

Should he be the Democratic nominee, this double-trouble defector problem would be problematic for Sen. Obama in the general election.

lakelobos said...

As for the math, in my previous profession they call it "it's obvious."

The basic assumption of the post is that since the numbers are substantially skewed in favor of Hillary that it pays to convince the party leaders that their current criteria for selecting a nominee, i.e. delegates and popular vote, is wrong.

I am not convinced that the party is using any of this measures as selection criterion. I also think that "erasing" the Clintons is an important only to a section of the party leaders.

The measures I believe the leadership uses are: wet finger in open air and the path of least resistance. The leadership is affected by trends as reflected by the media and the screaming blogs/moveon. The Democratic leadership has shown in last almost 8 years that it'll fight for nothing, will give up easily and is scared out of its wits by the imminent disaster that will follow if they don't follow the common stupidity.

Therefore, the leaders believes that opposing Obama's nomination leads to disaster, that he is way more popular than Hillary, that African American are way more important (at least vocal) then Hispanics and Asians, etc.

Potentially, selecting Obama may end alienate groups such as seniors, blue collar workers and Hispanics way beyond 2008. In essence achieving realignment towards the Republicans something the Republican have never accomplished.

After the landslide, Hillary can run in 2012.

jalc said...

lakelobos: "The measures I believe the leadership uses are: wet finger in open air and the path of least resistance."

I'm with you on this one. Most wont listen to logic or math, and those that do will be outnumbered.

I will be leaving the Party, as soon as the nomination is over, and sitting it out. I vote for issues, and have gone too long voting Democrat, when they either can't or won't fight for those issues. They won't even try any more, or even give lip-service to it in Obama's case.

Obama certainly hasn't shown me that he's willing to fight for issues, from removing mercenaries from Iraq (in fact, he's shown willingness to fight against Hillary's proposal on this) to restructuring future energy infrastructure and policies, to reproductive choice to personal privacy and telecomm immunity.

Stopping McCain would only motivate me to vote for Obama if I thought his presidency would be better. Saving the party would only be important if I thought the democrats were doing a good job these last years.

By refusing to nominate Hillary, out of fear (of reprisal from a vocal minority), and loathing of Clinton (at least one sizeable faction), when its so freaking obvious, is just the last straw for me.

I'll probably be taking some time away to holiday with family in Florida, since its now a safe red state.

The Party sacrificed those states, to "handicap" Clinton early in the race, like hobbling one of the horses at the starting gate.
And, they Just. Don't. Care.

Or they really did think, that it would be so easy to beat the Republicans this year, that dismissing two big states wouldn't be any risk.

The Dem Party just handed over Florida, gift-wrapped, to the GOP, so McCain wont have to spend much there to defend it.

I would try for California, if I was McCain. Unlike the Dems, I suspect Republicans can, and do, read exit polls and electoral maps.

Just how many Utahs, Idahos, Wyomings etc, will Obama need?

workingclass artist said...

There is a significant percentage of the Democratic Base who resent the Party leadership over Fl./MI.
This percentage feel rejected and insulted by both the Obama Campaign and The Party Leadership.
Obama has so many flaws as a candidate and many of these flaws point to OBAMA
Many of these flaws point to OBAMA
Many of these flaws point to OBAMA
Many of these flaws point to OBAMA
The Democratic Leadership has once again abused it's base to favor a candidate who cannot win in the General Election.
( No one is free who is a slave to his theology )
( Let the welfare of the people be the extreme law )
( Faulty LOGIC undermines Obamas' entire philosophy )
( The voice of the people is the voice of God )

Subhra said...

Thanks for the analysis. It makes a good point. But I seem to be missing something here. An explanation would really help. I wish I could send it as a personal message rather than a post

In the democratic majority states, the winner of the primary can afford to lose defectors and still win the GE in those states.

In republican majority states the winner of the primary cannot afford to lose the defectors because democrats are a minority to start with. But in that case wouldn't fielding the loser in the primary during the GE cause an even bigger defection which in turn is magnified by the minority effect? This seems to play into BOs hands. Please tell me I am wrong.

And please feel feel free to delete this message.

A.Citizen said...

Excellent analysis, shorter form: The Magic Man is a Republican. They voted for him in such numbers as to make him competitive with The Hill.

My nightmare scenario, for the Bowers, Kos and Marshall 'Big Men of the 'Net', is coming true right before our eyes.

Barry, with the help of the ignorant Brazile contingent intent only on increasing their own power within the party not winning elections, throws a tantrum and the SDs are swayed to support 'party unity'.

Barry becomes a new Dukakis and McSame takes charge. Then what?

Yes, Joe Biden...Kennedy...Reid...then what? Four more years of ReThug war, recession and illegality and waves of Democrats, real progressive democrats, will be coming to D.C. This is already happening in CA as the Central Committee elections are packed with folks like me who would love to be able to grab Reid by the seat of his pants and collar and see just how fare I could chuck him.

The Democratic Party is rotten to the core. Just as rotten as the ReThugs. Corruption....I give you Feinstein and her hubby. Hoyer...Emmanuel....the list goes on and on. The solution is to start at the bottom and cut out the deadwood and rot from there all the way to the top. If the thousands of folks I see here in the 'sphere would get out and get organized they could transform the 'Democrat' Party into the progressive party. It's really not that difficult.

Google 'grassroots progressives' and you will find us or others like us. Get up off the fucking couch or you and your children will lose any hope of being other than disposable wage slave for corporatist America.

Nothing can illustrate the need for this better than Barry's campaign which uses every ReThug tactic while studiously and consistently avoiding any discussion of the policies this nation needs.

Besides, when $8.00/gal gas arrives....we want a Republican in the White House.

Anglachel said...


Good question. Since Hillary has lost more primaries in red states than Obama, doesn't that put her at risk of greater loss in the general?


Once a state is "lost" (or "won"), the margin doesn't matter. An increased level of defections from your side is irrelevant because EC votes are winner take all, not proportional allocation (Nebraska and Maine being the exceptions).

The larger picture is that if you have a high defection condition for a top of ticket candidate, other elections and measures on that ballot may be affected. This can happen a number of ways:

1. Your own side simply won't show up, and thus reducing volume of votes. This is the most common type of defection.

2. Your side deliberately votes against its own side to register opposition to your candidate. In these cases, you are more likely to see a drop-off of votes for the rest of the ballot as the voter tends to be "single issue" and would not have voted the rest of the ticket anyway, or else wishes to inflict collatoral damage by refusing to vote the rest of the ballot.

3. The other side turns out an excess majority, either because of greater relative strength of their candidate or because of high resistence to your candidate. It can also be caused by an unrelated item on the ballot, such as a law against gay marriage. When the turnout is inspired by a ballot measure, the effect is usually to improve the margins of all candidates of the party that supports the measure. If your candidate does not have strong support internally, then the entire slate of your party's candidates are at risk.

All three of these kinds of defections always happen in all presidential elections, and they happen on both sides. In most cases, the first and second patterns of behavior are equally balanced on both sides (opposition to the candidate not being very high) which cancels out the effect.

The third pattern is something most effective in swing states where turn out provides the winning margin. This is what happened in Ohio in 2004, where an anti-gay measure on the ballot energized a segment of the Republican base in just barely enough numbers to provide a margin of victory. This was done even when both parties had historically high turn outs.

When these defection patterns occur in majority party states, it takes extreme levels of defection to affect outcomes, even for bottom of ticket candidates. When these defection patterns happen in swing states, then governorships, control of city and state governments, and election of national candidates are put at risk. Long-term, it is control of those seats that makes a state move out of swing and into red or blue status.


Alice said...

I still wonder how DEM "Elites" and Blacks have allowed the media and the rich powers that be to pick a candidate that they so foolishly have not examined. The media has done to Clinton the same thing they did to Gore. It is classic. It has happened for 35 years. And the people still fall for it. The MSM tells Gore he has to quite fighting the Florida recount (before he might win) "for the good " of the party and the country. Remember that BS. Same with Kerry. And now same with Hillary. And do you think the MSM all of a sudden loves a "liberal" amateur with "progressive ideas"? How dumb do you have to be to believe that! What is the one thing we KNOW! They say the opposite of what is true. Time and again. Republicans for Obama!!!! God, what fool would believe that for a minute. What is the only ways a Republican could possibly win? 1. Destroy the best candidate. 2. Destroy the next best candidate. 3. Give limitless money and support to a faux Democrat and rig the system. 4. Either trash the eventual nominee or worse than that, have that Dem in their clutches. Either by ideology or blackmail. Oh, Karl Rove and those creeps would never do that, would they? My answer is , if they could, they would and they did. Obama is corrupt, a fraud, and a set up. It is so clear it is laughable. The only questions are just how far the set up extends. Is Obama in on it or are his handlers playing him like they did George Bush? They will soon own both horses in the race. And we know it and that is why we are so outraged and can't believe people can't see this. we know there are loads of people who are paid not to see this, but there are many who just refuse to see or believe it. It is astonishing. It is probably too late, but there is still a chance. I want to ad a note of caution to the Larry Sinclair story. It smells like a Karl Rove set up like the fake (but True) National Guard letter. I am sure the Sinclair story is true, but I have a sneaking suspicion the Rove people have some way to discredit Sinclair and therefore they discredit the whole thing as a smear. It has worked before. Best to find other evidence not linked to Sinclair. It is classic Rove...and Axelrove. I just know Rove had people bankroll Obama's campaign early on. The GOP had less money because they were funneling it to Obama. They didn't need to spend much on their campaigns, the real campaign was to get Obama nominated. Now, it doesn't matter which wins. McCain or Obama. Same old corruption. And I personally believe the GOP and the powers that be want Obama. He will be the fall guy and will be better equipped to pull the wool over the eyes of the Dems. There will be no resistance to the raping of the country by the monied interests since the Dems will be fearful of resisting a "liberal black man". It will be like taking candy from a baby.

orionATL said...

it seems to me, after learning what i can from angalchel and bringiton (correntewire), that the superdelegates supporting obama are making a key assumption:

the democratic party cannnot lose in november, no matter who is their candidate.

this breaks down into two parts:

no dem candidate will lose any traditional dem states


either dem candidate can win all the swing states necessary for an electoral college majority (270).

these assumptions could, i suppose, be turned into hypotheses and tested,

and that seems to be what is gong on with analyses like bringiton's and the canadian programmer Vorlath (no quarter, may 9, "math that matters most").

i would guess that another assumption of obama-supporting superdelegates is that obama will prevail among independents.

i'm curious to know whether independent are considered of any significance in these types of analyses.

and, if so, how independents would be fit into the picture.

gendergappers said...

Traveling around these blogs, I get the distinct impression that BO goons are posting, dressed up in pretend reason. They are baiting us into giving information so BO can anticipate critics and make speeches showing he is really just what we want.

He is too stupid to understand all the reasons why Hillary is so much better so he needs to know what to say that will make all those horrible women come running to him, bow down and kiss his feet.

It is counterproductive to respond to them - they count on us being polite to them because they "sound" so reasonable.

Subhra said...

Thanks Anglachel, that certainly helped. It is the winner-takes-all that makes the crucial difference. I just sent the links to your blog to the blog at That one has been slow to update this weekend. Hope it shows up. Please consider sending this write up to the undecided SDs.

Regarding gendergappers' post, in the last couple of days I have seen a certain paranoia among Hillary supporters about the Obama supporters. Hillary supporters unlike Obama supporters have by and large been much more polite and positive. That reflects well on us and on Hillary too. Grace under pressure is something that Hillary has shown consistently and that is the thing which we as Hillary supporters may want to emulate. It does not serve our cause to point fingers at one of our own even by mistake.

gendergappers said...

Subhra wrote: "It does not serve our cause to point fingers at one of our own even by mistake."

But thinly veiled, there is your finger pointing right at me - oops! May I remind you and others that Anglachel asked us "not to feed the trolls".

Well, one of them posted he was leaving and angry but came right back when someone replied to him.

Paranoia is a rather mean and demeaning psycobabble term - I believe that many times when one feels threatened, they really are. However, I'll pack up my opinions and leave if it is deemed best for the blog.

gendergappers said...

Workingclassartist - I really love seeing your Latin phrases - takes me way back and surprises me that I still recall so much of it. Thanks for the refresher course.

You are spot on in your comments about FL and MI voters. In the final analysis, those Sen. Clinton votes must be counted for her.

Anglachel said...

Everyone, please step back, take a deep breath, and refrain from saying snarky things about each other. Model yourself on our candidate and how she handles needling, mostly by deflecting it.

It is the case that Obamacan trolls are targeting pro-Hillary blogs trying to hijack threads and upset regular posters. There may or may not be coordination behind it, and it really doesn't matter. Ignoring them is the best way to deal with them. No replies, no fun. Even if you think you have the *perfect* smack-down, resist the temptation.

I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories mostly because even if someone wants to organize a big operation to do something evil it's very hard to carry off. Occam's razor and all that. I do believe that institutions need protection from corrosive effects of power, which attempts to subvert the institution to serve illegitimate interests. The Bush/Cheney administration is a case study in how to do this. This way of abusing institutions set up for the defense and benefit of the public is what all Democrats should oppose.


missplsd said...

I wasn't going to respond, but I'm sure you're tracking my IP address, so you know I'm reading anyway.

I'm not even an Obama supporter! I really don't know where you get this stuff.

All I can say is that there's not much hope for your visionary progressive movement if you can't handle questions and disagreements about strategy from someone who shares your core ethical commitments. It's really a shame.

And, in response to gendergapper, I am not a he, and I never said I was angry. A better characterization would be "taken aback."

dotcommodity said...

This site:

...posts daily poll summaries allocated to electoral votes - makes an even clearer picture of her GE strength - about 20 points ahead of McCain on average days, while Obama trails McCain by 20 to 60 points in electoral college votes - like a state by state GE "held" daily.

Clinton has been cleaning McCain's clock since PA at least, 20 to 40 points ahead while Obama has trailed him by 20 to 40 points!

It is no contest! Only Clinton can beat McCain.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

I am writing in Hillary's name in November. There is no changing this. And this is the first general election that will actually be fun for me.

I usually have jitters for my candidate (even a windsurfing dork like Kerry). Not this time. It will be like an enjoyable movie watching Obama & McCain beat away on each other.