Wednesday, April 6, 2016

2016 vs. 2008 - A Quantitative Analysis

Lots of comparisons have been made in the media between Hillary's run against Barack Obama in 2008, and her run against Bernie Sanders now in 2016. For example, then as now, One candidate took an early lead, and refused to give it up. Then as now, the trailing candidate refused to quit, and fought tooth and toenail, even when it seems hopeless. Then as now, the fans of the losing side accused the winning side of having things rigged, playing the race card, being a horrible choice, etc. etc. Then as now, those on the losing side then (Hillary) and those likely on the losing side now (Bernie) issue(d) pledges to never vote for the winning candidate.

But one comparison seems lacking, and that's a real analysis of just how far ahead Hillary is over Bernie in contrast to how far ahead Barack Obama was at this point in the campaign eight years ago.

I know why. Doing a quantitative analysis of this kind is hard. VERY hard. It requires a lot of time spent in front of a spreadsheet, crunching boring numbers and accounting for anomalies, of which there are plenty. When it's finally done, you get different answers depending on how you turn the numbers. But I'm returning to accounting one way or another, and so it seemed a fair exercise for me to do exactly that, and then to share the results with you, my adoring seven readers. Here's what I found.

First, it's necessary for there to be two ways to do the analysis, because the primary structure in 2008 was radically different from the primary structure in 2016. For starters, it was much earlier back then. The primaries began on January 3rd, and were largely concluded by March. It was designed to be over relatively quickly. A whopping 22 states voted on Super Tuesday, February 5th, 2008! By contrast, the 2016 campaign began on February 1st, and won't conclude until June, giving much more time for the candidates to campaign. Also, the order in which the states held their primaries is radically different today than it was in 2008. Aside from the first four states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina), the order in which the states voted has shifted wildly. So there can only be two ways to do a true comparative analysis: 1) We can compare the delegates won in 2008 with the delegates won in 2016 on a state-by-state analysis. An "apples to apples," comparison, if you will. Or, 2) we can compare where the candidates were when a comparable number of states had completed voting. As of the Wisconsin primary, 36 out of 57 primaries and caucuses for 50 states, 6 U.S. territories, and 1 voting day for citizens abroad. We can measure where Obama and Hillary were after 36 contests and compare that with today's numbers. A "step by step" comparison.

For both these steps, there are two possible avenues of analysis. We could compare the percentage of votes won, or we could compare the number of delegates won. We could also do both. For brevity, I have limited this to a comparison of delegate numbers, because that's easier for me to calculate and for you to digest. Also, I have left off any "super delegates," because those delegates can and often do change their vote. In 2016 so far, most of them are for Hillary, but that could change if Bernie catches up. By leaving all the supers out of this calculation, I remove any criticism people might have about these delegates throwing off my results.

First, the "apples to apples" comparison. By adding up the delegate totals from each state, we can see where Hillary vs. Obama stands in comparison to Hillary vs. Bernie today. There are, however, a few complications. First, There was a third candidate, Senator John Edwards, who did  not drop out of the race until February, several states into the contest. Those delegates he won were re-apportioned later, causing some problems with the grand totals. For simplicity, I have excluded all his delegates as well.

At this juncture, following the results of the yesterday's primary vote in Wisconsin, Bernie trails Hillary by 252 pledge delegates. (CNN puts her lead at 229 pledge delegates.) He will need to win 57% of all remaining pledge delegates to catch up, and persuade the super delegates to come over to his side. But where was Hillary in terms of trailing Barack Obama at this same juncture in 2008? At this same point in 2008, adding up the delegate totals of each state in 2016's voting order, Hillary trailed Obama by only 156 pledge delegates, and needed to win only about 53% of the remaining delegates to catch up. In other words, at this juncture, Hillary had much more reason to be optimistic back in 2008 than Bernie does in 2016. And back then, the media was also calling it all but over, despite Hillary winning a string of victories over Obama in many smaller states, just like Sanders is doing today. Hillary's lead over Bernie is 62% larger than Obama's lead over Hillary in '08.

Of course, there are a few problems with this analysis. For starters, by the time Wisconsin voted in 2008, a number of key states had already voted which haven't yet in 2016. New York, New Jersey and California had all voted by the time Wisconsin voters got a chance to have their say in 2008. So pundits who were calling for Hillary to get out were doing so knowing that the biggest states which could play to her favor were already behind her, and she had little to look forward to except many states where Obama was polling in the lead. Today, with California, Pennsylvania and New York still to come, there's plenty for Sanders to hope for, even with Hillary holding a nearly 2/3 larger lead than the one Obama had over her eight years ago.

That brings us to the "step by step" analysis, where we compare the same number of states in both electoral contests. By the time contest number 36 had taken place in 2008, Obama led Hillary by only (and this is reasonably stunning) 50 delegate votes! That's an amazingly small lead! And yet with Obama having all the momentum, pundits still said that Hillary should get out. She would have none of it, however, and stayed to the bitter end. She had every reason to, the way she saw it.

Of course, it's not that simple, either. By contest number 36, a number of states held their primary on that same day in 2008. That day was February 12th, and the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia all held their primaries on that same day. Also, the Mariana Islands have a delegation in 2016, which wasn't present in 2008, meaning that we would have to figure one less contest from 2008 in a step-by-step analysis. Including only D.C. in our calculations, Obama only held a 50 delegate lead. But this doesn't seem fair, because contests held that same day should really be included. After all, everyone else was voting at the same time. So, including the results from Maryland, Obama's lead jumps to 66. It jumps up to 94 if one includes Virginia. That's quite a bit of variation, but it's still not insurmountable, and Hillary would have needed only (roughly) 52% of remaining pledge delegates to win.

So, depending on your viewpoint, Obama had anywhere from a 50, to 94, to 156 delegate lead over Hillary at this point in the nomination process back in '08. At this point, pundits were calling it over for Hillary. Some pundits today are singing a similar funeral dirge for Bernie, because the hole he is in is so very much deeper. But the number of delegates yet available in big states is what gives him a glimmer of hope.

Based on this comparison, the conclusion is clear: Bernie needs to win New York, and win it by 57% or more. If he loses it, it's over. If he wins by a slim margin, it won't be enough because he gains no significant ground and would need to win the Pennsylvania and California by margins well in excess of 60% or even 65%. That's doable, but extremely difficult. And nearly impossible if New York is a loss.

So there you have it. Today vs. the thrilling days of yesteryear. My prediction? The Bernie movement will not win the presidency, but will win a solid voting bloc that will pull the Democratic party further to the left and make it more committed to ending corruption. Hell, it's won this already! It will be able to hold Hillary to her promises, and possibly even beat her in a primary fight after one term if she doesn't keep them.

Bernie has been coy about using his power to help the entire Democratic ticket. He said recently to Rachel Maddow, "We'll see."

But he'd be a fool not to wield the power he's won. I think he will.

The old symbol of the Democratic Party is a donkey. The new symbol of the Democratic Party is a sparrow.



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