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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Are Media People Stupid?

I don't normally ask rhetorical questions, but I have been struck in recent weeks by "memes" such as the following:
following the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was believed to have won the Hawkeye State event by 8 votes. More than two weeks later; however, the final certified tally showed Santorum finishing in first place.
Only once did I see a news account correctly note that Romney and Santorum merely won the same number of delegates to the next level of caucuses.  (I don't know how it works in Iowa, but I know how it worked in Colorado when I was a House District Leader.  The caucuses elected delegates to the county assembly, which then elected delegates to the congressional district convention and the state assembly/convention, which then chose delegates to the national convention.)  The phrase "won" was not especially relevant following the precinct caucuses.  And it is especially not relevant when the margin is 8 votes.  The correct term for the Iowa outcome was "tie."  

The media are so enamored of the "horse race" metaphor that they do not seem to realize that a primary process is not a winner-take-all proposition, at least in most states.  The parties are much more concerned with getting the right proportion of male and female delegates, of ethnic delegates, etc.  We had to do some intricate balancing of presidential preferences versus required biological characteristics.  But I digress. 
Example: in one precinct caucus I ran, with 10 people attending, everyone voted for Gary Hart except two union members, who voted for Walter Mondale.  The rules said that anyone getting more than 20% of attendees was entitled to at least one delegate.  Our precinct got to sent three delegates to county, so Mondale got one and Hart got two.  This over-represented Mondale (20% of votes; 33% of delegates); but we could not send fractional delegates.  Then we had to make sure at least one delegate was female.  (One year, when we were still in 1st District and I had not yet held party office, they discovered Mrs. TOF was American Indian, which made her a two-fer, so she got to be a delegate, and they got to check off two columns.  But I digress)  

The same thing applies to Romney "winning" New Hampshire.  He got what, 39% of the vote?  (Which I thought was pretty poor for the "governor next door.")  Since a primary usually commits to the national, it means Romney got somewhere around 39% of of the small NH delegation -- which means most of the NH delegates will be pledged to someone else; and if some of those someones else drop out, then they will be free to shift votes to, well, someone else. 
Example: at State Convention one year, the Carter people pulled some rule changes to convert delegates into droids, unable to change their minds in light of further data; viz., that Carter was a dork.  This was triggered IIRC by a challenge to the incumbent by Teddy Kennedy.  There was mucho dissatisfaction with Pres. Carter among Democrat rank-and-file; but we were not to be allowed to express it.  So, we caucused anyway and Mo Siegel, the Celestial Seasonings guy, organized an uncommitted caucus for those who resented Carter but could not abide Teddy.  We sent one third of the Colorado delegation as uncommitted; and the Teddy-ites sent another third.   Just to poke Carter in the eye.  I suppose by now there are rules to prevent such uprisings. 

And the same thing applies to Gingrich in South Carolina.  I haven't seen the percentages there; but again, it only means that Gingrich will have first dibs on the plurality of SC delegates. 

What we ought to be seeing is not who "won" this state or that, but how many pledged delegates each candidate has racked up. 
Then temper even that with those loco states who allow non-party members to vote in a party's primary.  Primaries (and/or caucuses) are how the parties choose who they will run in the general election.  Why should Republicans and people who couldn't make up their minds get to vote for who the Democrat's candidate will be?  And vice-etc.-versa.  

But TOF (I hear you say) the candidates themselves talk about "winning" this state or that in the primaries. 

Ah (TOF answers) take the title of this rant and alter the second word as appropriate. 

4 comments:

  1. As a lifelong independent, I have always believed that I am excluded fairly from primaries.


    JJB

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  2. I think I will refer to primary candidates as "primates."

    Recently noted: SC primary awards 15 delegates to state-wide winner; 2 delegates each for congressional district winners. Gingrich may get all delegates except around Charleston.

    FL primary is winner-take-all-delegates. Whoa. Both SC and FL are halved b/c they moved their primaries up in defiance of party rules.

    Ron Paul is skipping FL because he would suffer grievously in a winner-all primary, and will focus, he says, on proportional primaries and caucuses.

    Some folks are put off by lack of uniformity among the states. I say phooey on uniformitarianism. Diversity is the spice of life.

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  3. I'm not sure the talking heads are any more stupid than the average American, but by God they are certainly ignorant.

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  4. The talking heads in the media think Romney is the best candidate for the Republicans, therefore I'll support someone else. Sometimes I think their stupidity is feigned so they are underestimated.

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