Monday, March 19, 2012

Romney, McCain, and the long slog to 1,144

[Important updates below]

I've written a bit previously (here and here) about how Romney has been doing in this year's presidential nomination contest compared to how McCain did in 2008. One thing that makes it difficult to compare the two years is that the current calendar is so backloaded; more than half the delegates in 2008 had already been awarded by the first week of February. We're still not at that point in the 2012 cycle, and it's almost spring. But here's one way to compare them: 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.

Now, some very important caveats. (Speaker Gingrich, if you're reading this, you have enough to work with already, but the rest of you should keep reading.)
  • The two years are still very different. Note that huge jump in McCain's delegate share between acquiring just over 100 delegates to acquiring over 700 of them. Remember, more than a quarter of all the delegates that would be awarded in 2008 were given out on Super Tuesday. We don't really know what McCain's delegate shares would have looked like had delegates been awarded on a more staggered basis as they are this year.
  • Relatedly, due to the slower pace of delegate contests, few candidates have seen fit to drop out. McCain's dominance on Super Tuesday made it clear that no other candidate could win, and Romney dropped out at that point in 2008. Huckabee still won delegates in the South, but his campaign was essentially over by that point. If Romney had gone 12 for 20, instead of 6 for 10, on Super Tuesday 2012, it probably would have led to greater pessimism for Santorum and Gingrich. But there was no such day this year.
  • In a different year, Gingrich probably would have dropped out by now. Only the recent advent of the Super PAC has made his ongoing campaign a possibility. And if he weren't in it, Romney would be acquiring delegates at a quicker pace. (See Josh Tucker's important post on this topic.)
  • There's no real reason to believe Romney will continue to acquire delegates at this same pace this year. Romney looks likely to do well in Illinois tomorrow, as well as in some large winner-take-all states like New Jersey and California* later on. (And I like him for the winner-take-all Utah primary.) [*Note: California's primary is winner-take-all by state and congressional district. Thanks to Josh Putnam, Thomas Lavin, and DemConWatch for catching that.]
So my expectation is still that Romney will have this thing wrapped up before the primaries and caucuses are over. But it may take some time -- NJ and CA aren't until June 5th.

Update: Samuel Minter makes the very important observation that there are different total numbers of Republican delegates in 2008 and 2012, making a direct comparison of raw delegate counts misleading. I don't have a good excuse here. Anyway, I went ahead a changed the raw counts to percentages and produced... almost exactly the same chart:
I'm not really sure why his chart looks so different from mine. Perhaps it's because he's using Green Paper numbers rather than RCP numbers, perhaps because I use a linear projection and he doesn't....

Further update: Here's the chart post-Illinois. Romney's slope has increased ever so slightly.


Samuel Minter said...

The total number of delegates was different in 2008 and 2012, so to really compare the years, you need to look at the % of delegates rather than the absolute numbers... I took a crack at a version of this chart doing that and it looks a bit different. Take a look:

(I also used different sources for delegate counts, which most likely also makes a difference.)

Seth Masket said...

Thanks for noticing my error! I've added a new chart above, although it looks virtually identical to my previous one. I assume the big difference comes from the different methods of determining delegate shares.

Samuel Minter said...

Thanks for taking a look Seth. Lets try to figure out why the two charts look different.

The source counts are different of course, but not by much, at least for 2012. RCP has Romney at 516 delegates right now (22.6% with 42.0% determined), Green Papers has him at 515 (22.5% with 43.3% determined). So Green Papers actually has the Romney 2012 line LOWER than you would get with RCP, but they are pretty close.

It must be the 2008 numbers that differ between the sources then. RCP's line must be much higher than the line I got from tracking CNN in 2008.

Looks like on the 2008 line you have a data point at about (60%,37%). My data taken daily from CNN back in 2008 had 60% being hit on February 20th. At that point the count was McCain 918 out of the 2380 delegates, or 38%. So... almost the same place you have your data point. It looks like our data points around the 50% mark in 2008 line up pretty well too.


Ah! I know now. I have a few additional data points that come from the days right after super Tuesday since those results came in over the course of a few days and I took snapshots of the count every day, rather than just having the final results as if they were immediately known on Super Tuesday. I have additional data points other places as well due to more intermediate results.

So I have more data points right around the percentage we are at right now, whereas on your chart right now Romney is in the gap caused by Super Tuesday and the next data point for McCain is the one with complete 2008 results. And it looks like those initial delegate results I have filling in that gap were slightly less favorable to McCain than the results that came in more slowly over the next couple of days. (My spreadsheet is linked on my wiki, feel free to look through the details.)

Then the rest of your data points are AFTER Super Tuesday. But of course after Super Tuesday McCain started accelerating because he was the presumptive nominee and so started collecting delegates faster at that point. Both your linear trend line and what the eye is drawn to for the data points, picks up on that accelerated post-Super Tuesday velocity and thus pulls the trend line to a higher slope.

Between these two things (my additional data points for partial super Tuesday results and McCain acceleration after passing the 52% mark) I think we completely explain the difference between the two charts.

Samuel Minter said...

The place where that "kink" happened and McCain started accelerating happened immediately post Super Tuesday. In 2008 once all the Super Tuesday results were in, the delegates awarded so far percentage was at just about 52%. This is about where we will be this time around right after Louisiana on Saturday.

So if we both redraw our graphs when we add the data points for Illinois and for Louisiana, we should see our data points for the 52% mark line up much more closely with each other again, and we'll be looking at a comparison with data points close to the same percentages again (as opposed to Romney currently being in the "Super Tuesday gap" when compared to 2008).

At that point I think we'll have a clear picture of how far behind McCain's pace Romney really is at the moment. Right now the big 2008 Super Tuesday gap makes the comparison very dependent on small details of the analysis.

After Louisiana we'll be able to compare 2012 at 52%, with 2008 at 52% and have a real apples to apples comparison.

So what would it take for Romney to catch up with where McCain was at the 52% mark? Lets do that math really quickly... To catch up Romney would need to hit the 30% of total delegates mark... or 686 delegates. That is a gain of 171 delegates. There are only 115 delegates between Illinois and Louisiana, and not all of them will be determined this week, and Romney won't be getting 100% of them anyway, so that clearly isn't happening.

Romney will be behind McCain's pace no matter what, the only question will be by how much. My charts will start to show Romney falling behind McCain too at that point.

(And more relevantly for this time around, is he able to get enough to be on pace for 1144, or do we get brokered convention talk getting louder and louder in volume....)

Anyway, mystery solved. I think. :-)

Samuel Minter said...

I know, too long already, but thought of one other factor. My chart is wider than they are tall, where yours is taller than it is wide. This means the same vertical difference on both charts will look larger on your chart.

Between these three things, the difference in perception of the two charts is fully explained, even though the underlying data is essentially the same.

Anyway... Illinois. :-)

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Gingrich is a factor. But, the key point about Gingrich is that he is weakening Santorum by splitting the conservative vote. The number of states where the Gingrich + Santorum vote has safely exceeded the Romney vote is great. If Gingrich drops out, Santorum is strengthened and Romney's odds of avoiding a brokered convention fall, rather than rise.

Since even Gingrich and his backers (if they aren't really just Romney backers engaged in dirty tricks) could eventually concede that his campaign is futile and materially change the end game of the primary race.

Seth Masket said...

Andrew, Josh Tucker makes a compelling case that Gingrich dropping out would help Romney more than Santorum, assuming Santorum's strategy has shifted from "win the majority of delegates" to "deny Romney the majority of delegates." Yes, more of Gingrich's votes would go to Santorum, but some (1 in 5? 1 in 3?) would go to Romney, allowing him to increase his delegate-gathering rate. In some states, Gingrich dropping would help put Romney over the 50% mark, allowing him to take all the delegates rather than a proportion of them.

Samuel Minter said...

Just updated my own version of this chart to include Illinois and Louisiana. Romney 2012 still not that far behind McCain 2008. :-)

Samuel Minter said...

Update after DC/MD/WI:

Current stats:

50.4% of delegates allocated, Romney has 29.0% of total delegates.

2008 status immediately after Super Tuesday:

52.1% of delegates allocated, McCain with 30.0% of total delegates.

Romney 2012 is still pretty closely tracking McCain 2008. A /little/ bit behind the 2008 pace, but really not very much.

The difference in perception is all about the stretched out calendar.

Samuel Minter said...

Most recent update:

The small gap Romney had compared to McCain has now been closed. :-)

I probably won't update this chart again until Romney clinches. :-)

Samuel Minter said...

And, as promised... the final update of my version of the McCain 2008 vs Romney 2012 chart: