Grand Theft Primary
Strange Super Tuesday Results
"Let's look at the numbers," NBC's political commentator, Tim Russert, is fond of saying, and he was at it again the day after Super Tuesday. The numbers that Russert purported to find interesting were those that showed how extraordinarily close the race was between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Super Tuesday was expected to produce a clear leader, but, instead, it gave us a virtual dead heat.
Obama won 12 states and Clinton won 10. "And look at this," exclaimed Russert, with seeming excitement in his voice. When you add up the popular vote, it comes out a virtual tie, with 7,347,971 for Hillary Clinton and 7,294,851 for Barack Obama. "That's really amazing."
But Russert carefully steered clear of the truly amazing numbers, as have the rest of the mainstream media, such as Time magazine, as they put the same spin on the outcome that Russert did. What they apparently don't want the American people to look at too carefully is the very peculiar way in which the virtual dead heat was produced. The massive majorities that Obama rolled up in the states in which he was wildly popular were slightly more than counterbalanced by the massive majorities that Clinton accumulated in those states where she, herself, was, uh, wildly popular.
Here are the results:
Chosen by: Clinton won
Chosen by: Idaho 82-18 caucus Arkansas 71-27 standard ballot Alaska 75-25 caucus New York 57-40 standard ballot Kansas 74-26 caucus Massachusetts 57-41 standard ballot Minnesota 67-32 caucus Tennessee 54-41 standard ballot Colorado 67-33 caucus Oklahoma 55-31 standard ballot Illinois 65-33 standard ballot New Jersey 54-44 standard ballot Georgia 63-34 standard ballot California 52-42 standard ballot North Dakota 61-37 caucus Arizona 51-42 standard ballot Utah 57-39 standard ballot Missouri 50-47 standard ballot Alabama 56-42 standard ballot New Mexico 49-48 standard ballot Delaware 53-42 caucus Connecticut 51-47 standard ballot
Can this be? Perhaps these two candidates can be perceived very differently by different people, but is it at all believable that the differences in perception would vary so much based on nothing more than which states people live in?
The impression this writer gets from his travels around the country is how almost depressingly uniform everything is. Americans eat at the same chain restaurants, buy their clothes at the same chain stores, watch the same movies, follow the same sports, and they listen to the same radio and television. They get their news from the major network TV broadcasts, from jokes about it on late-night comedy shows, and from the interpretation of it on very similar radio talk shows. Each state has its own powerful local newspapers, but when it comes to important national issues, they might as well all be named USA Today. They cover the same news and they cover up the same news.
Are the people in Colorado, who voted more than two to one for Obama, really so different from the people in Oklahoma, who, if the reported vote is to be believed, favored Hillary Clinton by more than 20 percentage points?
Might not an alternative hypothesis to the one of a free, fair, and honest vote explain the numbers somewhat better? Let's say, for instance, that the vote was rigged and the desired outcome was to keep Hillary firmly in the race in the face of the apparently much greater popularity of her opponent. Let us suggest, further, that the voting machines in some jurisdictions are more difficult to rig than in others, and caucuses are the most difficult of all to rig.
Now have another look at the voter outcome by state. Look at what happened in all the caucus states. Obama won them all, most by enormous margins. If this alternative hypothesis is the correct one, there must have been considerable consternation at vote-rig central when the results from the caucus states began to come in.* To produce the desired overall outcome, Hillary would have to be given some really incredibly large margins of victory in the rigged states.
But not to worry. When it comes to getting people to believe really incredible things, no one quite compares to America's mainstream press. To explain the outcomes of February 5, no state presents a bigger challenge than the one that is generally believed to be the nation's most liberal, Massachusetts. So anomalous does it appear, in fact, that The Washington Post devoted an entire separate article to it in its Super Tuesday coverage. Acknowledging the wave of sympathy for Obama that seemed to be sweeping the state, and his high-profile endorsements, The Post titled its article, "Buzz of Support Around Obama Grew Quiet at Polls." A more honest headline would have interjected "strangely" in front of "quiet" or "ostensibly" in front of "grew," or would have appended "in contrast to other states" to the end.
"For Clinton," said The Post, "winning in Massachusetts meant significant bragging rights. Obama had earned endorsements from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the larger-than-life senior senator, and Sen. John Kerry, the junior senator who was the party's last presidential nominee. Obama had organizational help from Deval L. Patrick, the governor, who is a personal friend, and from allies from his days as a Harvard Law student.
"But Clinton held on to the lead in a race that was, in some ways, always hers to lose. It was, after all, Martha's Vineyard where the Clintons vacationed during the 1990s."
Well, it's a good thing The Post cleared that up. There's nothing like regularly lying back at a local tony island resort to get the average voter to identify with you. But was it really enough to produce such a radically different vote as was seen in the liberal Midwest mirror image of Massachusetts, the state of Minnesota, which also happened to be a caucus state? Clearly not, so The Post found it necessary to grasp at some more straws:
"...perhaps [it was] a reflection of dissatisfaction in the state with Patrick, who ran for governor on a change-over-experience platform similar to Obama's. Or perhaps it was a spillover from the New Hampshire primary almost a month ago, when voters rejected the conventional wisdom, that Obama was on a roll, and voted for Clinton."
At least they couldn't use the "closet-bigot" explanation that some used for Obama's loss in New Hampshire, that is, that once they were behind the voting curtain with no one looking many voters simply couldn't pull the lever for a black man.** The Post somehow never managed to mention the fact, but Patrick, whom Massachusetts voters chose only a little more than a year ago, is black.
Whatever the reality, Barack Obama is also perceived as much more strongly anti-Iraq war than Hillary, and the very influential Boston Globe, to the extent that it differs from the nation's cookie-cutter newspapers, is vociferously antiwar. Add to that the fact that Massachusetts has a very large, politically-active college student population, and Obama is treated almost like a rock star on college campuses, and explaining the landslide in Massachusetts for Hillary becomes all the more difficult.
Maybe it was the well-known love that the people of Boston have for all things New York.
David Martin, February 9, 2008
*Actually, as a reader has pointed out, any operation worth its salt would have known well in advance how the hard-to-rig vote was shaping up and would have already figured out how many votes would have to be allocated to the favored candidate in the rigged states.
**Two days after this article was written, syndicated columnist, Robert Novak, did, in fact, wheel out this argument to explain Hillary's shocking landslide win in California, a win that went against polls taken both before and immediately after the vote. He called it "Obama's Bradley effect."
"Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African American Democrat, unexpectedly lost his 1982 campaign for governor. His defeat came as voters told pollsters that they preferred the black candidate and then voted the other way. In California's primary last Tuesday, Obama lost by a landslide 10 percentage points despite one late survey showing him ahead by 13 points and two others giving him a one-point lead."
Don't believe the polls or the numbers of people who come to hear them speak or your own perception of the relative popularity of the two candidates, Novak is saying in so many words. Believe a vote count which, with electronic voting and no paper trail, has become unverifiable.