Friday, January 06, 2012

it was a tie

this is why people should not say that mitt romney won the iowa caucuses. i'm not saying that because edward true's error shows that santorum really won it by 12 votes instead of romney by 8. i'm saying that because when the margin is that close, we don't know who got the most votes.

every vote has some degree of human error. just about everything that humans do have errors. people make mistakes. most of the time, when the candidates are separated by thousands of votes, the various small errors don't matter. but with an eight vote margin out of thousands cast, the inevitable errors could have made a real difference. some of these errors probably never get discovered. someone reads the wrong numbers off of a list and never looks back. so even if edward true is right, that doesn't mean that santorum really won the caucuses either. it's pretty likely that someone else screwed something up and never noticed.

when it's this close, it's basically a tie. in a real election, where one individual gets to take a single office, we can't have a tie. so we don't really have a choice but to go with the semi-arbitrary mistake-ridden official results in a close vote. but the iowa caucuses aren't a real election. they don't decide anything except the number of delegates that go to the republican national convention. the delegates, theoretically will eventually vote on the republican nominee, but odds are it will all be wrapped up long before the convention because everyone else would have seen the delegate math and dropped out. as a practical matter the number of delegates earned only really matters to the extent they affect each candidates' decision whether to drop out. that decision is not just based upon the existing delegate count, but by the expectations of how well the candidate is likely to do in the remaining races, which is why the media is obsessed with bullshit concepts like "momentum". those media concepts are highly affected by the narrative of who "won" a particular caucus.

in other words, the main reason that the iowa caucuses matter is because of the buzz about them that follows the vote. unlike a real vote for office, there is no reason the buzz can't be about a tie rather than a single winner. considering that we really don't know, nor will we ever know, who raked up the most votes among iowa caucus-goers, it's better to say it was a tie than a win for romney or santorum. we'll never know for sure who really won. we might as well just accept that.

(via memeorandum)