Saturday, January 5, 2008

What the Iowa Numbers REALLY Tell Us

Given my recent interest in trying to figure out what numbers are really telling us, I realize that another rejoinder to Eugene Robinson is to turn his proposition on its head: People outside the "echo chamber" really need to be more aware of just what they are cooking up on the inside! As a case in point, consider the way in which the Associate Press reported the Democratic results in Iowa:

On the Democratic side, Obama scored 38 percent of the vote with John Edwards second with 30 and Hillary Clinton third with 29. Obama won 16 delgates [sic] with Clinton getting 15 and Edwards 14.

In other words, as it is with electoral votes, the actual percentages of electorate preferences were not reflected by delegate assignments. The good news, however, is that delegates were not assigned on a winner-take-all basis. Unfortunately, there is also bad news, which was revealed in the next sentence:

Overall, Clinton leads with 175 delegates, including superdelegates, followed by Obama with 75 and Edwards with 46.

This is the important sentence, because it lets us know how many horses had already been traded before the caucus even began and it may well reduce the vox populi of the Iowa caucus process to statistical insignificance. Furthermore, if the overall count of 45 Iowa delegates is not going to make much of a difference, than Obama have one more delegate than Clinton and two more than Edwards will probably make even less of a difference!

Why, then, was so much energy in Iowa expended by so many for so little gain? One answer is that Iowa was nothing more than a priming of the New Hampshire pump, which has always had symbolic, if not numeric, significance. Another is that, whatever their real significance may be, the Iowa numbers are likely to impact the next round of polls, for no reason other than the amount of attention the press has given them. All this will feed the machine that matters, the one that assigns delegates over which the electorate has no control, making for just another hole that ideal of government of, by, and for the people!

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