Democrats count delegates. Journalists count votes.
Journalists are wrong.
Here’s the outcome of Saturday’s Wyoming Democratic Caucus:
They’re all wrong.
Think of the Wyoming caucus as a soccer game. I’ve zoomed in on the score:
That’s a tie.
Back in 2015, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and every other Democrat agreed to play a game. The game is simple: encourage Democrats to select delegates; have the delegates vote for a leader.
Selecting delegates involves votes. But the number of votes is part of a broader game.
The sports analogy
Sports pundits are like elections pundits: they gravitate towards statistics. They love them so much, they call them “stats.”
Here are stats from a recent hockey game. (I’m Canadian. Hockey.)
Who won this hockey game?
St. Louis got more hits. Does that mean St. Louis won? No. The rules of hockey do not say, “the team with the most hits wins.”
These stats tell a story. But they do not tell you who won. You can peer at these stats mid-game, and they will not tell you who’s winning.
In Hockey, all that matters is the number of goals. In this game, Washington scored five goals and St. Louis scored one. Both teams agreed on the rules. Both teams aimed to maximize goal counts. And Washington scored more. That’s why Washington won.
Every time Washington scored, journalists said Washington expanded its “lead.” When St. Louis scored, journalists said it was “catching up.”
In primaries and caucuses (and in the vote for president of the United States), the number of votes is just a stat. It can hint at who’s winning, but it can also mislead you. Everybody agreed ahead of time that the winner doesn’t need the most votes.
When journalists say, “Sanders won,” they’re treating the election like a sports game. They want you to think, “ooh, ‘Sanders won’ is like ‘Washington Scored.’”
I think we can all agree that “Sanders won,” in the context of a headline, means:
- Both candidates had the same goal.
- Sanders moved closer to the goal than Clinton.
That’s false, so every news website is wrong. QED.