Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Flipping coins to decide the Democratic Iowa caucuses

My friend Ben Wikler, the Washington Director of Moveon.org (which is supporting Bernie Sanders), describes how one of the Iowa caucus precincts was decided:

[T]he first vote was roughly evenly split between Bernie and Hillary. (Nobody for O'Malley.) There are five delegates at stake, divided between the candidates in proportionate to their votes in the room. So it'll be two and two, with one delegate at stake.

The four undecideds go into a corner to hear pitches from supporters of either side. The rest of the crowd mills around; a few go to the bathroom; one or two don't come back.

Three people make up their mind for Bernie; one for Hillary. Back to seats.

Final vote. 61 for Bernie. For Hillary it's 59... 60... 61. Tie!

Recount. Slower this time. Still 61-61. Whoa.

So how do you break a tie? At this precinct, the answer is apparently: COIN FLIP.

Bernie's people call it: heads. Up goes the coin. Back down. Everyone clusters around to look.


Cheers go up on the Hillary side, frustration on Bernie side, and boom, that's it: three delegates for Hillary, two for Bernie, a bajillion fail points awarded to the people who left in the middle of the caucus, and we're off the Bernie victory party.

Ben caught it on video (if this video doesn't show up properly, click here):

Iowa Caucus precinct awards delegate to Clinton based on coin ...

Watch it happen: #IowaCaucus delegate awarded to Clinton based on coin flip in tied precinct. w/ MoveOn.org's Benjamin O'Keefe

Posted by Ben Wikler on Monday, February 1, 2016

Here's another video of the same coin flip, shown on C-SPAN. You can hear Ben Wikler say, "What?!" at about 0:25, and a couple seconds later he shows up just to the right of the woman who's explaining the procedure.

This also happened five other times. Hillary Clinton won all six coin tosses.

Megan McArdle comments:
Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate. . . . That doesn’t mean she won’t eventually end up being president, but if she does, it will be despite her lackluster political skills, rather than because of them. The woman has had almost incumbent levels of support from her party, which paved the way for an easy coronation . . . and saw her come to a statistical tie with a self-avowed socialist.

Think about this: she started up 30 percent over Bernie Sanders, and ended up winning six precincts by a coin toss. Clinton seems to have a stronger base of support among Iowa coins than she does among Iowa caucus voters.

Pocket Change We Can Believe In!

A Facebook friend pointed out that the real problem seems to be that Sanders supporters are terrible at calling coin flips. Why, I can see the attack ad now . . .
(Narrator, speaking slowly with a tone of voice expressive of deep concern, over grainy black-and-white footage of slow-motion coin flips in Iowa auditoriums:) "The Bernie Sanders campaign . . . has consistently called coin flips wrong. How can we expect Bernie Sanders . . . to do what's right for America?"