Partly because this is a story with a beginning, middle, and end and partly also for more strictly logical reasons, it is helpful to begin where all things begin in U.S. Presidential primary season: Iowa. Bernie Sanders supporters paying close attention may actually have raised an eyebrow that Part 1 put Iowa in the “low to no” chance of substantial fraud category. After all, no less of an outlet than the Des Moines Register penned a tartly worded editorial about the February 1 caucus entitled “Something Smells in the Democratic Party.” Things would be tremendously better if New York’s flagship newspaper were to follow the Register’s lead in taking, at the very least, the horrendous optics of what happened in their state’s Democratic primary with anything resembling even mild disapproval.
For now, the point is to follow where the criteria set out yesterday lead. Yes, I have seen evidence for sharp-elbowed fouls in Iowa with referees in the Democratic Party there first turning a blind-eye, then refusing to exercise authority for a proper review when called upon to do so. Again, these seem to be shenanigans that happen in nearly every election. Does dirty play on the court seem to have taken cues from the very top in this case? Yes. The Clinton clan is willing to play whatever way it takes to win. In this case, does it seem to have affected the outcome? There was just a 0.2% difference, so quite possibly yes as noted by the Register. But this was not a winner take all contest. At the very most, so far as I can tell, we are talking about a delegate shift from Sanders to Clinton, maybe two. I am open to being wrong and agree, in any event, with the Register’s call for Democratic caucuses to be at least as fair and transparent as the GOP Iowa caucuses.
But looking at our criteria or factors that may indicate election fraud, there isn’t just a question of substantial-ness. Bernie actually outperformed his expectations from the initial entrance polling by around 6% and by 3% from the pre-election polling. There are mutual allegations of “cheating” coming out of the Polk County convention. You can read an exhaustive blow by blow of it here from a local blogger who has Bernie sympathies but strives to be fair to all. At the end of the day, it seems to me like Americans passionate about politics going a bit overboard.
Same goes for Nevada at County level caucuses especially in Clark County, where by the way, the Sanders campaign managed to gain two delegates according to the Ralston Report. In some cases this may be one side or another taking rough shots in the key were the ref has a bad angle. By another token, this is simply one side or the other out-hustling or out-organizing the other. This happens all the time in caucus politics. It may be highly unfortunate, but it comes with the territory.
Where Sanders jumped 6% versus entrance polling in Iowa, in Nevada Sanders was down 8% versus entrance polling. I corresponded with Professor Celeste Montoya for a Super Tuesday piece I never ended up publishing. Montoya researches and writes, among other things, on Latino Gender and Immigration Politics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. As she noted then, entrance polls are “less precise than exit polls.” Figuring out the margin of error is quite a bit different for an entrance poll versus an exit poll for a few reasons. Not only do those entering caucuses still have a chance to change their mind, but the process itself actually encourages people to do so. The fact that Sanders was up 6% in Iowa and Clinton was up 8% in Nevada shows that, overall, the entrance poll accuracy level was basically right. It missed in one direction one time and the other the next. Averaged together, they missed by just one percent in Clinton’s favor.
Not a big deal.
Team Clinton threw some sharp elbows and had a home team ref in Iowa and picked up a national delegate, maybe two. After Harry Reid put his thumb on the scales in Nevada, Team Sanders overcame more sharp elbows at county-level caucuses, out-hustled Team Clinton and almost certainly picked up two delegates.
Additionally, I’ve looked at the best evidence I can in two other states and want to downgrade each a category for now. Again, I am open to further evidence and argumentation.
Wyoming was in the “moderate” category in Part 1 because the caucus process there led to calls of fraud with some rebuttal given. While there were no pre-election polls or entrance or exit polling, Clinton did significantly outperform not only what my model expected, but also what Nate Silver thought maximally possible (a +57% Sanders spread) given that it was a caucus, demographics, and results from surrounding states. Having two factors from numbers four through nine on the list from Part 1 means it’s worth looking into a bit.
Once you do look into Wyoming, however, it seems like a case of over-eager Sanders partisans calling fraud when the Sanders campaign was just out-organized. You can read accounts here, especially in this comment, from people who think there was some sort of fraud and here for a more clear-eyed view of how results came down. Basically, Team Clinton sent out a mailer purportedly from Bill Clinton which made it really easy for people to cast surrogate ballots instead of showing up at the actual caucuses. While Bernie won handily with those who showed up on caucus day, Clinton won the surrogate vote about 2-1, especially in the big counties, and wound up with a tie in delegates. I see no reason to call this cheating or fraud. Again, we are talking about one delegate switching hands, three at tops, for a maximum of a six delegate closing of the gap.
Phillip Bump at the Washington Post has been among the worst of the worst anti-Bernie Sanders dolts in the corporate media during the primaries. He famously wrote the article “Bernie Sanders keeps saying his average donation is $27, but his own numbers contradict that.” The article includes a section “4. $27 Isn’t Really Accurate” under which Bump calculated that it was actually “$27.88 — or $28 on average.”
Bump was among the first to mock actor Tim Robbins for pointing to exit polling as indicative of fraud, but of course did not actually look into why exit polls being off might be a problem. In another tendentiously titled piece, “The conspiracy theory-du-jour: Did The Washington Post steal Delaware votes from Bernie Sanders?,” Bump bravely tackles this set of screengrabs that made the rounds of those calling Democratic primary election fraud.
As the old saying goes, a broken clock is right twice a day. When I saw those screengrabs making the rounds, I figured it was a computational error that had been fixed. It’s not impossible that Sanders could win voters 6:1 in a county that is 13% African American and in a state whose main claim to fame is hosting the putative corporate headquarters of every business that wants to avoid state income taxes elsewhere. But it didn’t seem likely. And that is what the Associated Press told Bump had happened: fat fingers, corrected. I see no good reason to believe otherwise. It just doesn’t make sense, anyway, for people sophisticated enough to be able to manipulate voting machine outcomes in multiple states to be so clumsy at to show their work on voting night with millions of eyeballs glued to results.
If what is being complained about in Nevada, Iowa, Delaware, and Wyoming were the whole of Sandernista’s complaints about election fraud, I would be kind of okay with “The Cult of Sore Losers” label. It would sting, but ring true. At the very very best, we are talking about a dozen or so in terms of pledged delegate swing. Fighting tooth and nail for these would make sense if Sanders were down by something a bit closer than twenty-three dozen pledged delegates.
In Part 3, tomorrow, I will look very closely at the debate over exit polling having interviewed the lead pollster for Edison and the National Election Pool, several professors, and another expert with nationally relevant exit polling experience. These issues, if they are indicative of fraud, have a much much larger impact.
The Des Moines Register is right: “the Democratic caucuses [in Iowa were] a debacle, period.” But for these four states as a whole, it’s time to move on. Stop whining about a charlie horse from getting an errant knee with no foul call when elsewhere there are concerns with little men in the scoreboard, a rim two sizes too small, and referees taking gobs of cash.