More on the Delegate Discrepancy
By: Wall Street Journal
To secure the Democratic nomination for president, either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama will need to secure 2,025 delegates. Depending on which account you accepted Friday morning, Ms. Clinton was either leading the delegate race, with more than half the needed total, or trailing Mr. Obama with both candidates shy of the halfway mark.
At least five different news organizations are tracking delegate counts, and as this blog and others noted after Super Tuesday â€” and others pointed out earlier in primary season â€” the numbers have been all over the map. By Friday, the Associated Pressâ€™s count (used by The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and others), was scoring Ms. Clinton ahead, 1,045 to 960. CBS News had a Clinton lead of 1,069 to 1,001; at ABC News, it was 1,069 to 990; and CNN called it 1,037 to 933. Meanwhile, NBC News had Mr. Obama in the lead, 861 to 855. More discrepancies are likely to arise after tomorrowâ€™s votes in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington state and the Virgin Islands. (Iâ€™m focusing on the Democratic race because John McCain by all accounts has a sizeable lead among Republican candidates.)
The biggest discrepancy is between NBC and its competitors, both in the margin and in the total. Thatâ€™s because itâ€™s the only outlet of the five to exclude so-called superdelegates, whose votes arenâ€™t pledged based on outcomes of state votes. Most who have expressed a preference have pledged support for Ms. Clinton, but they can change their minds until the party convention. (See this WSJ.com explainer for more details.)
â€œUp to this point, we didnâ€™t feel we were comfortable with the superdelegate numbers,â€ Sheldon Gawiser, director of elections for NBC News, told me by way of explaining the networkâ€™s decision. â€œThey change their minds relatively rapidly.â€ He expects his group, which also supplies MSNBCâ€™s count, will decide â€œfairly soonâ€ whether to include superdelegates. (Mr. Obamaâ€™s campaign count excludes superdelegates, which helps explain how both his claim to the lead and Ms. Clintonâ€™s counter-claim can be right.)
The other delegate roundups include superdelegates in their counts, and defend the decision â€” while agreeing there are uncertainties. â€œItâ€™s worth knowing where they stand at the moment,â€ said Kathy Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News. Nonetheless, she told me, â€œOur superdelegate allocation is a work in progress.â€ David Chalian, political director of ABC News, called the counting â€œa little more art than science.â€
CNNâ€™s political director, Sam Feist, noted that the campaignsâ€™ lists of supportive superdelegates tend to be inflated and sometimes contradictory. There are people on a candidateâ€™s list, said Mr. Feist, â€œwho, when we call them, say, â€˜Iâ€™m not for that candidate,â€™ or even, â€˜Iâ€™m for the other candidate.â€™ â€ Those who include superdelegates take exhaustive steps to pin down voting preference, which means many superdelegates are inundated with phone calls and emails until a presumptive candidate emerges.
There can also be differences among the pledged delegates whose votes are determined by state elections. Some states hold caucuses that donâ€™t directly determine the national delegates, leaving the delegate counters to decide whether to project delegate counts or wait until the party holds its state convention. And as Tuesdayâ€™s votes continue being counted, some of the delegates from primaries remained up for grabs as of Thursday afternoon â€” 86 were unassigned by ABC, and 69 by CBS.
Regardless, all of these counts are unofficial; only at the convention is an official nominee named. Why not rely on the AP â€” or form a consortium, as with exit polls â€” rather than duplicate the work? â€œI think itâ€™s purely competitive,â€ ABCâ€™s Mr. Chalian said. â€œYou want to independently and unilaterally report that Candidate X has secured the nomination for the party by getting more than 50% of delegates.â€