This Evening’s Political/Philosophical Question

So, if Mitt Romney gets a larger share of the popular vote in Michigan’s primary, but due to the state’s apportionment rules, ends up tied with Rick Santorum in the number of delegates he gets from the state, can he actually be said to have won the Michigan state primary? After all, the whole point of the primary was to portion out delegates; it’s the delegates who go to the GOP convention.


61 Comments on “This Evening’s Political/Philosophical Question”

  1. I think it is a psychological win, but not a numbers-game win. IYSWIM. The larger share gives his campaign a boost, saying he is appealing to more people, which puts him back in the game in terms of gaining delegates in other contests.

  2. So, if Mitt Romney gets a larger share of the popular vote in Michigan’s primary, but due to the state’s apportionment rules, ends up tied with Rick Santorum in the number of delegates he gets from the state, can he actually be said to have won the Michigan state primary?

    At the risk of sounding cute, neither Romney nor Santorum have reason to be too pleased with themselves (really, how much harder can ‘JFK makes me puke, and college is for elitist snob losers’ Guy pander to the theo-con base?); but they’ve no reason to open a vein either.

  3. I’m not sure that “winning a primary” is completely possible outside of a winner-take-all context. Especially since these things are done in series over the course of several months. If Romney is able to maintain his lead over Santorum in the overall delegate count, halt or reverse the growing sentiment that he’s going to lose the Nomination, and improve his weak position vis-a-vis the President, then I’d say he had a good day. But ‘won’? No, Romney wins when his opponents quit or he gets nominated.

  4. It doesn’t really matter. Who “won” is only important for the media to have something to talk about and as a way of claiming momentum. What really matters is how many delegates each got. No one actually wins anything until the convention.

    It’s as silly as talking about which team “won” the first quarter.

  5. Santorum could have won MORE delegates in Michigan, though losing the popular vote. American politics is nuts in a fractal way. How else could I have been twice elected Town Councilman (well, once each in two states)? And you could have been a John Huntsman delegate?

    Four presidents took office without winning the popular vote, because they did not receive a plurality in terms of the popular vote. They were elected, rather, by the electoral college or in the case of John Quincy Adams by the House of Representatives after a tie in the electoral votes. They were:

    * John Quincy Adams who lost by 44,804 votes to Andrew Jackson in 1824
    * Rutherford B. Hayes who lost by 264,292 votes to Samuel J. Tilden in 1876
    * Benjamin Harrison who lost by 95,713 votes to Grover Cleveland in 1888
    * George W. Bush who lost by 543,816 votes to Al Gore in the 2000 election.

  6. I’d say it’s a win for Santorum. He shouldn’t even be close.

    Got to disagree with you there, Pat Harris: I know the conventional primary wisdom is you go fringe to get the base, then tack back to the center once you’ve got the nomination. But Santorum’s theo-con pandering over the last week hit “me love you looong time, GI man” extremes of cheapness, and he still couldn’t convincingly beat that no-good RINO one-percenter. Obama must be thinking all his Christmases have come early, because win, lose or draw Santorum alienates more people every time he opens his mouth and doubles down on the stupid.

  7. Its a win in most of the ways that matter. It stops Santorum’s momentum and tosses him under the bus with Newt and Paul. It changes the narrative from “Romney rejected” back to “Romney Inevitable”.

    Some wins are morale boosters rather than strategic gains. That’s what Michigan was for Romney.

  8. I don’t think Santorum’s under the bus yet, and the narrative isn’t back to “Romney Inevitable.” He almost lost the state where he grew up to a complete nutjob, and they tied for delegates. This kept the story from being “Romney: clearly doomed,” but he’s going to have to put in a respectable showing on Super Tuesday to regain “inevitable.”

    (I think he’ll take it eventually, if for no other reason than the corporate wing of the Republican party is utterly aghast at the idea of nominating Santorum.)

  9. Romney won, because you know, he got more votes. It supports his ongoing, though faltering, case for inevitability. He didn’t even have to puke on a Kennedy speech to win a Republican plurality. Good on him.

  10. As the 2000 Presidential election clearly illustrated, popular votes don’t count for much in America. It’s all about location, location, location.

  11. I think the apportionment rules can be a blessing for the individual candidates and a disaster for the Republican party. Obviously it gives the 2nd and, in some instances, the 3rd place candidate a reward for how many votes they got in the primary. But the process is not uniform in all the primaries. If memory serves, Arizona and South Carolina are winner take all primaries and the majority of the Super Tuesday primary states are winner take all as well. I think it’s a disaster for the Republican party because it is looking somewhat possible that the Republican nominee won’t be decided until just before the convention and we will have a repeat of the 1996 general election.

    But philosophically speaking, IMO, proportional representation is great in theory for a democratic political discourse, but lousy in terms of getting things done because the minor parties can make demands in excess of their political power knowing that, in some political systems, they have the power to force a vote of no-confidence and bring down the government if their demands are not met.

  12. The primary system is currently a disaster for both parties. The only thing that it currently does is eliminate the old method of picking candidates in smoke filled back rooms.

    Win? Sure, Mitt got more votes than Rick.
    Decisive? Meaningful win? Nope. Not even close.

    Mitt should have rapped the nomination up by now and begun planning for the general election. Instead, he runs the risk of becoming the next Hillary. Everyone assumed that she would win and instead she got beat.

    My guess is that the only reason that Romney is still in the race is that there are still too many candidates. When Newt or Paul drops out of the race soon, Santorum will pull ahead of Mitt and win the nomination. The only hope that Mitt has at this point is for all 4 candidates to stay in until then end.


  13. Right now it’s all about buzz. The actual delegate count will likely be irrelevant because if Romney lost the popular vote but won the delegate count 16 – 14 that would hurt him in future primaries a lot more. The eventual nominee is very unlikely to win by just a couple of delegates.

    eviljwinter – I’m pretty sure that Hilary won the Michigan primary in 2008, because she was the only major candidate willing to have her name on the ballot of a primary that didn’t count because it violated party rules. Quick Wikipedia check – Yep, Obama got 0 votes:,_2008#Results

    Pat Harris – It wasn’t really close among actual Republicans. If you look at the map of districts won by Santorum you can see that the heavily Democratic ones were won by Santorum. This is due to the Obama running unopposed and quite a few Democrats voting in the Republican primary for Santorum just to cause trouble.

  14. Romney won because he got more votes. The fact that he barely did so in his home state and ended up with the same number of delegates as Santorum is pretty bad for him but at least he can run around claiming that Santorum is a traitor that tried to get democrats to vote for him (which to me doesn’t sound like it is a particularly bad thing – gasp a candidate with cross-spectrum appeal).

  15. I’d say it’s a win for Santorum. He shouldn’t even be close.

    In a sane universe, any three of his statements in public would’ve disqualified him for any position higher than Assistant Chief Dogcatcher, yet here we are.

  16. A number of people have mentioned that, since Romney grew up in Michigan, and his father was generally well-liked as governor here, he should have done better than a tie. The thing is, though, the people who actually remember Governor George Romney well enough to think fondly of him are people older than me (and I’m turning 50 this year). So, his father’s reputation is mainly a boost to Romney’s support among people of retirement age.

    And a long-term trend among Michiganders with sufficient means, has been to move someplace warmer to retire. That “someplace” has, largely, been Arizona. I personally know about a dozen people who went from Michigan to Arizona to retire.

    And Romney had a solid victory in Arizona. So he does still have strong support among people from Michigan, it’s just that a lot of the ones who are predisposed to like him no longer live there.

  17. If you look at the map of districts won by Santorum you can see that the heavily Democratic ones were won by Santorum. This is due to the Obama running unopposed and quite a few Democrats voting in the Republican primary for Santorum just to cause trouble.

    Is there any evidence for that, do you think, or are you just guessing? Another possibility is that the few Republicans who live surrounded by Democrats grow more conservative and perhaps even reactionary due to their isolation and irritation; or maybe, for some reason, they grow more confident that a seriously conservative candidate has a chance. In other words, maybe an unconventional candidate becomes more attractive to them. Romney is the “conventional” candidate, after all.

    I live in an inner-city precinct in Minnesota, in the middle of a cluster of Democrat precinct, and though Santorum won the straw poll in our state overall (which honestly surprised me) the GOP caucus that I attended went overwhelmingly for Ron Paul. Who is also an unconventional candidate.
    Of course, I concede that it’s less likely for opposition-party voters to participate in a caucus, which involves face-to-face discussion and debate as well as identifying yourself to people who are literally your neighbors, than in an anonymous primary vote.

  18. Pretty sure Indiana won 70-55 over Michigan State. Was there some thing else important involving Michigan going on this week?

  19. From an external, ie, English, perspective, surely what matters is whichever outcome has the most future impact? – so if that is numbers of delegates, then at best it is a tie. Beyond that, whether Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum can be said to have won or lost depends on where each was thought most likely to be at this stage. Given what I’ve read, that was supposed to have been Mitt Romney – so it adds up to a loss for him.

  20. /the clear leader was supposed to have been/ – sorry, didn’t pre-read properly!

  21. The number of delegates is what’s important here… if Michigan were a winner-take-all state, then Romney would clearly have won. Locally speaking, Michigan was a tie, and nationally speaking, it’s edging that much closer to an even contest.

    I do hope the GOP nominates Santorum; the only cure for his political philosophy is to shine lots and lots of light on it.

  22. Of course he can be said to won — “can” is about power, not about ethics. (And it is interesting to note how the press’s power is being deployed here.) Ethically, I would say that “tied” is the best label. The popular vote is beside the point because it was not what the campaigns were attempting to optimize.

  23. Its a win in most of the ways that matter. It stops Santorum’s momentum and tosses him under the bus with Newt and Paul. It changes the narrative from “Romney rejected” back to “Romney Inevitable”.

    Eh, Romney’s kind of inevitable no matter what, barring a meltdown in the rest of the primaries. He’ll win enough states on Super Tuesday to keep people from endorsing Santorum, but not enough to make him consider dropping out within a month or two. More importantly to him, Michigan isn’t really a swing state this year (all polls seem to have Obama leading by double digits), and all signs point to Romney getting his ass handed to him in Ohio in 5 days, which is very much in play in the general. Santorum winning the Rust Belt (which in all likelihood will decide the election as it did in 2004 and to a lesser extent 2008) on Romney’s unfavorable numbers doesn’t bode well for the general if Romney gets the nod.

  24. Romney should have won big, needed to win big, to woo the republican Establishment, which he just ain’t doing. Santorum ran so close a second that you have to either A). Assume Michiganers have lost their marbles due to a dearth of snow this year, or B). Democrats were out gleefully voting like children on Halloween getting to choose an Almond Joy over a Mounds bar (sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t!). Either way, Independent voters look at the Republican field and see a Zillionaire Zombie, a Frothing Fanatic, Newtus Pompus Caesar, and Ron Paul. It’s the Independent voter that decides elections. And they look with disgust on the Republican offerings. So say I as a former Republican/Newly Independent voter left in the Center as the GOP shifted into a Right-Wing Theocracy.

  25. “I’d say it’s a win for Santorum. He shouldn’t even be close.”

    If he was so close because Democrats gave him a boost on the assumption that he’d fare worse against Obama then it’s a very dubious sort of win.

  26. Umm, I’d suggest looking at the number of delegates each candidate can currently claim (

    Romney: 153. Santorum: 70. Gingrich: 33. Paul: 26

    Arizona was a take-all state with 29 delegates, while Michigan was a proportional allocation of 30 delegates. Romney did quite well on Tuesday (44-15 delegates). I’d also point out that, except for Michigan, all of Santorum’s wins have been in non-binding caucus states, which means that he doesn’t have a lock on 41 of those 70 delegates.

    The big story here isn’t the race, it’s how the news media (everyone from Fox to NPR) is spinning this story as a close horse race. Not that I’m accusing the media of anti-Romney bias. Rather, I think they’re sick of working on this series of stories, and trying to inject some drama to keep people paying attention, in order to make their stories mean something. I mean, if the reporters actually admitted that much of this is meaningless noise, how could they justify staying on the road, away from their homes and families, for all of these months?

  27. All of the bases have been covered by the other commenters. So, just one asides: Newt lost, big time – if only because no-one is really talking about him any more (which must piss him off so bad that he’s probably weeping gall stones by now…)

  28. We won’t know now if it is a win or not until more of the primary results come in. If Romney cannot collect enough delegates to get a clear majority by the time of the convention, then Michigan will be a win for Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. They will have enough delegates to decide the nomination.

  29. AZ+MI is a win for Romney – primary “wins” in apportioned stated are all about PR anyway (when they are close contests) Romney gained deligates and gained press that he “won” going into “SuperTuesday”. Also as it appears that neither Newt nor Ron Paul have gained any ground as a result of the AZ/MI primaries – it’s also a win in that regard as well. Any way I do the math, unless Santorum gains more deligates than Mitt does – Mitt’s lead gets wider.

  30. @heteromeles: in 2008, the political media portrayed the Democratic nomination fight as a live contest long after Obama had enough delegates that it was essentially impossible for Clinton to come back. The scenarios became increasingly improbable: she would convince all the party superdelegates to vote for her at the convention even if Obama had a clear majority of the primary/caucus delegates, etc. None of this happened; Clinton had no intention of torpedoing her own party with a convention-floor fight in an election the Democrats had a good chance of winning. It was all to gin up drama.

  31. @Matt: Yes. I wonder how far back this particular style of election coverage goes?

    I suppose this is why the CIA used to call the big three media The Mighty Wurlitzer. Enough reporters wanted to report on Washington that they’d say whatever the politicians fed to them, truthy or not. Same thing here.

  32. Given the entire Republican line-up, America is losing. The rest is details. Romney won Michigan in the ways he needed to win, however barely.

    (Obama is no prize either, but holy shit Repubs, what’s with the Clown Car of the Apocalypse?)

  33. Well, in terms of number of delegates, it’s a tie, and therefore not a victory for either side. And just like in a sports game (a really, really, really LONNNNNNNNG game), both sides will go on playing hard now, until one -does- win. (With both of them focused on my home state now, for Super Tuesday, I’ve resorted to turning off the phone. The robocalls were making me nuts.)

    But in terms of realpolitik, both sides are positioning it as a victory, of course. This is an old political tradition. For example, some 3500 years ago, Ramses II catastrophically and stupidly cost thousands of soldiers their lives -and- lost a huge chunk of Egypt’s territory at the battle of Kadesh… and yet he positioned that as a great Egyptian -victory-, took all the credit, and thus started fashioning himself as Rames the Great, which is how he’s still described eons later.

    That’s what politicians do.

    So Romney can position a narrow popular-vote lead and an electoral tie in Michigan–his native state, where his family is old money and old politics, where he used to be an eat-my-dust frontrunner and was originally expected to the be the easy-favorite this time–as a victory rather than a disappointment or embarrassment.

    And Santorum, who didn’t win the popular vote and tied for the electoral delegates, can position it as a victory because he gave Romney such a run for his money (more so than McCain, for example, who actually -got- the nomination in the end), got so much attention, and caused so much speculation about whether he’ll wind up as the nominee–none of which would have been predicted about what would happen when a candidate as initially obscure as Santorum went up against hometown oligarch Romney in Michigan.

    What’s I found really interesting about Michigan was the uncoded message from various Republican functionaries and kingmakers, in the day leading up to the vote–when speculation was wild about the possibility of Santorum winning enough delegates to be the GOP nominee–that the GOP won’t let Santorum have the nomination. I don’t really think the whole drama will come to pass; I think Romney will probably wind up as the nominee. But I do think it would be fascinating to see what happened if Santorum did wind up as the frontrunner. How big would the internal demolition be if the primary process produced a nominee whom the party rejected?

  34. As a Michigander, I agree with the comment about Romney’s family ties not helping all that much. I was in kindergarten when his dad left office, and I don’ t get all nostalgic about the Romneys. Other Romneys have not fared too well in elections here, either.

  35. Overall a big win for Romney, as it was the day that (absent some colossal gaffe, a non-zero probability with Mitt) he turned back the last credible challenge to his nomination. To recap:

    1) He won the most delegates on the day.
    2) He got the morning headline “Romney wins in AZ and MI” (only political junkies are going to care about the technical tie with Santorum)
    3) He avoided the “Romney loses home state” headline, which could have caused all kinds of crazy, including new candidates entering to force a brokered convention. You could say that the “establishment” wants Romney over Santorum, if, by “establishment” you mean “republicans who want a fighting chance of winning in November”. That establishment would have gotten someone into the race if it looked like Romney was going to fail.
    4) He stopped the Santorum charge long enough for folks to figure out that Santorum is a) no fiscal conservative and b) prone to saying things that alienate voters. Santorum’s campaign is cash poor, and he needed the momentum going into Super- Tuesday to stay viable. He may not know it, but he’s toast. I’m already seeing “third look at Newt?” articles. That’s more of a sign of continued voter unease with Romney than an indication of Newt’s viability. After Tuesday, the Right will gradually line up behind Romney

    So, if “win” means “greatly advanced the chances of being the Republican nominee”, then Romney won.

  36. Well, Michigan gets 30 delegates — 1 for each of the 28 Congressional districts, the remaining 2 are the prize for the popular vote. So in that sense, Romney wins the remaining 2 delegates. Unfortunately for him, that means that Santorum won the districts 15-13. (And earlier estimates had it at 17-11.)

    There was a Democratic operative trying to stir up voters to pick up Republican ballots and vote for Santorum — I understand that some of the Santorum camp were very happy to encourage this. Even though it is technically legal, I’ve never liked the idea of squatting on someone else’s primary and pooping on their lawn. But then, I still believe in civil discourse and fair & free elections, which makes me a dinosaur of some kind.

    Dr. Phil

  37. I’m torn. Part of me says that Romney was supposed to win big and he didn’t, so it’s a loss. Another part of me says that a narrow victory is still a victory and Romney keeps getting those. As for the delegates, meh. It’s still early and there are lots of states to go and lots of delegates to get. The important thing is if you look like a winner or not. Romney continues to look like the front-runner (despite the fact that there seem to be about eight people in the GOP who are passionate about him) and Tuesday only reinforced that, so he won.

  38. Even though it is technically legal, I’ve never liked the idea of squatting on someone else’s primary and pooping on their lawn.

    Dr. Phil: I don’t know why the qualifier “technically” is thrown in there. Either you have an open primary or you don’t. And, frankly, after Limbaugh’s ‘Operation Chaos’ four years back, I don’t think anyone on the right has the moral high ground to cry foul when Kos pulls the same stunt.

    Yes, I don’t think it does much for the reputation of American presidential politics as a fit pursuit for grown-ups. But if you don’t like the rules (and people trying to game them) – don’t hate the players, change the code.

  39. I’m feeling like the delegate count does not appear to be a very exact science. I’m noticing vastly different delegate numbers reported depending on who reports them. And the media websites (such as CNN) don’t seem to account for the nuances and uncertainty of the process within their numbers. To add to this, at the CNN debate, prior to AZ and MI, Ron Paul claimed he was in 2nd place in delegates and nobody refuted him. Is there an accepted standard measure?

  40. ghayenga- It wasn’t really close among actual Republicans. If you look at the map of districts won by Santorum you can see that the heavily Democratic ones were won by Santorum. This is due to the Obama running unopposed and quite a few Democrats voting in the Republican primary for Santorum just to cause trouble.

    Actually, this isn’t true at all. I live here in Michigan, and Santorum won the rural, more socially conservative areas/counties. Romney won SE Michigan, where the population is. (map from Huffington Post, but the data’s sound).

  41. As I recall, one of the reasons that Obama won the 2008 Democratic primaries is that his team paid close attention to the rules for each state holding a primary or caucus, and directed its resources in a way that maximized the number of delegates he got. Clinton had a number of high-profile wins encouraged the media to treat it as a horse race for a long time, but Obama kept on truckin’ until he had it locked up.

    Regardless of how you score Michigan, I would be very surprised if anyone but Romney walked away with the nomination. He has money to burn, he is the candidate that influential Republicans hate the least, and his rivals have this knack for burning twice as bright for half as long.

  42. Seth Gordon’s right about paying “close attention to the rules for each state holding a primary or caucus, and directed its resources in a way that maximized the number of delegates he got.”

    In a baseball game, you only need to win by one run. So if far ahead, a good manager does not put the best closer in to pitch, or the highest paid infielder in his base. It’s about optimum allocation of resources, Nash equilibria in Game Theory, and all that.

    There’s no well-known American Primary Election equivalent of the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball, by which one can tell if a manger is getting better results from his players than the mere sum of their stats. My citation is, I suppose, the film Moneyball. Come for the Baseball; stay for the Math.

  43. @surfwax. I’m not an expert, but I think that the non-binding caucus states don’t bind their delegates to vote for whoever won. Santorum has over 40 delegates from non-binding caucus states, so he’s down in the 20s with non-binding votes, along with Gingrich and Santorum.

    While I think it’s a stretch to claim second place when you’re standing last (unless you’ve got a big-time Manchurian delegate scheme set to run), it’s murkier than the Republicans would like to talk about.

    Romney ahead on delegates, no matter how you count it. All these “non-binding caucuses” and “hybrid voting systems” makes me wish I had the tobacco concession outside that proverbial smoke-filled room at the Republican convention. The system sure looks like it’s rigged to give party insiders a lot of leverage, regardless of who the voters choose.

  44. Dr Phil
    I’m north of you in Michigan and for the first time in my life I went out and crossover voted. I don’t generally approve of politics as “sport” but given the field of Republican candidates I felt somewhat entitled to take them as seriously as they merit. I voted for Santorum strictly because I would love to see him go head to head with Obama and, as another commenter said, to have his platform and some of his ideologies exposed to people who might not be paying real close attention right now. The man is a lunatic, a male version of Michele Bachmann, and as little love as I have any more for Obama I would be more comfortable seeing him compete against someone like Santorum than Romney just because I think it would be another easy win for Obama.

    In answer to the original question, I think Mitt was lucky to squeak out half of Michigan’s delegates. If he ends up being the Republican nominee, I’m pretty sure he can plan now on losing Michigan to Obama.

  45. The advantage of an open primary is that you can court the independents to your cause. That the opposition can take advantage of this or actively cause mischief is a known side effect. Of course just because you’ve declared a party in the past doesn’t mean you’re stuck there forever. And expressing a preference for someone you might consider voting for is, in my mind, different.

    That’s all.

    Dr. Phil

  46. This is, what, the third contest that Romney won but then he didn’t? How does that keep happening?

  47. The MI GOP changed the rules yesterday. The original rules split the 28 CD votes 14-14 under the new rules Rmoney gets 15. Given the GOPs willingness to game their own system coupled with the inability to count votes that the have demonstrated in several contests its understandable why they are so afraid of voting. All these new laws the GOP is pushing to make voting more difficult & complicated seems to be in response to their failures not the public’s.

  48. It is a testament to the mind numbing density of the Republican field of candidates that this thread has only 59 comments. Well done GOP!

  49. [Deleted because it’s a boilerplate posting not directly relevant to the discussion at hand, which is about what went down in Michigan — JS]

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