Q: I watched the results of the Iowa voting on Monday night, and I’m wondering if I missed something. The Republican candidates split thousands of votes, but the final count between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders was something like 693, plus or minus a few, each. Does that mean only 1,400 Democrats voted compared to tens of thousands of Republicans? No one on the networks I watched mentioned this obviously lopsided count.
Michael Dohm, of Belleville
A: I know some Democrats are less than enchanted with their presidential choices this time, but I think the party would be in titanic trouble if caucus turnout had been as feeble as the totals you cite. In reality, both parties saw similar numbers braving their way to nearly 1,700 precinct sites on a cold Iowa night with a blizzard bearing down on many of them.
According to CBS estimates, nearly 187,000 Republicans turned out, smashing their 2012 total by about 65,000. While numbers fell well short of the 240,000 who gathered when Barack Obama ran his inaugural campaign in 2008, state Democratic Party chair Dr. Andy McGuire said on Tuesday that 171,517 Iowa Democrats huddled to start picking their national convention delegates.
So why wasn’t that number more widely reported? Because, in a sense, it doesn’t tell you much. This may draw letters of protest, but the Democrats seem to have devised a caucus system so tortured that you almost need a Ph.D. in mathematics to understand it. I’ll try to explain:
The GOP process is as simple as pie. Every party elephant who turns out is allowed to vote for his or her favorite by secret ballot. The votes are counted and candidates earn delegates based on the percentage of their vote totals. (In 2012, Iowa switched from winner-take-all to proportional allocation in hopes of drawing more interest and giving lesser-known candidates a better chance of surviving.)
The results for Republicans are straightforward and quickly determined. This year, Ted Cruz received 51,666 votes or 28 percent of all votes cast. As a result, he earned eight of the 30 possible delegates. Trailing him were Donald Trump (45,427 votes, 24 percent, 7 delegates) and Marco Rubio (43,165, 23 percent, 7 delegates). None of the other eight candidates cracked 10,000 votes although Ben Carson grabbed three delegates and five others earned one each. Only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rick Santorum, who then quickly dropped out of the race, left empty-handed.
By comparison, the Democratic process is as convoluted as pi — that irrational number which has no end — so grab your No-Doz while I attempt to make it understandable.
If you had attended an Iowa Democratic caucus Monday night, you would have had to stand up for your candidate — literally. Instead of writing down a name or checking a ballot and handing it in in secret like the Republicans, you would have had to join a group of like-minded caucusers and stand with them, be they supporters of Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley or someone else.
That’s just the start. Then the people running the caucus had to determine whether your group was “viable” — in other words, were there enough people to earn even one delegate to the state convention.
Here’s where things really start to get hairy. If only one convention delegate is at stake, it’s easy: The biggest group wins. But if there are two delegates at stake, each group must have at least one-fourth of all those attending that particular caucus to be viable. If three delegates are up for grabs, each group must have at least one-sixth of the attendees. And if four or more delegates are at stake, each group must have at least 15 percent of everyone gathered. (The number of delegates is based on population in that precinct.)
If you chose a group that turned out nonviable, you could then either go home or move to a group that was viable. When every group finally had at least the required number of supporters to make it viable, caucus officials then determined how many convention delegates each candidate would receive, a process that continued to tax calculator batteries.
For simplicity sake, let’s say 100 people attend a caucus that has seven delegates at stake. Let’s say 50 supported Hillary, 30 liked Bernie and 20 backed Mr. O’Malley. Because 20 is more than one-sixth of 100, all groups are viable, so all will receive delegates. Here’s how they do it:
For Hillary, it’s 50 times seven divided by 100, which, rounded up, would give her four. For Bernie, it’s 30 times seven divided by 100, or, rounded down, two. For Martin, it’s 20 times seven divided by 100 or, rounded down, one. That’s how they do it in every caucus.
So, are you beginning to see why simple raw numbers would not give you the complete picture as they do for Republicans? Instead, the media gave you the state delegate equivalents. Clinton earned 700.59 (701), Sanders took 696.82 (697), O’Malley mustered 7.61 (8) while somewhere in the great state .46 was uncommitted. At the moment, estimates show that Hillary eventually will win 29 of the state’s 52 national delegates and Sanders 21 with two still available. (If you’re wondering about those numbers, there are still other processes for delegate allocation I don’t have space to get into.)
You might, however, be interested to know that, according to CBS estimates, a whopping 44 percent of those coming to a Democratic caucus this year were doing it for the first time. Of those, Sanders whipped Clinton 59 percent to 37 percent. Even more surprising, back in 2008 Obama netted only 41 percent of first-time attendees.
If you’re interested, you can find county-by-county results at www.cbsnews.com/elections/2016/primaries/democrat/iowa. Now, I need a nap before I have to explain the electoral college system again.
Why did John Matthews buy scrap marble in 1879 from the construction site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: In 1843, Yale University founded the nation’s first college boat club. A year later, Harvard followed suit. So it was inevitable that the two clubs would challenge each other to a race. On Aug. 3, 1852, Harvard’s shell, Oneida, would finish two lengths ahead of Yale’s Shawmut after 2 miles of rowing. It is believed to be the first intercollegiate athletic event ever. For their victory, the Crimson team received two black-walnut, silver-inscribed trophy oars awarded by Gen. Franklin Pierce, who would be elected president three months later. The Harvard-Yale Regatta has been an annual event since 1859 (except during wartime) with Harvard winning 95 of the 150 meetings