Friday, March 30, 2012

Election 2012: March Madness

Monopoly is one of those weird "family" games that just about everyone's played, but hardly anyone's ever actually finished. One problem with it is that it's a brutally long game, especially if you have six to eight players. Another is that, given that your goal is to drive all the other players into bankruptcy, it tends to be a fairly harsh game to play to completion. Once one player gets a solid lead, everyone else starts saying, "Screw this, let's find something else to do." But anyhow, there are several winning strategies. Some involve getting key color groups early. Another method involves first making sure that no one else can win. How do you do that, you ask? Well, first, you have to get one property in every color group. That ensures that no one else can develop a monopoly. Then, get one monopoly. It really doesn't matter which one, so long as you can afford to build it up. Then, it's a long slog of attrition.

Electopoly, the fine game the GOP is playing right now, is actually very similar. What brought Monopoly to mind is a new feature over on Nate Silver's site, the Romney Magic Numbers Calculator. Because the path to winning the GOP nomination -- indeed, any party's nomination -- entails doing three things. First, you must win enough delegates to ensure that no one else can gain a majority on the first ballot. Second, you must win enough delegates to ensure that you will win a plurality of delegates on that first ballot, thus making your case that much stronger on subsequent ballots. And here's the clincher -- the final goal is to win enough delegates to ensure that you win on the first ballot.

The race for the GOP nomination is just about over. Nate Silver estimates that Romney has a 100% chance of sewing up enough delegates to keep anyone else from a first-ballot victory, a 99% chance of guaranteeing himself a plurality of delegates, and a 91% chance of winning outright. It's taken three months, and we'll probably go through two more of going through the motions, but it's just about over at this point. And now, the numbers from Intrade, current as of 6PM Friday evening:

(By the way, Intrade has a spiffy new feature for primary-watchers: a scoreboard. This would have been nice to have three months ago, but still, better late than never. Hope they keep it for the general election...)

Mitt Romney, 93.1%: Sometimes, I wonder if the man truly wants the job. He does the damnedest things. Every time he gets ahead, he says something truly astounding to alienate either part of his base, or part of the electorate. "I was a severely conservative governor ... and by the way, I drove 1,200 miles with my dog in a box on top of my car. I'm against the individual mandate ... but you know, it's all like an Etch-A-Sketch, I'll just shake it up after the convention." I mean, what is this dude's major malfunction? Whether he wants it or not, he's liable to be the Republican nominee, try as he might to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. His opposition is so sad and pitiful that they won't be able to get out in front of him, no matter how hard he tries. He may as well get used to the idea.

Ron Paul, 1.1%: And it's a signal of just how sad and pitiful that they've gotten that Ron Paul is now in second place, probability-wise.

Rick Santorum, 1.0%: And here's the man who puts the "sad" in "sad and pitiful". Even if you gave him all of the delegates from the "pitiful" side of the race for Not-Romney, he still wouldn't be ahead. Both the "sad" and the "pitiful" sides of that race are pinning their hopes on a brokered convention. But first, they somehow have to pull enough delegates to keep Romney from winning outright, something I no longer believe either of them can do. Brokered conventions are to politics as bunch sprints are to professional cycling, and both tend to happen only when someone's screwed up. As much as Romney seems to keep trying to throw the race, no one seems to be able to capitalize.

Newt Gingrich, 0.3%: That's partly because Newt's kind of mailing it in at this point. Theoretically, he's also counting on a brokered convention. He's still touting his "debating" skills against Obama, which has always sounded kind of bizarre to me. Because, you see, the debates? They're not really debates. They're a weird kind of dual press conference where both guys have to answer the same questions put to them by a moderator. The rules of engagement don't allow them to speak directly to one another. So how do mad debating skills get you anywhere? Beats me. But Gingrich has always been full of strange ideas.

Veep Watch: I don't put much stock in Veep-guessing. But that's an important thing to watch. Once Romney has it well and truly sewn up, he'll start canvassing for a running mate, and he'll probably spring that on us the Friday before the GOP convention opens. As I've said before, it's important to watch because that's his first Presidential decision, and that will give us a huge window into his thought processes. Who he chooses, and why, will give us a better measure of the man than anything he's said so far.

And The Winner Is: The percentages are running 60.8% that the Democrats will keep the White House, versus 38.8% that the Republicans will take over. These have held steady for a while, and will probably stay there until the conventions. I'd still take 3-2 odds on Obama/Biden for the win.

Primary season isn't quite over, though. Lots of states haven't voted yet, and even if the Presidential nominee is just about a foregone conclusion, there are plenty of other races on the ballot. And if you've never attended a precinct caucus, this is as good a year to go as any. Remember, vote early, and vote often!

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