FiveThirtyEight’s Deconstruction of the Rigged Primary Myth

by snowman3 –

magic 538 ball

I came across a data driven article by the folks at 538 that attempted to tackle this simmering claim (espoused quite often by Donald Trump, of all people) that the democratic primary system has been rigged and Hillary is only winning because it has been rigged in her favor. The article is from May 26, but I haven’t seen it diaried here yet, so if I missed it, forgive me.

One of the claims most frequently made is that Hillary is winning because in a lot of states, independents cannot vote in the democratic primary, and that if more states allowed independents to vote, then Bernie would have won. Putting aside the fact that Hillary has won a majority of contests that have open primaries, Nate Silver and Harry Enten ran their models and used simulations to estimate what the results would have been had the non-open primary contests (including caucuses) held open primaries instead. Their simulation shown below in table 1, indicated that Bernie would have won Kentucky and Connecticut, instead of Hillary, but Hillary would have won Washington and Wyoming instead of Bernie. Indeed, when Washington held a meaningless non-binding primary, Hillary won, despite having lost the caucuses where voter turnout was about a third of the non-binding primary. Moreover, Hillary’s pledged delegate lead, instead of being at 272, would be at 294, and her popular vote lead would still be a very comfortable 2.2 million (instead of the ~3 million it is now).

IOWA CLINTON +24 301 182 27 17
NEVADA CLINTON +18 188 130 21 14
AM. SAMOA CLINTON +60 4 1 5 1
COLORADO SANDERS +6 331 373 31 35
MINNESOTA CLINTON +1 402 394 39 38
LOUISIANA CLINTON +39 240 100 36 15
NEBRASKA SANDERS +5 79 88 12 13
KANSAS SANDERS +23 90 144 13 20
MAINE SANDERS +16 91 127 10 15
FLORIDA CLINTON +20 1,159 760 129 85
ARIZONA CLINTON +4 267 248 39 36
UTAH SANDERS +39 52 120 10 23
IDAHO SANDERS +37 33 72 7 16
HAWAII SANDERS +17 63 88 10 15
WASHINGTON CLINTON +6 471 418 53 48
ALASKA SANDERS +50 16 48 4 12
WYOMING CLINTON +2 19 19 7 7
NEW YORK CLINTON +4 1,146 1,049 129 118
CONNECTICUT SANDERS +6 176 200 26 29
DELAWARE CLINTON +9 58 49 11 10
MARYLAND CLINTON +18 581 399 56 39
GUAM CLINTON +31 11 6 5 2
KENTUCKY SANDERS +10 205 256 24 31
OREGON SANDERS +25 251 418 23 38
TOTAL CLINTON +8 15,298 13,024 1,782 1,488

The piece also considered scenarios where all the contests where primaries (but open/closed as they currently are), all closed primaries (hint, Hillary would win both scenarios by a lot) and if they were all open caucuses (the only scenario in which Bernie comes out ahead). What their simulation shows is that when more people do participate in the democratic system, Hillary does better and the only way Bernie would have won is if every contest were caucuses, which dramatically limit voter participation. So in fact, the system (through caucuses) has actually overstated Bernie’s support, rather than being rigged against him.

I’d also like to point out some misconceptions that the Bernie campaign has brought forward that were also debunked by that 538 article. One such misconception (I would call it propaganda) was enunciated by former front pager on Daily Kos, Shaun King.

(Sound effects in frustrated anguish)



I am about to break something down regarding Trump, the DNC, Clinton, & Bernie.

The Democratic Party will NOT have a candidate until the convention in July & Super-Delegates will choose who it is 

Photo published for KING: Superdelegates will decide who wins Democratic nomination

KING: Superdelegates will decide who wins Democratic nomination

The truth is, again, that super-delegates are likely going to decide who is the Democratic nominee.

This line of thinking goes that since 2383 delegates are required for the nomination, all 2383 of them must be pledged delegates, or we have to wait until the convention for the superdelegates to formally vote. This is simply wrong. This is akin to saying we won’t know who will be President, even after election day in November, until the electoral college formally meets in December to formally elect the next President and Vice President. At the root of this claim is the fact that Bernie will lose the pledged delegate race on June 7 (mathematically he can still win, but politically he can’t — Hillary will get enough delegates from CA, NJ, PR and NM, contests demographically favorable to her, to get to 2026 pledged delegates and win the pledged delegates outright). The claim that the superdelegates will hand the nomination to the loser of the pledged delegates is even more laughable than offensive. Even Hillary’s losing 2008 campaign didn’t make the risible claim that there is no nominee until the superdelegates formally vote at the convention, because they could always switch. (Hillary tried to claim in early June 2008 that it wasn’t clear that Barack had reached the magic number in delegates, not that we needed to wait until the convention because she could flip superdelegates already committed to him).

Another claim debunked by the article is that we can’t say for sure who has the most popular votes, since some caucus states don’t report actual voter numbers.

The Democratic Party will NOT have a candidate until the convention in July & Super-Delegates will choose who it is 

Washington State has 7.2 million people. @BernieSanders won 71% of the votes. NONE of those votes count in the “popular vote totals”.

Now, I’m not sure why Mr King would mention that Washington has 7.2 million people (perhaps he wants to suggest that 71% of those people support Bernie?), but we do have very good estimates of the amount of people who participated in the Washington caucuses (about 230,000 -240,000 people), and if you include the estimates of the other caucuses (none of which is anywhere close to the 230-240k of Washington), Hillary’s popular vote lead would be around 2.9 million. 

Now some will probably say that this diary doesn’t help the cause of “unity” between the Hillary and Bernie camps. Perhaps. But you also know what doesn’t help “unity”? Repeating propaganda aimed at delegitimizing Hillary’s win. If the results go as expected between now and June 7, Hillary Clinton will be the presumptive nominee of the democratic party. And more than that, she would have won it fair and square, by every metric.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos