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Operations Research to Decide the Election?

Brian Borchers wrote me to comment on an article in the New York Times on how the US primaries are moving into a phase characterized by complicated resource allocation problems.  Up until now, it was easy:  candidates could spend their time in Iowa and New Hampshire (then Nevada and South Carolina) and not feel overstretched.   But with those primaries and caucuses now past, it gets more complicated.  Tuesday February 5 is “Super Tuesday” when 24 states are to choose their delegates to the national convention.  No candidate can reasonably campaign in all parts in all of these states.  But the rules on how delegates are chose make it necessary:

…the delegate rules for Democrats and for Republicans are different and, within each party, often vary from state to state. For example, the Republicans have some states where the statewide winner gets all the delegates, providing an obvious target for a candidate who might seem strong there. Among them are Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Utah.

But there are other states where the delegates are allocated by Congressional district, sometimes winner-take-all, and sometimes proportionally.

By contrast, Democrats eliminated the so-called winner-take-all rules. Instead, delegates are allocated depending on the percentage of vote each candidate gets in a Congressional district, under very expansive rules that, generally speaking, mean the candidates divide the trove evenly assuming they get more than 30 percent of the vote. There are also some delegates allocated statewide, again proportionately.

As Brian summarizes:

The various political campaigns have been building statistical models to predict voting outcomes in different congressional districts and using these as the basis for game theoretic decisions about how best to spend their limited funds and limited candidate time. The more traditional polling approach isn’t adequate, because it would be too expensive to do separate polls for every congressional district…

This is an interesting game involving things like parity (if there are 2 delegates for a district, then it is enough to get 34% of the vote to get 1;  with 3 candidates, 51% can earn you 2 delegates), resource allocation, timing (Rudy Giuliani chose to skip the initial rounds to concentrate on Florida and the Super Tuesday states, perhaps losing too much “momentum” in the process) and so on.  Since it has been a while since both the Democratic and Republican races have been this open, this should spur interest in this sort of modeling.  Punk Rock Operations Research has a posting on forecasting and polling, but that should only be the data for making better decisions. I would love to hear of any real operations research being used by the campaigns.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Deb | January 29, 2008 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know about the rules how some get all of the delegates and such. It’s been a close race so far, so I’m curious to see how it all plays out. NJ used to have such a late primary, it seemed decided before we had a say. I’m glad they’ve moved us up

  2. Ryan Fredds | March 8, 2008 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I am wondering the effects of such a close race in the democratic party between Obama and Clinton if it will give more momentem to the republican race as they have decided their race early on. thanks for your article.