Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Convention Battle Scenario

A long article in the NY Review of Books considers whether Clinton might push the fight to the convention and how that might play out.

A few thoughts on points not mentioned in the article:

1) As discussed in this earlier post, if there's a fight over the issue, whether or not the Michigan and Florida delegates are seated at the convention will ultimately be decided by the convention delegates themselves at the beginning of the convention. Superdelegates (but not the contested Michigan and Florida delegates) participate in this vote. Conceivably, Clinton could be behind in pledged delegates but get the Michigan and Florida delegates seated on the basis of superdelegate strength.

2) The superdelegates are self-interested actors. Many of them are elected officials and it is in their strong interest to avoid earning the wrath of a large segment of voters. For this reason, I think it is very unlikely that the superdelegates would swing victory to Clinton if she lost among pledged delegates.

3) Publicly the Clinton campaign has suggested it will fight until the very end. There's no way for the Florida and Michigan issue and the superdelegate votes to be decided before the convention without the agreement of both campaigns. This makes me think Hillary will indeed hold out for pulling out a victory at the convention. Even if her odds are low, she has every incentive to keep the battle going. If she fights, in the positive scenario (i) she's president, while in the losing scenario, (ii) she's still a U.S. senator, although possibly one blamed for splitting the party and hurting the Democrat's chances at the White House. If she doesn't fight, (iii) she's a U.S. senator and applauded for not having split the party. This is the classic sort of choice one can model with game theory, assuming valuations for each outcome and probabilities for the winning and losing scenarios. My guess is that she attaches extremely high value to outcome (i) (being president) and nearly equivalent values to outcomes (ii) and (iii). In other words, for her the value of being president is so much greater than the cost of being blamed for splitting the party that she will stay in the game as long as there's any chance of winning.

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