Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The fractal primary campaign

I've always liked fractals. From Wikipedia, "Fractals are typically self-similar patterns, where self-similar means they are "the same from near as from far."

The defining state primaries of this season have been microcosms of the larger race. The overriding story of the entire campaign has been the steady stream of flavors of the month who rise up to challenge Romney, only to have Romney overwhelm them with superior resources. Santorum rose up in Iowa only to be smacked down in the next several races. Gingrich won in South Carolina only to be devastated by negative ads in Florida. Santorum racked up impressive but delegate-poor wins in the Midwest a few weeks ago only to lose in a heads-up match in Michigan.

Last night's Super Tuesday elections were another example of the self-similar campaign. At the start of the night, as at the start of the campaign, Romney was looking like a prohibitive favorite. He won big in Virginia, thanks to poor organization by his opponents resulting in only Ron Paul appearing on the ballot alongside him. He also won early wins in Massachusetts and Vermont. But his early momentum was blunted by fairly early wins by Santorum in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. I found myself thinking that Santorum might actually carry the night, if he could maybe carry Ohio and Alaska, with Paul perhaps winning the caucuses in Idaho. But, as he's vanquished quick-rising challengers before, Romney wound up carrying a majority of delegates awarded on the night, including a close win in Ohio.

Zooming in on the fractal campaign even more reveals more self-similar patterns in the Ohio results. Romney led early in the night, only to have Santorum overtake him and lead for much of the night. Santorum was doing well among the rural, more conservative counties, while Romney was winning big in Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties, which are urban, usually Democratic areas (zooming out briefly, most of the states Romney has won were also blue states won by Obama in '08). Romney ultimately overtook Santorum just after 11pm last night, just as he pulled ahead of Santorum in the polls in the few days right before the election.

Projecting the patterns of the campaign forward, it appears even more clear that Romney will ultimately be the nominee. By preventing Santorum from getting any momentum-building surprise wins while also racking up a majority of the delegates, Romney continues his solid but not awe-inspiring performance. He will continue to use his superior resources to go on to victory, but it won't be overwhelming. He's probably going to struggle in the upcoming elections in Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Lousiana, with Gingrich likely doing well in the South, Santorum in the Midwest, and Ron Paul at the caucus in Hawaii.Link

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