Fox News analyst Howard Kurtz accused Iowa Democratic Party leaders of hypocrisy and “stonewalling” today:
After the ridiculously close squeaker in the Iowa caucuses, the state’s Democratic Party said it couldn’t release the raw vote totals for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
That simply isn’t how they do business, party officials insisted. […]
But it turns out that hasn’t been the practice in past elections.
Kurtz then posted what he claimed are “raw vote totals” for Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden from the 2008 Iowa caucuses. He took the numbers from CNN’s website.
Those numbers do not reflect the number of Iowans who caucused for each Democratic presidential candidate in 2008. They are just the state delegate equivalents calculated for each candidate, multiplied by 100.
Last week, the Associated Press used the same method when reporting state delegate equivalents for each candidate by county.
In the Democratic caucuses, AP will tabulate State Delegate Equivalents (SDEs), which are the estimated number of state convention delegates that the candidates would receive based on precinct caucus results. AP will input into its election night reporting system 1406 SDEs (1,401 statewide, plus 3 satellite SDEs, plus 2 tele-caucus SDEs, equaling 1,406 total SDEs). AP then will report the total SDEs for each candidate statewide. However, on the county level, the SDE numbers for some candidates are often very small fractions. In order to process these numbers by county without losing precision, the AP will inflate the county numbers by 100.
Various news organizations including the New York Times reposted the AP’s “state delegate equivalents times 100” figures for each Democratic candidate by county. Many people misunderstood what those numbers represented. I saw numerous social media posts linking to the AP numbers as proof of how many Iowans in each county had caucused for each candidate, even though adding those totals didn’t produce a number anywhere near the overall Democratic turnout, which exceeded 171,000.
David Redlawsk, author of a book about the Iowa caucuses, tweeted at Kurtz hours ago explaining the mistake. At this writing (1 pm central), Kurtz has not corrected his post on the Fox News website. A host of television shows critiquing political news coverage should value accuracy in his own work.
I have long called for reforms to make the reported Democratic caucus results more representative of Iowans’ preferences, and I support releasing whatever raw vote numbers the party has now (in many precincts, those numbers were not preserved). But as long as the Iowa Democratic Party insists on releasing only delegate totals for each candidate, news media like CNN and AP should not add to the confusion by reporting state delegate equivalents in a way that resembles raw vote numbers.
FEBRUARY 10 UPDATE: More than 24 hours after multiple people pointed out Kurtz’s error, the Fox News post still has not been corrected, nor has Kurtz acknowledged the mistake on his Twitter feed. His lack of professionalism is disappointing.
FEBRUARY 12 UPDATE: Three days later, Kurtz’s uncorrected piece remains up on the Fox News website. I continue to see it shared on social media and linked by other authors, who accept the false premise that those numbers reflect the “popular vote” from the 2008 caucuses.