Apr 23, 2008

The Politics of Math
If 10 turned out to be 9

How close is the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? So close that even the math is being politicized.

In the final results from Pennsylvania, Clinton won 54.7% and Obama won 45.3%. If you round off the two numbers, that's 55% for Hillary and 45% for Barack, a 10-point spread.

That's the kind of math favored by Clinton supporters because it gives her the double-digit win she had hoped for and makes for a better case when arguing to superdelegates that she met expectations in the Keystone State.

Obamathematics demands a different sort of rounding. What you do here is subtract 45.3 from 54.7, leaving you with 9.4%. That number rounds down to 9, which is clearly not a double digit and provides some traction to Obama's argument that he successfully erased the double-digit lead Clinton had coming in to Pennsylvania.

So, the point at which you decide to round off the decimal changes the outcome and influences the talking points.

As you work to determine which method of calculation better reflects your politics, consider the two following statements:

1. The objective of rounding is often to get a number that is easier to use, at the cost of making it less precise. (Wikipedia)

2. The purpose in rounding off is to avoid expressing a value to a greater degree of precision than is consistent with the uncertainty in the measurement. (General Chemistry Virtual Textbook)

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