It should be noted that Hillary Clinton did not win all the coin tosses, as people are feverishly posting on social media.
The initial 6-for-6 report from the Des Moines Register missed a few Sanders coin-toss wins. (There were a lot more than 6 coin tosses.) The ratio of Clinton to Sanders wins was closer to 50-50, which is completely normal. See the report from the Washington Post, and be sure to go down to the UPDATE.
Media figures are erroneously attributing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses to her wins in coin tosses held at several precincts to determine the apportionment of unassigned delegates. Media figures claiming that coin tosses could have flipped the outcome misunderstand the caucus process by wrongly conflating county-level delegates — which the coin tosses assign — and state delegate equivalents (SDEs). As The Des Moines Register explained, the coin flips “had an extremely small effect on the overall outcome.”
A February 2 article in The Des Moines Register explained that coin tosses assign spare county-level delegates — not the SDEs “that are reported in the final results” — and that county-level delegates are so numerous that assigning a small number of them via coin toss “had an extremely small effect on the overall outcome”:
In a handful of Democratic caucus precincts Monday, a delegate was awarded with a coin toss.
It happened in precinct 2-4 in Ames, where supporters of candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton disputed the results after 60 caucus participants apparently disappeared from the proceedings.
As a result of the coin toss, Clinton was awarded an additional delegate, meaning she took five of the precinct’s eight, while Sanders received three.
Similar situations played out at various precincts across the state, but had an extremely small effect on the overall outcome, in which Clinton won 49.9 percent of statewide delegate equivalents, while Sanders won 49.5 percent. The delegates that were decided by coin flips were delegates to the party’s county conventions, of which there are thousands selected across the state from 1,681 separate precincts. They were not the statewide delegate equivalents that are reported in the final results.
The statewide delegate equivalents that determine the outcome on caucus night are derived from the county-level delegates, but are aggregated across the state and weighted in a manner that makes individual county delegate selections at a handful of precincts count for a tiny fraction of the ultimate result. [The Des Moines Register, 2/2/16]
Wash. Post‘s The Fix: Clinton Didn’t “Earn Her Four-Delegate Statewide Margin” With Coin Flips. A February 2 post from The Washington Post‘s The Fix blog explained that people may be “forgiven for assuming that Clinton earned her four-delegate statewide margin … via coin toss. But she didn’t.” The post continued:
Given the closeness of the race and the complexity of the caucus system, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Clinton earned her four-delegate statewide margin with six delegates earned via coin toss. But she didn’t.
The Iowa caucus process is thoroughly complicated, from start to finish. What matters here is that the delegates that were won with the coin toss were not actual convention delegates but county delegates. The tally that Clinton won by four delegates was “state delegate equivalents,” a calculation that estimates how many delegates to the state Democratic convention will result from each side’s winning enough county delegates. There were nearly 1,700 precincts that held caucuses on Monday and in most of them, according to the blog Bleeding Heartland, four or more county delegates were identified. That’s thousands more county delegates than the 1,400 delegates that will go to the state convention — where the actual delegates that attend the nominating convention in Philadelphia will be chosen.
Or put another way, it’s like Clinton won six jump balls in the first game of the NCAA tournament, not that she was awarded free throws in the finals. [The Washington Post, The Fix, 2/2/16]
Former Iowa Democratic Executive Director: It’s An “‘Absolute Certainty” That Coin Tosses Did Not Determine Caucuses Outcome. Norm Sterzenbach, a former executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party, told The Atlantic he was certain the outcome was not determined by coin tosses:
Games of chance have been included in the Democratic caucus rules “forever,” said Norm Sterzenbach, a former executive director of the state part who oversaw the nominating contests in 2008 and 2012. “It happens, but it’s not frequent,” he said in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. They usually occur when calculations for electing delegates to the county convention result in an extra delegate that can’t be assigned to one candidate by simply rounding up or down. The county delegates are distinct from the “state delegation equivalents,” which is what the party uses to determine how many delegates each candidates secures for the national convention in Philadelphia. Clinton finished with 700.59 state delegate equivalents to 696.82 for Sanders, yet because county delegates are worth a “tiny fraction” of the state delegates, Sterzenbach said he could say “with absolute certainty” that the coin flips did not determine the outcome in Iowa. [The Atlantic, 2/2/16]