Monday, January 22, 2018

Caveat Lector: How Kathy Carter Wins the US Soccer Presidential Election

I'm not an insider. Far from it. I have nowhere near the insight and knowledge of long-time observers like @duresport or @pkedit (and of course there are others). I'm just a professor with a blog. I used to work at 538 for Nate Silver so I do have a license to speculate irresponsibly about elections.

So with that caveat lector out of the way, here are some scenarios for how the US Soccer presidential election might play out, with my expectations for how things will occur.

This post will make the most sense if you have a bit of background in the election and its candidates (here is a good place to start). There are at present eight candidates who I'll divide into three categories (and each has impressive resumes, I just list their primary present occupation below):

Status Quo Candidates
  • Kathy Carter, president of Soccer United Marketing
  • Carlos Cordeiro, USSF vice president 
Reform Candidates
  • Kyle Martino, TV analyst
  • Eric Wynalda, TV analyst
Others
  • Steve Gans, attorney
  • Hope Solo, professional player
  • Michael Winograd, lawyer 
  • Paul Caligiuri, coach
Conventional wisdom (i.e., what you'll see in the MSM and on Twitter) holds that the "others" don't really have a great shot at winning, but could have an impact. This seems right to me.

The electoral process and math are somewhat complex and opaque (described a bit here and formally here in PDF). In a nutshell, the goal of the election is for a candidate to secure half of the vote, defined as "a majority of the weighted vote of eligible votes cast in that round of balloting." This may be important in a close election, as it means that abstentions reduce the number needed to attain a majority. (Oddly, abstentions are not recorded votes, but non-votes: "members who wish to abstain from voting should refrain from voting and not press any number on their electronic keypad vendor.")

In the event that no candidate secures a majority, there is a 10 minute break and the vote is re-run. After this happens three times with no majority (if delegates decide to do so in advance) the lowest vote-getter will be removed from the listing, and can still be voted for as a write-in. Candidates may also decide to voluntarily drop out. I don't think they get to that contingency.

If all that makes sense, well, you are doing better than me. Let's now look at how things might play out in the election.

Round 1

I'm not convinced that there will still be 8 candidates still running when the voting starts. Candidates might yet choose to drop out ahead of the vote. But let's assume that there are all 8.

MLS interests (for lack of a better term) will have more than 20% of the overall vote and perhaps, speculatively, as much as 35%. Conventional wisdom, which I won't get into here, holds that MLS interests favor the status quo candidates. 

It is perfectly conceivable that one of the status quo candidates (Carter or Cordeiro) wins outright in a first ballot, but probably unlikely if both are in the mix. Watch out if one drops out ahead of the vote -- a sure sign that they have the votes for a 1st round victory. 

But let's say both stay in and give the two of them 25% of the vote up front, based solely on the votes held by MLS interests.

That leaves 3/4 of the vote, which we can split 3 ways equally in the absence of further information to the contrary: 1/3 to Status Quo, 1/3 to Reformers and 1/3 to the others. That would give a first round result of:
  • Carter/Cordeiro - 50%
  • Wynalda/Martino - 25%
  • Field - 25%
I have more confidence (gut feeling, or maybe indigestion, whatever) in the 50% for the Status Quo than the breakout of the other 50%. Some of the vote for Others might also be tactical in the sense of seeing the lay of the land in Round 1 and encouraging a Round 2 (losta game theory dynamics here for sure). But even if each of these guesstimates of mine is off by +/-10% I don't think it changes the calculus (political and electoral) that follows.

Horsetrading Post-Round 1

I'd guess that most if not all of the Others leave the race at this point. They made their points, had their impact and see things are getting real. I'd further speculate that most of this support then goes to the Reformers- why would you vote for a dark horse if you wanted the Status Quo?

The most important question now is whether Carter or Cordeiro drops out in favor of the other. Cordeiro is already USSF VP, and electing Carter locks in the Status Quo candidates in the top two positions. What happens if Cordeiro gets voted in and the Board has to install a new VP during the next year? Politically, that VP might need to be the losing Reformer - Wynalda or Martino. Its a risk for the Status Quo to open Cordeiro's seat. 

On the other hand, Carter has drawn a lot of criticism due to her role at SUM, among other things. From a purely political tactics perspective, her dropping out in favor of Cordeiro would surprisingly eliminate these negatives and maybe push him over the top. Soccer politics isn't really known for its cleverness, so I am going to say that greed wins and Cordeiro drops out in favor of Carter.

Either way, if Carter or Cordeiro drop out, this would necessitate a similar deal between Martino and Wynalda, with very much a similar calculus to be made. Wynalda has run the higher profile campaign, but also has higher negatives than does Martino. I'd guess that this decision would be based on who gets the most votes in the first round. But I don't know if both or either would set aside ego for the other. Regardless, if the Status Quo center on a candidate the Refomers will have to as well.

Round 2

So let's say Round Two starts out with one of Carter and Cordeiro versus one of Wynalda or Martino, with the possibility of a straggler Other still hanging around. I don't think it matters which of the Status Quo candidates or Reformers are on the ballot at this point. The lingering uncertainty will be whether the Status Quo candidate can get over 50%. I think it'll be close, but ultimately the Status Quo will win.

As long as I'm making all this up, I can be even more precise. There will be a significant protest vote in the form of non-votes (which is actually why a remaining Other might be important). The resulting smaller number of delegates who vote will allow Kathy Carter to win the presidency with more than 50% of the vote but less than 50% of those eligible.
  • Carter - 47.34% of eligible votes
  • Martino - 43.86%
  • Other - 3.61%
  • Non-votes - 5.19% 
There you have it. Two decimal places. I hope it adds up to 100%.

Irony Alert

For reformers, a Carter/Cordeiro regime would not be all bad news, as it would all but guarantee a far more significant reform agenda would get pushed through USSF in the years to come. The reality is that this election is only the start of change coming to USSF. Buckle up.
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