What are the odds? Was it luck for Hillary in Iowa coin tosses?


What are the odds? Was it luck for Hillary in Iowa coin tosses?

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Justin Sullivan
Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets supporters during her caucus night event in the Olmsted Center at Drake University on February 1, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Clinton is competing with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Iowa Democratic caucus. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***

In six of the nearly 1,700 precincts caucusing across Iowa Monday night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ended up in a dead tie. 

According to the rules of what seems to be the oddest electoral system in the United States, a decision on who is awarded delegates when candidates are tied should be determined by the toss of a coin.

Clinton and Sanders faced six coin tosses to determine who would be awarded delegates to the state convention. Clinton won all six.

Because of the stakes, the coin tosses have become big news, as  has the news that Clinton won all six.

So what are the odds someone will win six coin tosses in a row? Let’s do math.

The odds of winning any one coin toss is 50/50 – you have just as much of a chance to get heads as you do to get tails. So a single coin toss gives you a 1 in 2 chance of being right – one coin, two sides.

The odds of choosing six correct outcomes of six coin tosses go down with each toss – when you take the tosses as a group of tosses instead of six separate, single flips. 

There are 64 possible outcomes if you toss a coin six times in a row. For example all six tosses could come up heads, all six could be tails, one could be tails and the other five heads, et al.

So what is the chance that a person can correctly choose the side of the coin that comes up on top six out of six coin tosses  -- the answer is 1 in 64. 

Great odds if you are playing Powerball, apparently pretty good odds if you are trying to win the Democratic nomination for president in Iowa.

The coin tosses Monday were used to determine who would get the odd county convention delegate. Those delegates make up a fraction of the state delegates who are awarded to each candidate in Iowa. The state delegates determine which candidate Iowa will back in the Democratic National Convention.

While it seems odd to use a coin toss to determine the outcome of an election, according to The Washington Post, 35 other states use the same method in event of a tie.

What were some other events that have turned on the toss of a coin?  Here are a few.

  • Which Wright brother would make the first powered flight  – Wilber won
  • The fate of Richie Valens – Another coin toss in Iowa ended up costing the singer his life. Valens won a coin toss with a band member for the last seat on a private plane that ended up crashing in an Iowa corn field, killing him, Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Wednesday is the anniversary of that crash.
  • The overtime coin toss -- The Steelers and Lions were tied in the 1998 NFL Thanksgiving Day game at the end of regulation play, and as the coin was flipped at the beginning of overtime,  Steelers RB Jerome Bettis, according to his account, called tails. The coin landed tails side up, but the referee declared the Lions the winner of the toss saying Bettis said “heads-tails.” He went with Bettis’ first call, the Lions won the toss and the game. 
  • The NBA draft -- Before the lottery system, the first pick for the NBA draft was determined by a coin flip. Many of the game's best players went on to make their teams winners after a coin toss determine which team would get to choose the incoming players first.

Sources: History.com; Wikipedia; nfl.com

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