Delegate Projections

Super Delegates at the Democratic National Convention: Just how big an impact could they have?

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 23, 2019 — Recent polling data has been released in 11 Democratic presidential primary states that allows us to make rudimentary delegate vote calculation projections as to where the top candidates stand in the nomination process.

The data-producing 11 states include all of the early voting entities: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, along with big states such as California, Texas, and Florida. Also included is Massachusetts, another Super Tuesday state that is of course Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s home, along with Arizona and the later voting states of Wisconsin and New Jersey.

The polling data allows us to look at the particular state and then assign the candidates specific delegate votes based upon their standing. Obviously, the projections are mere estimates because they are based upon polls and not actual votes, and we extrapolate the statewide totals for each congressional district, which is also not reality. Actual delegate votes are awarded on an at-large and district basis.

But, as basic as they are, these calculations still yield an idea as to where the candidates would land if the actual voting is truly within range of the available polling results.

To qualify for delegates either through state at-large or district delegates, a candidate must exceed a 15 percent popular vote threshold. In the 11 polls, only three candidates would qualify for delegate votes in any of the tested states: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Warren, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Based upon their polling standing in each state and calculating the delegate formula thereupon reveals that each of the three obtains a substantial share. The 11 states’ aggregate delegate total of 1,360 represents 36.1 percent of the entire first ballot total. To be nominated, a candidate is required to earn 1,885 first ballot delegate votes.

According to the polling and delegate formula from these 11 places, Biden would establish a lead with a cumulative 40.2 percent score of the available delegates, for a raw total of 482. Sen. Warren is second with 395 votes, or 32.2 percent and Sen. Sanders would have 328 committed delegates, which equals 27.6 percent. It is clear that no candidate is on pace to reach 50 percent on the first ballot. If Biden were on track to clinch under these numbers and tested states his delegate total at this juncture would be closer to 680.

If these were actual totals from the 11 chosen states, Biden and the other candidates would all have to rather substantially outperform their current position in the remaining entities in order to achieve a first ballot victory. At this point, it appears we are headed for at least two roll call votes.

If so, the convention process would become interesting. Going to the second ballot, the Super Delegates, those in the party elite that a 2018 Democratic National Committee rule change barred from voting on the first ballot, return to full voting privileges. This means the aggregate delegate total rises to 4,535; therefore, the winner would now need 2,268 delegate votes to win.

If the candidates were to perform in the rest of the convention as they broke in these 11 studied states, Biden would end with 1,515 votes on the first ballot, some 370 votes away from victory. On the second ballot, because of adding the 766 Super Delegate votes, his earned total then becomes 753 votes short of winning.

If nothing were to change among the elected delegates, an unlikely proposition because some of the delegates become free on the second ballot, Biden would then need all but 13 of the Super Delegates to vote for him in order to declare victory. Getting 98.3 percent of the Super Delegate votes would virtually be impossible for anyone, but particularly so if this particular convention were to see the delegates divided in the aforementioned described fashion.

With over four months remaining until the first nomination votes are cast in Iowa on Feb. 3, we will inevitably see further changes in the candidates’ positioning. Today, however, and again assuming this polling data and these projections are in the accurate range, lapsing into a multi-ballot open convention becomes a distinct possibility.

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