Projecting Delegates

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 24, 2020 — It is becoming clearer that the Democratic presidential contest could result in an open, or “brokered”, convention. This would occur if no candidate secures majority support after the electorates in all the voting entities have cast their ballots and the delegates’ first ballot tallies are locked into place under the individual state laws.

Discounting the Nevada Caucus held over the weekend, only 65 of the 3,979 first-ballot delegate votes have been assigned. By the evening of March 3, however, the aggregate assigned delegate total will soar to 1,398 and we will begin to see sustaining patterns developing.

By March 17, 61 percent of the first-ballot votes will be locked. At that time, it is highly likely we will be able to determine if a candidate can attain majority support or whether multiple ballots will be required to choose a nominee. If this latter scenario occurs, it will be the first time since 1952 that a major party convention is forced to call for more than one ballot to choose a nominee.

Looking past Nevada and onto South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 29, and then to Super Tuesday just three days later, we can begin to make delegate projections based upon available polling data. Of the 19 total voting entities that will record votes from the time the Iowa Caucuses began to the end of voting on Super Tuesday, relevant polling exists in 14 of those states.

Using the available data and delegate quotas that are noted from each place, rudimentary projections can be calculated regarding which candidates might receive delegate votes from the specific states for purposes of comparing aggregate totals against the 50 percent threshold.

Early in the cycle, it appeared that former Vice President Joe Biden would be in the strongest position post Super Tuesday because of what looked to be his early dominance in the South. The voting schedule appeared to favor him since half the March 3 voting states lie in that region. His trouble in Iowa and New Hampshire, plus his poor debate performances, and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ strength along with the recent emergence of Michael Bloomberg, has apparently already relegated Biden to also-ran status.

From the 14 states with credible polling data, it is Sen. Sanders who places first in half of the places. The remainder yield different candidates rising to the top spot while many others earn delegates for breaking 15 percent in the at-large and/or congressional district totals. In all, it appears possible that seven candidates will qualify for delegates by that time: the five who have already won them, along with Mr. Bloomberg and possibly billionaire Tom Steyer.

Tying delegate projections to the state survey studies, while understanding that the individual congressional district tallies could slightly change the calculations that are based upon the at-large vote, it appears that Sen. Sanders would score an aggregate 35 percent, or a raw total of approximately 450 of the 1,991 delegate votes needed to claim a first ballot nomination.

In second position would be Biden, but way back at 19 percent, with Bloomberg following closely at a rounded 18 percent figure. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Steyer would follow consecutively with 13, 10, 4 and 1 percent of the pledged delegates.

If these estimates are anywhere in the realm of the actual count on March 3, Sen. Sanders would be the clear leader, but would come nowhere near majority support. In fact, he would have to score almost exactly 60 percent in the remaining voting entities to obtain a first ballot win. Obviously, this would be a tall order considering he would have only scored one-third voter support while clearly dominant within the field.

For this to occur, many of the other candidates would have to leave the race in order for Sanders to have a realistic chance of reaching the magic 1,991 delegate vote figure to clinch the nomination. Yet, if going to the open convention appears probable, why would his opponents with committed delegate votes end their efforts?

Since virtually anything can happen in a convention setting, and participants in state assemblages often see candidates for various offices going in without a majority but winning several rounds into the voting after coalitions are built, will any serious reason exist for a mass candidate exodus to begin?

If not, the Democratic National Convention scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee could prove to be interesting, exciting, and possibly a long, bitter, and drawn out affair before the diverse delegates can finally agree as to who will be their presidential standard bearer.

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