The “First Four” And The Scramble
For Delegate Apportionment

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 11, 2019 — The YouGov international polling organization conducted four simultaneous surveys in the states whose electorates will cast presidential nominating ballots in February of next year, referred to in the college basketball tournament vernacular as “the First Four”. The quartet of states are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

Looking at the polls’ aggregate totals, it appears the contest is already gelling into a three-way race that could meld into a free-for-all should this particular YouGov polling trend translate into actual results.

All of the polling was conducted during the Aug. 28 – Sept. 4 period, and sampled between 492 (New Hampshire) and 785 (South Carolina) likely Democratic primary voters or caucus participants. All four polls found former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) occupying the first three positions, but in different orders.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg placed in the fourth and fifth positions in each entity, again not in the same order in all four states, yet neither reached double-digit percentages in any of the polls. Under this set of data, neither Harris nor Buttigieg would qualify for at-large delegates in any of the First Four states.

To reach the at-large delegate apportionment plateau, a candidate must receive 15 percent of the statewide vote. Candidates can also qualify for individual congressional district delegates, but those projections are not readily available from these polling results.

In Iowa, scheduled for caucus meetings on Feb. 3, Biden begins with a small lead according to the YouGov research. From the 682 individuals surveyed, the former vice president would score 29 percent, with Sanders closely following with 26 percent, and Warren posting 17 percent. Iowa has 41 delegates, and if the congressional district result followed the statewide percentage, Biden would receive 16 delegate votes, Sanders 15, and Warren 10.

Moving to New Hampshire, which will host the first-in-the-nation primary on Feb. 11, 2020, it is Sen. Warren who places first, but the result among the trio is a virtual three-way tie. Warren recorded 27 percent in the YouGov poll, with Biden getting 26 percent, and Sanders 25 percent. Again, assuming New Hampshire’s two congressional districts would vote in the same proportion as the state, each candidate would receive eight delegate votes, equally splitting the state’s 24-person delegation.

Next, the YouGov polling moves to Nevada, where 563 likely caucus participants were questioned. The Nevada caucuses are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Here, it is Sen. Sanders who captures first place with 29 percent followed closely by Biden’s 27 percent. Sen. Warren is further back with an 18 percent showing. This finish, again assuming the four congressional districts vote in the same proportion as the state, would yield 14 delegates for Sen. Sanders, 13 for Mr. Biden, and 9 for Sen. Warren.

South Carolina would go heavily to Biden and looks to be typical of where the former VP stands throughout the southern states. Here, YouGov finds the Biden support percentage at 43 percent, with Sanders recording 18 percent, and Warren registering 14 percent. We would assume that many also-ran candidates won’t be present when the candidates reach the Palmetto State meaning that Sen. Warren would likely get over the 15 percent minimum threshold necessary to secure delegate votes.

Under this statewide formula, and again accounting for the seven congressional districts within this domain, Biden would receive 30 delegate votes, Sen. Sanders’ 13, and Sen. Warren 11.

At this point, the candidates would be prepared for Super Tuesday, and the states voting between March 3 and March 17 will become critical in determining whether or not there will be a first-ballot victory.

From the aforementioned delegate projections, the three candidates would approximately stand as follows, again assuming the YouGov polling results are the actual numbers:

First Four Projected Delegate Count /YouGov Data:

Delegate Count Biden Sanders Warren
Projected: 67 50 38
% of Delegates: 43.2 32.3 24.5

A jumbled field such as this suggests a mad dash through Super Tuesday and beyond. If these numbers were accurate, a convention advancing to the second ballot in order for a candidate to surpass the 50 percent nomination threshold appears likely. In this example, Biden would probably have enough Super Delegate votes – they cannot vote on the first ballot but can on subsequent roll calls – to win the nomination on the second ballot.

There is little doubt, however, that these First Four states, though with cumulatively only 155 delegates from the 3,769 first-ballot delegates (just four percent of the aggregate total) will be significant in setting the tone for the remainder of the voting populace.

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