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Monday, March 28, 2016

Delegate Math

With more than a week until the next contest, it is a good time to see where all of the candidates stand and what possibilities exist to allow them to grab the nomination.


The Republican nominee needs 1237 delegates for a majority win on the first ballot.

Donald Trump currently has 739.  He needs 498 of the 944 still available (52.8%) to have a majority of the pledged delegates.

Ted Cruz currently has 465.  He needs 772 of 944 still available (81.8%) to have a majority of the pledged delegates.

John Kasich has 143.  He needs 1091 with only 944 still available (116%) meaning it is mathematically impossible for him to have a majority of pledged delegates at the convention.

Kasich's impossible path and Cruz's extremely improbable math means that both men only have a chance in an open convention, one where no candidate has an outright majority on the first ballot.  Even if they succeed in keeping Trump below the magic number of 1237, it is quite possible that Trump can pick up some of the unpledged delegates, or delegates from candidates who have dropped out of the race already.  Therefore, even if Trump is only close to 1237 in actual pledged delegates, he may win even on the first ballot.

The reality is that neither Cruz nor Kasich would have much of a chance in a brokered convention.  All those Trump delegates are unlikely to support either of them, on the second or 200th ballot.  There is too much bitterness and policy disagreement between them.  Even if they did somehow pull out the nomination, it is nearly impossible to see how they could get Trump supporters to turn out in the necessary numbers in the general to support the guy who stole the nomination from their candidate.

There is all sorts of speculation that the delegates could change the party rules at the opening of the convention to benefit a different candidate.  However, it is hard to imagine the Trump delegates, who will be a plurality, supporting any rules changes that hurt Trump's chances.  It is hard to see any realistic path toward a nominee other than Trump.

The fact that we are even having such discussions shows how much the Republican establishment hates or fears Trump as the nominee.  It is not just a fear of losing the White House.  It is the fact that Trump could create a tidal wave of opposition that sweeps Republican majorities out of both the House and Senate.  This year is six years after the Republican landslide that has resulted in 24 out of 34 Senate races held by Republican incumbents, many in swing states, up for reelection this year. These remain at risk, especially with a Presidential candidate who can spout all sorts of craziness that will turn off large portions of the electorate.  Trump could also taint the Republican brand to such a degree that a generation of voters will stay away, even in future elections.

Personally, I think these fears are overblown.  Voters can make a statement by voting Republican at the House and Senate levels, and against Trump for President.  I think many will do that.  The risk of many disaffected Republicans staying home exists with any of the three candidates getting the nomination.  The notion that this race could impact future ones is also overblown.  Anyone remember how badly Dukakis got crushed in 1988 and everyone said it would be 40 years before the Democrats could ever mount a credible shot at the White House?  Four years later, Bill Clinton successfully rebranded the Democrats and won.  Even a terrible loss this year will mean little 4 years from now.

Finally, there is some debate among the establishment of running a third party candidate.  This would, of course, hand the election to the Democrats.  Dividing the Republicans among Trump and another Republican would hopelessly divide them in almost every State, giving the Democrat a wide open win, just as Woodrow Wilson did in the highly Republican world of 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft divided Republicans.  Supporters of this strategy clearly fear a Trump presidency would do more to harm Republicans than a Democratic win this year.  They are looking for a way to kill off Trump's campaign at any cost.

Creating a third party candidate would be difficult at this point.  In many States, it is too late to get a candidate on the ballot.  Some are discussing a takeover of the Libertarian Party nomination, as they are already on the ballot in all 50 States.  This may be a possibility for Republicans who want to guarantee a Democratic win in November.


The Democrats are down to a rather simple two person race.  The nominee needs 2383 delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot.

Hillary Clinton has won 1243 pledged delegates, meaning she needs 1140 of the remaining 2049 (55.6%) in order to secure a majority in pledged delegates.   This is only counting pledged delegates though.  Clinton also has 469 superdelegates to who have promised to support her.  Superdelegates may change their votes at any time for any reason.  Clinton had a large number of promised superdelegates switch their votes to Obama in 2008.  If the election turns in a serious way, these superdelegates could jump ship.  That is why they are less secure than pledged delegates.  But if we assume that the 469 who have promised to back Hillary continue to do so, she would only need 671 of the remaining 2049 (32.7%) to secure the nomination.  That is a much easier path.

Bernie Sanders has won 975 pledged delegates, meaning he would need 1408 of the remaining 2049 delegates (68.8%) to win a pledged majority.  Add to that the paltry 29 superdelegates who have backed Sanders and he still needs 1379 of the remaining 2049 delegates (67.3%) to win.  That seems unlikely, but not as uphill as Cruz or Kasich face on the other side.  If Sanders started piling up such large numbers, it would be the result of some major shift in the campaign that might also cause a shift in superdelegates.  In other words, Sanders remains a long shot, but there are some unlikely but realistic ways to see how he gets to the nomination.

Going Forward

Despite the mathematical possibilities, the polls in the most of the upcoming races show Clinton and Trump winning most of the delegates in the remaining States.  Absent some game changing event, bot should have a majority of delegates by Convention time.  Given the deep fractures in the Republican party, I see the most realistic outcome being President Hillary Clinton.

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