Category: Election 2016

Projections for Round Four of the Primaries

We have now reached the home stretch of both parties’ primaries.  Both parties have seen the fight for their nominations devour the weaker candidates, and there is finally a small enough number of remaining states that we can look at what’s left and project the final outcome.  For those who are new to the process, and who have not been following Spark!‘s coverage of the primaries, you may wish to see our previous posts on the Election 2016.  We began with a brief “Primer on the Primaries” (explaining the process in general), and then divided the events into three “rounds.”  Round One ran from the first primaries in February through “Super Tuesday,” March 1, 2016; Round Two ran from Super Tuesday through March 15; and Round Three from that point to the end of April.  As of April 29, 2016, there are just over six weeks before the final primaries are concluded.

As of today, Real Clear Politics shows the following results from the primaries already concluded (since they regularly edit their numbers, later visits to their site will reveal different results):

For the Republicans, Donald Trump is the front-runner, with 994 delegates. Ted Cruz has 566, and John Kasich has 153. The winning candidate at the Republican Convention in mid-July will need 1,237 of the 2,472 delegates available.  Trump at this point needs 41.4% of the remaining delegates to get there.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich has a viable path left to secure the nomination on the first ballot.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton remains the front-runner, with 2,165 delegates for the convention, while Bernie Sanders has 1,645.  The winning candidate at the Democratic Convention in late July will need 2,382 of the 4,763 delegates available.  Clinton needs but 17.5% of the remaining delegates to get there; while Sanders needs a whopping 82.6%.

Both parties also have some delegates allotted to candidates who have already dropped out.  Marco Rubio’s 171 delegates stand out most prominently, but there are also a handful of delegates for other candidates like Martin O’Malley and Jeb Bush.  The many state parties each have different rules for what delegates for dropped out candidates are expected to do at the convention.

Upcoming Events, and Projections for the Results:

May 3 (Tuesday) Indiana Open Primary for both parties.  Indiana will hand out 57 Republican delegates, and 83 Democratic delegates.  Trump has been leading Cruz by a small margin in Indiana, although Cruz has picked up points throughout the month of April.  For Republicans, Indiana is a “winner takes all” state (the Democrats do not use this practice at all, allotting proportional representation in all of their state and territorial parties), so Trump is the likely winner of all 57 Indiana delegates.  Clinton has been ahead of Sanders by only a few percentage points; so both are likely to come away with roughly half of the 83 delegates.  Spark! projects the delegates count to be: Clinton 43, Sanders 40.  Trump 57.

May 7 (Saturday)Guam Democrats will hold a Closed Caucus, allotting 7 delegates.  Polling data is not readily available, although the other two Pacific territories (Northern Marianas and American Samoa) each gave two thirds of their delegates to Clinton.  Our projections: Clinton 5, Sanders 2.

May 10 (Tuesday)Nebraska Republicans will hold a Closed Primary for their 36 delegates, allotted on a “winner takes all” basis.  No polling data is available; but Nebraska lies in a region that has generally preferred Cruz over Trump, so we project Cruz will take the 36 delegates.

Also on May 10, West Virginia will be holding semi-open primaries for both parties (independents can vote in either party; but party-registered voters may only vote in their registered party).  The state will allot 34 Republican delegates, and 29 Democrats.  All polling in West Virginia is relatively old (early March at the latest). While the very last Democratic poll had Clinton leading Sanders, most others showed a substantial Sanders advantage; and the demographics of the state also indicates it to be a potential Sanders victory.  Trump has held a significant advantage in all, similarly dated polls. We give Clinton 8, Sanders 21; and Trump 25, Cruz 8, and Kasich 1.

May 17 (Tuesday)Oregon Closed Primary for both parties, which will allot 28 Republican delegates and 61 Democrats.  In addition, Kentucky Democrats will hold a Closed Primary for their 55 delegates.  Trump holds a significant advantage in Oregon (with 43% among Oregon Republicans), although Cruz or even Kasich may get delegates out of the state as well.  In both Oregon and Kentucky, Clinton leads by narrow margins (41:38 in OR, 43:38 in KY).  For Oregon, we project Clinton 29, Sanders 32;  Trump 18, Cruz 7, Kasich 3. For Kentucky, Clinton gets 29, Sanders 26.

May 24 (Tuesday)Washington Republican Closed Primary, allotting 44 delegates on a “winner takes most” form of proportionate allotment, wherein at district levels each candidate can get all delegates from a victory with over 50%, and where each candidate must secure at least 20% to get any delegates from a district.  Washington presents an interesting contest for the Republicans, with no good polling data available.  However, Trump has generally outperformed Cruz in opinion polling of coastal states (and in actual primaries of the eastern coastal states).  On the other hand, Cruz got a narrow edge in Alaska’s delegation.  We give Trump 39, Cruz 5.

June 4 (Saturday)Virgin Islands Democratic Closed Caucus, for their 7 delegates.  No good polling data is available. We guess and give Clinton 4, Sanders 3.

June 5 (Sunday)Puerto Rico Democratic Open Primary, for their 60 delegates.  This delegation is even larger than 27 of the 50 state delegations; and is by far the largest of the non-state delegations.  While no polling data is available, the Latino population (and Clinton’s generally friendlier remarks about the island) suggest a likely Clinton advantage and victory.  Clinton 35, Sanders 25.

And Finally (cue the fanfare):  on June 7 (Tuesday), there will be a massive last battle in both parties for five states:  California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.  Also, the Democrats will hold a Caucus in North Dakota.  303 Republican delegates, and 694 Democrats, are going to be selected for the conventions by these battles.

California’s Closed Primary will allot 172 Republican delegates, and a mountainous 475 Democrats.  Trump has a clear lead for the “winner takes all” state, which should present a great victory for the Great Bloviator.  Clinton has held a small margin there over Sanders; and the chance for Bernie to pick up a “Yuge” array of delegates there may well reward his campaign’s decision to begin fighting for the state even before the last battle (on April 26) for the Old Colonies of the Northeast.  However, we give Clinton 255, Sanders 220; and Trump 172.

Montana’s Open Primary will send 27 Republican and 21 Democratic delegates to the conventions (the Republicans on a “winner takes all” basis).  The only polling available is useless, being over a year old.  However, regionally, the state’s neighbors have largely favored Cruz and Sanders.  Clinton 6, Sanders 15; Cruz 27.

New Jersey’s Primary (Open GOP, Closed Democratic) will decide 51 Republican delegates and a hefty 126 Democrats.  A Rutgers poll shows that a Trump victory in the “winner takes all state” is pretty much in the bag already (having over 50% of the state’s Republicans).  Clinton has a significant lead on Sanders (51:42), although Sanders is picking up steam.  Clinton 67, Sanders 59; Trump 51.

New Mexico’s Closed Primary for 24 Republicans and 34 Democratic delegates.  Polling data there is scarce, with the last being in February (with most of the initial clown car still in and hopeful).  Trump and Cruz were tied; but together they polled barely half of the votes.  New Mexico is the only state whose Republicans on June 7 will not be “winner takes all”; so it is possible all three candidates will get something out of it.  Clinton held a 47:33 advantage over Sanders back then; and its western and eastern neighbors have both favored Clinton.  New Mexico also is both a state of loyal Democrats, and a state with a large Hispanic population; both of which features also promise a likely victory for Clinton.  We give Clinton 20, Sanders 14.  Trump gets 11, Cruz 12, and Kasich 1.

South Dakota’s Primary (Closed GOP and Semi-Open Democratic) will allot 29 Republicans and 20 Democrats, with the Republicans on a “winner takes all” basis.  Although the state’s delegate counts are fairly low, the state promises an interesting battle.  Polling data is completely wanting there; and the state lies in a transition area between Trump’s area and Cruz’s area; and between Clinton’s area and Sanders’s area.  It could go any way.  Just for fun, we give Clinton 8, Sanders 12; and Cruz 29.

And let us not forget the Democrats’ North Dakota Open Caucus for their 18 delegates, in which we guess Clinton 4, Sanders 14.

After June 7, the Republicans will be done; but there will still be one more Democratic event:  on July 14 (Tuesday), the Democrats will hold a Closed Primary for the 20 delegates representing the District of Columbia, to wrap up the 2016 primaries season once and for all.  Washington, DC is another place devoid of good polling; but it is located in an area friendly to Clinton, and with a large African-American population, the district is likely to support her pretty prominently.  Clinton 16, Sanders 4.

Some totals for those not doing the counting (you’re welcome, by the way):  Before June 7, the Republicans will be fighting over some 171 delegates, and the Democrats for 302 (not including super-delegates).  On June 7, the Republicans will struggle over another 303 delegates, while (including DC’s June 14 primary) the Democrats will battle for some 714.  In total, these will add some 474 Republican delegates and 1,016 Democratic delegates.

Our projections give Donald Trump 139 delegates before 6/7; and 234 on 6/7, for a Round 4 total of 373, and a final total of 1,367, comfortably (for him, at least) over the 1,237 needed to get the nomination without a second-ballot floor fight.  Cruz should get 56 delegates before 6/7; and 68 on the 7th, for a Round total of 124, and a final total of 690.  Kasich is allotted an optimistic 4 more delegates before 6/7, and another one on the seventh, for a Round total of 5 and a final total of 158.  Trump should be the presumptive nominee going into the Cleveland Convention in July, with room to spare.

These projections also give Hillary Clinton 154 delegates before 6/7; and 376 on/after, for a Round 4 total of 530.  This would  bring her total to 2,695, significantly over the 2,382 needed to win the nomination on the first ballot.  Bernie Sanders gets 149 delegates before 6/7; and 338 on and after, bringing his Round 4 earnings to 487, and his final total to 1,844.  These numbers do not include another 153 super-delegates who have yet to cast their support; but who are also likely to be strongly pro-Clinton.  Clinton should be the presumptive nominee going into the Philadelphia Convention in July, also with room to spare.

Okay, but what is REALLY going to happen?

Obviously, these projections are seeded with presumptions; and of course the first point at which candidates (and voters) may make events happen differently is at the point of these various presumptions.  Two presumptions needing closer consideration in particular:  Trump’s performance in Indiana and in Washington.  The former is a “winner takes all” state; so as long as he wins there, he gets the full tally.  But what if Cruz bests him?  That takes all 57 votes away from Trump, and turns them over to Cruz.  Cruz’s path to the nomination at the first ballot is closed; but he (and the Republican electorate) can still stop a Trump first-ballot victory.  Washington is not “winner takes all”; but it gives strong benefits to the leading candidate at the expense of the weaker one(s).  We presumed a massive delegate advantage to Trump: 39:5.  But Cruz could, perhaps, show a strong performance there (the polling data is lacking; so we presumed a “coastal states” advantage for Trump that may not happen).  Those are the two places where our projections gave Trump a major delegates win, and where polling is questionable or lacking.  Elsewhere, Cruz could certainly outperform our expectations; but it would matter less (or, as in California and New Jersey, there is little hope of beating those expectations).

Another presumption is one that some Republicans have been mulling over: that the 1,237 delegates target is the ticket to a first-ballot nomination.  There has been talk over the internet about the RNC putting through a pre-convention rules change by which the “bound” delegates become unbound (the delegates themselves would have to approve of the change, so the question is, could enough Trump delegates want or be convinced to abandon their support for their putative candidate, vote through the rules change, and “unbind” themselves?).  After all Sanders’s talk about a “political revolution,” it seems the RNC is considering throwing their own in-party political revolution to keep the presumptive nominee from getting his prize.  There are also, of course, a number of delegates assigned to candidates no longer running (Rubio, Bush, Carson, etc.); and those delegates might end up supporting Cruz (or some new candidate).  However, by themselves, they are far too few, and Cruz is far too behind, for that strategy to get him even close to the nomination.

Yet another presumption has been one that Bernie Sanders himself has been trying to deflate, that the Democratic super-delegates are (as they have been so far) going to overwhelmingly support Clinton at the convention.  Sanders has been consistently arguing that super-delegates first of all should, and second of all will decide their support based on the pledged delegates vote.  The problem with that argument is that it ignores the fact that, momentum and excitement notwithstanding, Clinton has been consistently winning the pledged delegates fight, and is not simply depending on the super-delegates to hand her an unearned victory.  As of this writing, Clinton has 1,645 to Sanders’s 1,318 pledged delegates; and our projections bring those totals to 2,174 and 1,805.  Super-delegates are unlikely to recuse themselves en masse from voting (if they did, there would indeed be a contested convention, with no candidate getting to the 2,382 threshold for the first ballot).  The super-delegates abiding by Sanders’s argument and watching the vote would support the winner for the pledged delegates, and that is almost unquestionably Clinton.  Looking at our numbers (and the presumptions behind them), the reader will note that in almost no state won by Clinton did Spark! assign to Clinton an overwhelming majority of the delegates, but gave Sanders fair portions of pretty much every state.  California will be the biggest fight; but both candidates are strong there, and even if our numbers and the called winner (Clinton) are wrong, Clinton will still take to the convention delegate numbers similar to those projected.  Sanders will find it almost impossible to beat our projection of a pledged delegate margin by anything close to the 370 or so we project.

So Sanders’s “political revolution” depends on the party machinery abandoning not only their traditional role, but also the candidate who has won the most pledged delegates, for a candidate with nothing to offer in terms of reasons for doing any of these (other than his argument – justified by opinion polling – that he is shown to beat Trump in a general election by a greater margin than is Clinton).  Then, if the super-delegates do make such a decision, the “political revolution” is more of a coup – with the establishment denying the winning candidate the nomination and handing it to the candidate who had won fewer votes.  Exactly the thing Sanders is complaining about as a key to get Clinton nominated, is the only possibility that Sanders himself has at this point for getting nominated.

At any rate, presumptions notwithstanding, Spark! projects that in November, the general election will be one decided between the Democratic ticket headed by Hillary Clinton, and the Republican ticket headed by Donald Trump.  We will likely revisit these expectations and projections as we get closer to that last big battle on June 7.

Headline image from, via The Yale Herald.


The 2016 Primaries, Round Three

Now that we are past Semi-Super Tuesday (March 15, that is; not its official designation, of course), it is time again to look ahead to the next round of the primaries, and to consider the greater context into which the primaries are playing out.  First of all, if you are new to this process, and have not read Spark!‘s earlier posts on the subject, you can see all of our blogs on the primaries (three so far) by going to the Elections 2016 Category.  We have covered thus far the process in general (in “Primer on the Primaries“); the “First Round of the Primaries” (covering the beginning of the primaries, up through Super Tuesday, March 1); and the “Second Round of the Primaries” (from late February, through March 15).

The primaries will continue into June, and of course are intended to select delegates for both parties’ conventions in July (the Republicans in Cleveland, July 18-21; and the Democrats in Philadelphia, July 25-28).  For the purpose of this blog, we are designating “Round Three” as taking us through the end of April.  May and June will constitute at least “Round Four;” and possibly more if needed to cover events as we move forward.

As of this writing (March 18), there are still some delegates yet to be apportioned from states that have voted, but which have not completed counting the votes.  Delegate counts are still somewhat unofficial, and are projections based on reports from states and voting districts.  As a result of confusion between the various state parties’ rules and other irregularities, various reporting agencies have minor differences in their delegate counts.  Real Clear Politics‘ projections of March 18 allot the following:

Democratic Race: 2,382 delegates needed to win [out of 4,763]

Hillary Clinton: 1,614 delegates (needs 33.5% of remaining delegates to win)

Bernie Sanders:  856 delegates (needs 66.6% of remaining delegates to win)

Republican Race: 1,237 delegates needed to win [out of 2,472]

Donald Trump:  673 delegates (needs 52.5% of remaining delegates to win)

Ted Cruz:  413  delegates (needs 76.7% of remaining delegates to win)

John Kasich:  143  delegates (needs more delegates to win than are uncommitted)

Marco Rubio:  169 delegates, and out.

Before moving forward, we can see, then that both Democratic candidates still have a viable path to the nomination; but that Clinton’s path is a far easier one than is Sanders’s.  On the Republican side, no candidate has yet a decisive edge for the first ballot in July.  Trump is by far the closest; but he still needs a greater percentage of the remaining delegates than he has shown himself able to secure thus far.  There is good news and bad news ahead for the Trump campaign.  The good news for Trump (and the bad news for the GOP and for the rest of the nation) is that the “winner takes all” states have now started voting.  In those states, Trump only needs to secure a plurality to get all of their delegates; and he has shown himself clearly able to accomplish that.  The bad news for Trump (and the good news for the rest of us) is that the Republicans are becoming increasingly hostile to him, and may manage to pull out enough key victories in states where Trump is weak to keep him from achieving the delegates threshold for the first ballot at the convention.  From there, things get a lot more interesting – and Trump may yet manage to secure a victory in Cleveland, so a brokered convention is not necessarily a Trump defeat.

None of the other Republican candidates has a viable path to first-ballot nomination.  Cruz needs an impossibly high percentage (over 76%) of the remaining delegates, and has nowhere been able to come anywhere close to such a victory, let alone achieving that nationally.  He would basically have to win many major winner-takes-all states to achieve that.  John Kasich, earning recently his first state victory in his home state of Ohio (a “winner takes all” state giving him the entire Ohio delegation), has so few delegates to his name that even if he were to win every single remaining delegate at this point – a 100% victory in every state, requiring nothing short of divine intervention – he would still come in 18 delegates short of a first-ballot win.  Marco Rubio, of course, has suspended his campaign, although his ghost may resurrect at the convention for second or subsequent ballots.

The next round of primary events include:

Thursday, March 10: Virgin Islands (R).  The caucus has already taken place; but no results have been announced yet.  9 Republican delegates will be apportioned, on a winner-takes-all basis.

Tuesday, March 22: Arizona and Utah will both hold dual-party events (primaries in AZ, and caucuses in UT).  The Republicans in American Samoa will hold an open convention; and the Democrats in Idaho will caucus.

Arizona is a winner-takes-all state for the Republicans.  Polls on Tuesday (March 15) showed Trump leading Cruz, 31% to 19%; but there were also 30% undecided respondents among the Republicans.  Clinton had a decisive edge on Sanders, 50% to 24; but that also puts 26% of Arizona Democrats into the undecided category and up for play.  Arizona could be a huge Clinton win; or a marginal Sanders victory.  Arizona has 58 Republican delegates to offer; and 75 Democratic delegates (plus ten super-delegates).

Utah has not been polled recently; but back in February both Cruz and Rubio had slight edges over Trump.  Bush, Carson, and Fiorina were still in play back then; and while Bush voters are unlikely to reach for Trump, Carson voters are more likely.  With Rubio gone, it may be easy to suggest that his voters support Cruz; but the two are widely different species of the Republican order, and Rubio supporters may go for Kasich or even Trump instead.  Some 42% of February’s respondents supported candidates no longer running; and so Utah has the chance to offer some nasty surprises.  February polls also showed Clinton leading Sanders 50% to 44 (with Sanders up a few points from January); and Sanders’s viability may well have been strengthened by his recent performance, so Utah is going to be a big fight for the Democrats as well.  Utah has 40 Republican delegates, 33 Democratic delegates, and 4 Democratic super-delegates.

Idaho’s caucus is currently presumed to be a modest Sanders win, giving both candidates roughly half of its 23 delegates.  Idaho and the other primaries and caucuses that day will give the Republican candidates a total of 107 more delegates; and the Democrats a total of 131 more, not including 18 super-delegates.

Saturday, March 26:  Democratic caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state.  Polling on these states is meager at best, and not up to date.  Together, they will allot to the candidates some 142 delegates, and 30 super-delegates.

April 1-3:  Republican state convention in North Dakota, which will nominate delegates to the July convention in Cleveland.  28 Republican delegates will ultimately be sent to Cleveland from North Dakota.

Tuesday, April 5Wisconsin open primary for both parties.  Wisconsin has no recent polling, but Trump held a significant advantage in February, when the field had more players.  Although the “middle states” have been forming a strong Cruz bastion, it seems unlikely that Trump’s advantage will have lessened; and it is a winner-takes-all state offering Trump (or whichever Republican wins it) all of its 42 delegates.  On the blue side, Clinton and Sanders were running neck and neck at the beginning of the year; so its 86 Democratic delegates make it a significant battleground state.

Saturday, April 9: Wyoming‘s Democratic caucus for its 14 delegates. Following this caucus, from April 14 through the 16th, Wyoming Republicans will hold a state convention to select the 15 remaining delegates selected by the party (there was a caucus on March 12; but it only had 11 delegates selected by that process). Three more Republican delegates from the state are super-delegates, as every Republican state party is allotted three such slots.  Polling data on Wyoming is lacking; but Ted Cruz blasted Rubio and Trump out of the water there last Saturday, taking 9 of the 11 selected delegates.

Tuesday, April 19: New York‘s closed primary for both parties.  The most recent polls showed Clinton with a whopping advantage (71% to Sanders’s 23) for its massive allotment of 247 Democratic delegates; however previous polls showed far less of an advantage (55% to 34 at the end of February), so either the recent Emerson poll is skewed, or Clinton’s success on March 12 has helped to shift New York more substantially in her favor.  Trump has a similar advantage there by the same polling firm (64% to Cruz’s 12; Kasich has a mere 1%), but previous polls by other firms had his numbers in the mid-40s.  The Republican party allots New York’s delegates as “winner takes most”; so as long as he has the plurality, he gets the bulk of delegates, but Cruz could still come out with delegates.  The trick to New York, however, is that it also has a 20% inclusion threshold; only candidates gaining at least 20% of district votes get any delegates from them.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich have been approaching those numbers in New York, so it is looking like an almost automatic Trump victory.  Cruz will likely rue the day he criticized “New York values” on April 19.

Tuesday, April 26: “Mini-mini-Super Tuesday” (I presume that only I am calling it that). Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island will all hold dual-party closed primaries, a huge battle for the Old Colonies.  Some 172 Republican delegates and 384 Democratic delegates are up for grabs.  While there is useful polling data  for Maryland and Pennsylvania, the other three states have not been adequately polled since November, 2015 (when almost all of the original 17 Republican candidates were still running).  A lot of voters have shifted to Sanders from Democratic undecided respondents since then, so only relatively recent polls are useful.  However, the entire region has been continually found to be more favorable to Trump than to other Republicans; and is largely more favorable to Clinton.  Delaware and Maryland have winner-takes-all Republican primaries; and Connecticut has (like New York) a 20% inclusion threshold as well as a 50% winner-takes-all threshold, so it may be a full Trump victory as well.

Total delegates, Round Three:  444 Republicans; and 1,004 Democrats (plus 184 super-delegates to be decided separately).

Based on the polling data available, Spark! projects the following for Round Three:

Hillary Clinton will gain another 520 delegates, giving her 2,134.  At that point, Clinton will need only 18.3% of the remaining uncommitted delegates to win the nomination.

Bernie Sanders will gain 417 delegates, giving him 1,273.  He would then need 82% of the remaining uncommitted delegates to win the nomination.  If our projections come anywhere close to the events, then by the end of Round Three, while Sanders will have come even closer to Clinton’s numbers, Clinton will have achieved enough superiority to take the nomination at the first ballot of the convention with ease.

In the meantime, Donald Trump will gain another 346 delegates, for a total of 1,019.  He would need to get 34.1% of the remaining delegates to win the first ballot in July.

Ted Cruz will gain 71 delegates, bringing his total to 484.  He would need more additional delegates than are available; and therefore could not get a first-ballot nomination.

John Kasich will get another 18 delegates, bringing him up to 161.  He already has no chance for a first-ballot nomination.

The key states to watch during this process are Arizona (for both parties), Washington (for the Democrats), Wisconsin (for both parties), and New York (for both parties).  Collectively, the statistically uninformative Old Colonies battling it out on April 26 will also host a major contest for substantial delegates and for new numbers.

The Second Round of the Primaries

The opening round of the primaries is over, and the pace of the primaries process is about to accelerate dramatically.  The various candidates each have their own strengths going into this next round, from now through March 15 (there are, of course, primaries and caucuses going on throughout March, April, May, in into early June; but the significance of March 15 makes it a good point at which to stop and begin the next phase).

The story thus far:  The primaries have begun with the Iowa Caucus (on February 1), the New Hampshire Primary (on February 9), two separate Nevada caucuses (the Democratic caucus on February 20 and the Republican caucus on February 23), and the Republican South Carolina Primary (on February 20).  Here’s where the two parties’ separate battles for their nominations are looking so for:

Democratic Campaigns:

In terms of basic delegate counts, the Democratic candidates have won:

Hillary Clinton: 52

Bernie Sanders: 51.

While the two Democrats are almost tied, the Democratic Convention also assigns a significant number of votes to so-called “superdelegates” (key party members and legislators, designated beforehand by the Democratic National Committee).  Thus far, Clinton has 451 likely superdelegate votes (based on endorsements), while Sanders has only 19.  A convention vote based only on states voting thus far, plus the superdelegate endorsements, would hand an overwhelming victory to Clinton, 504-70.  However, these numbers also represent only 15% of the total delegates and superdelegates count in Philadelphia in July.  The next round (up to March 15) will finally put the Democrats at the 50% mark for voted delegates.

The last Democratic primary before Super Tuesday is in South Carolina (an open event, in which both independents and Republicans can also vote).  Current polling among likely Democratic voters in South Carolina shows 57% supporting Clinton and 33% Sanders (with the rest still mulling things over).  If those numbers stay true, Clinton should go into Super Tuesday with 82 or so delegates and 533 convention votes total, to Sanders’s 69 or so delegates and 88 convention votes total.  While Clinton’s advantage is (to borrow a favorite Sanders word) huge, Super Tuesday’s 860 delegates could potentially seal the deal for Clinton (as if those numbers did not seem to do so already).  The question is how many of those delegates could Sanders get.

A quick look back at the Public Policy Polling (PPP) tracking poll released earlier this month (which matched initial voting preferences to respondents’ racial identity), combined with the racial composition of South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states (and the proportionate delegates count from those states) demonstrates that of the 911 delegates to be produced from these collective states, at least 500 should go to Clinton, and at least 278 should go to Sanders.  The battle is for the remaining 133 delegates (many responding to the poll were still uncertain for whom they were voting).  Together with the superdelegates, but not including those 133 “undecided” delegates, Clinton still has a massive advantage, 1,004 to Sanders’s 348.  Even if Sanders gets all of those 133 extra delegates, that only brings him to 481, still less than half of Clinton’s take.  To put a dent in Clinton’s advantage and keep himself alive into the convention, Sanders therefore has to exceed expectations founded upon polls like the PPP tracking poll, and convince already pro-Clinton as well as undecided Democrats to vote for him.  With only a week left to do so before Super Tuesday, the Sanders campaign clearly has its work cut out for it.

Republican Campaigns:

Donald Trump has exceeded the expectations of everyone (except himself, and his own trumpenproletariat), and also exceeded the simplistic expectations implied by previous polls.  He now stands as the powerhouse of a newly re-organizing (or disintegrating) Republican Party.  He has a significant majority of delegates thus far (albeit from only four not very large states; so there is ample time for some yet-to-be-imagined counter-strategy by other Republicans to put him in his place).  As of last night (the Nevada Republican Caucus), the current convention delegate counts among the five remaining contenders are:

Donald Trump: 81

Ted Cruz:  17

Marco Rubio: 17

John Kasich:  6

Ben Carson:  4

There are also 8 delegates unaccounted for from states already voted (7 bound to candidates who have dropped out; and one Nevada delegate left to be determined as polls are still being counted).  Trump has a plurality of his party’s popular vote, winning not quite one third (31.9%) of the Republican popular vote.  This first phase of the primaries diminished the largest ever number of contenders for any American primary (17 candidates to start with) to the five current hopefuls.  For at least two of the remaining candidates (John Kasich and Ben Carson), the state primary and caucus rules in many of the state Republican parties doom them to irrelevance.  Only fifteen of the 52 remaining primaries and caucuses have no inclusion thresholds (which mandate some specific minimum performance level in order to gain any delegates); and most inclusion thresholds effectively mean that Kasich and Carson will get few delegates even from states that use proportionate delegation.  Realistically, the three reasonable contenders for the nomination are Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Despite showing both in opinion polls and in the popular vote thus far that barely a third of Republicans can get behind Donald Trump, the jobs-to-China billionaire has an advantage in that a number of states (including the key states of California, Florida, and Ohio) assign delegates on a winner-takes-all system (with a mere plurality as the qualifying measure of victory).  Trump needs only to do what he has been doing – beating Cruz and the rest for the greatest number of votes – to win all of those states’ delegates (a total of 744 delegates).  Add those (and the delegates from other winner-takes-all states) to the fact that thus far he has come in first in all of the states voting since Iowa (where he took only one delegate less than the winner, Ted Cruz); and Trump has a shot at going into the Cleveland convention with a majority of delegates.  The prediction of a brokered convention may not turn out, and Trump may well get the nomination on the first ballot.

In the meantime, while Ted Cruz started from a polling advantage over all other Republicans with the exception of Trump, Marco Rubio has come from behind and tied him for second place.  Rubio’s campaign has achieved that underdog campaign dream, the “big mo” (for momentum).  Although on January 7, Cruz topped the polls at 31.8% of Republican respondents (beating Trump’s 27.8 and Rubio’s third-place 11.3), the evidence suggests that as other candidates drop out, Rubio is attracting their votes and getting delegates.  The significance of Rubio’s race goes far beyond the mere triviality of the second-place holder; and Rubio’s accelerating campaign will have some advantages over both Trump’s and Cruz’s in the days ahead.

Thus far, with each state’s primary or caucus the sole event of the day, and with numerous days between these events to prepare for them, Trump has used a combination of campaign strategy and his cult-of-personality approach to public appearances to defeat traditional conservatives like Bush and Tea Party conservatives like Cruz.  Trump has carpet-bombed states with his own form, and with hats and T-shirts (made, of course, in China); while Cruz and the others have spent money on phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, and other direct vote-getting operations.  Trump’s minimalist strategy has worked, in the environment of the first round, an environment that allows candidates time to breathe and to move resources (themselves most especially) to the places where they most need them.  The next round, however, will have an entirely different environment.

The Next Round:

The next sequence of primary events (from now through March 15) are as follows:

February 27 (Saturday):  South Carolina’s Democratic Primary (an open event in which both independents and Republicans can vote as well), apportioning 51 more delegates.

March 1: Super Tuesday.  The largest single electoral event of the primaries season.  10 states will have primaries or caucuses for both parties simultaneously (AL, AR, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, and VA); plus 6 more single-party primaries and caucuses (American Samoa D, Alaska R, Colorado D, Democrats abroad, North Dakota R, Wyoming R).  652 Republican delegates, and 860 Democratic delegates, will be apportioned by these events.

March 5 (Saturday):  Louisiana and Kansas have closed primaries and caucuses for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold closed caucuses in Kentucky and Maine; while the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Nebraska.  155 Republican delegates, and 113 Democratic delegates will be apportioned by these events.

March 6 (Sunday):  The Republicans hold an open primary in Puerto Rico to apportion 23 delegates; and the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Maine for 25 delegates.

March 8 (Tuesday):  Michigan and Mississippi both hold open primaries for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold a closed caucus in Hawaii and a closed primary in Idaho.  140 Republican delegates, and 184 Democratic delegates are apportioned.

March 12 (Saturday):  Republican closed events in Guam (a territorial convention) and the District of Columbia (a caucus), for 28 delegates.

March 15 (Mini-Super Tuesday):  The second largest electoral event of the primaries season.  Five states hold simultaneous primaries for both parties: FL, IL, MO, NC, and OH.  Also, the Republicans of the Northern Mariana Islands out there in the Pacific get to throw their two cents (and nine delegates) in.  Some 367 Republican delegates, and 697 Democratic delegates, are up for grabs.  By the end of the day, 1,535 of the 2,472 Republican delegates (62%) will have been apportioned.  Also, some 1,889 of the 3,782 (50%) voted Democratic delegates will have been apportioned.  Both parties should have a pretty good idea of how the candidates will be looking, although for the stronger candidates the game will be far from over.

The two largest electoral battle days of the primaries season are March 1 and March 15.  These days will challenge all campaigns alike; the “establishment” candidates like Clinton and Rubio, and the “insurgent” campaigns of Sanders and Trump.  Unlike the first round of primaries, which allow campaigns long preparation times to saturate each state with public appearances and local campaign operations, and where each campaign can focus squarely upon the only state coming up next, putting all their chips on one square, the political meeting engagements of March require more actual strategy.  Campaigns have three principal resources to divide between the multiple states up for battle:  the candidates themselves (a much more limited resource, especially in March), campaign finances, and supporting endorsements (politicians and celebrities to deliver speeches in support of or in place of the candidates themselves).  Campaigns have to decide how to measure out these resources, particularly the first one.

In Trump’s case, that first resource (Trump himself) is even more significant, because it is almost all that he has.  He actually has far less cash on hand, and almost no significant fund-raising system, than the other candidates; and his money has largely been spent on “swag” (hats and T-shirts) rather than on communication and vote-getting (phone banks, canvassing, etc.).  He also has virtually no endorsements of significance, outside of popular culture icons like Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin (McCain’s Folly from Seward’s Folly).  Super Tuesday will be a test of his ability to advertise himself nationally, and a test of his campaign’s already established support in those states.  In the meantime, Cruz and Rubio have larger actual organizations, and have much more money and public supporters of significance.  They can use these resources to blanket Super Tuesday and March 15 states with personal vote-getting, and to whittle down Trump’s apparent but not overwhelming advantage.  One disadvantage that these larger and better-organized campaigns face, however, is voters’ flexibility.  Most Republican candidates’ supporters show a far greater willingness to consider other candidates than do Trump’s.  With Trump’s supporters dug in, how much can the large-scale maneuver warfare of the Cruz and Rubio campaigns achieve?

Rubio has an additional advantage of “likeability” with respect to Cruz and Trump (both of whom are detested by many establishment Republicans), as well as the “big mo” (for the moment, at least).  Rubio and Cruz represent, to some, different names for the same candidate (the “token Latino” to attract ethnic votes, and established alternatives to Trump’s insurgency); but Rubio’s campaign platform is more moderate in scope than Cruz’s plan to shut down most of the federal government.  Rubio has more overall “electability,” measured by traditional standards – which themselves, in 2016, are coming increasingly into question and being discarded one after another.  Were this not 2016, Rubio would be the GOP’s dream candidate.  But the game is changing, and the measures for victory are changing with it.

On the Democratic front, Sanders, too, has exceeded expectations, particularly in groups which were most favorable to Clinton (women, Latinos, and African-Americans).  While those latter three groups still favor Clinton, Sanders has whittled down her advantage.  But as with Trump, Sanders has enjoyed the ease of the first round to gain points, and now faces the tough battles of March.  Clinton has developed her organization throughout the country, building support and working to disarm the “Clintonphobia” that the Republicans and Sanders have worked hard to reinforce.  The question of March will be the same for Sanders as for Trump: can the insurgencies fight a ground battle on numerous fronts simultaneously, against established campaign machinery backed by the party establishments?

Image from I Agree to See; via Google Image Search.

The First Round of the Primaries

With all pundits’ attention riveted to the Iowa Caucus, the first real electoral event in the 2016 election cycle, it is worthwhile to step back and peruse what in vague terms the first month of the primaries and caucuses is going to involve.  For more information on the general process involved, check out Spark!‘s Primer on the Primaries.  Note that with one exception, all of the events below allot delegates by proportionate representation, so multiple candidates can (and will) come out of them with delegates to the conventions.

Timeline of events for the first month (Feb 1 – March 1):

Monday, Feb 1: Iowa Caucus (both parties)
Tuesday, Feb 9: New Hampshire Primary (both parties)
Saturday, Feb 20: Nevada Democratic Caucus (closed to GOP)
– also, South Carolina Republican Primary (open to all voters; and “winner takes all”)
Tuesday, Feb 23: Nevada Republican Caucus (closed to Democrats)
Saturday, Feb 27: South Carolina Democratic Primary (open)

Then (wait for it): Tuesday, March 1, Super Tuesday: 10 states will have primaries or caucuses for both parties simultaneously (AL, AR, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, and VA); plus 6 more single-party primaries and caucuses (American Samoa D, Alaska R, Colorado D, Democrats abroad, North Dakota R, Wyoming R).

More events obviously will happen in March after Super Tuesday.  We have another article describing the second round of primaries (up through March 15, and including further discussion of Super Tuesday).  Spark! will bring you further updates as we get closer.

While Iowa is an exciting event for politicians, pundits, and anyone following electoral politics, it is nothing more than the symbolic beginning of the election cycle.  Only three candidates have ever gone from winning their party’s Iowa caucus to gaining the presidency in the same year:  Jimmy Carter in 1976 (who only had 27% of the Iowa Democrats in 1976; there were 37% “uncommitted” that year), George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008.  Many candidates have emerged from Iowa in strength and were never heard from again; whereas the opposite has also been common. Bill Clinton, for example, seized a massive 2.8% of the Iowa Democratic Caucus in 1992 (losing overwhelmingly to Tom Harkin’s 76%; remember him? Yep, thought so).  Clinton went on to win both the nomination and the presidency.  Iowa is therefore not a predictable indicator of who will win in the end.

However, as the first electoral event, Iowa provides the opportunity and time for candidates to prepare offices, staffs, and support; and to get their message out.  It is a battle for a strong “out of the gate” position in the horse race to the nomination.  The results of Iowa are merely the bell clang of that race.  After Iowa, candidates have relatively short periods of time in which to prepare for state primaries and caucuses; and then Super Tuesday comes along, and the campaigns have to battle it out in multiple states simultaneously.  On Super Tuesday, they triage their resources as best they can, to win those states considered to be both in contest and winnable (as well as losable).  After Iowa, there is little chance for candidates and campaigns to take a breath.  Ultimately, therefore, what Iowa represents is not so much the strongest candidates or campaigns, or the ultimate likely victors; but rather just the beginning of the real test for how the candidates have prepared for the four month slug-fest of the primaries phase of the nomination process.

As you prepare for and then watch the Iowa caucus and its results, remember the British wartime advice:  Keep Calm, and Carry On.  This is just step one, of a long and complex process.

Headline image via Google Image Search

A Primer on the Primaries

With the 2016 election year almost upon us, it is time to review the election process that is about to unfold.  The three major political events of the 2016 election process will be:  the primaries (from February to June); the party conventions (in July), and the general election (in November).  The first two events (primaries and conventions) are party events, with Democratic and Republican party events taking place more or less separately; while the general election will of course be a contest between and involving both parties (and possibly smaller, “third” parties).

The primary process begins on February 1, and actually includes both party caucuses and party primaries, two different forms of decision-making.  Each state’s party engages in only one of the two types, for the purpose of selecting delegates to the conventions (each of whom will then, in turn, support one of the party’s candidates for the party’s nomination for president).  Caucuses are larger, more involved and complex activities than are primaries, and they typically include informal meetings, “town halls,” and other events, as well as formal party votes.  Because of the greater demand on time for participants, caucuses tend to involve smaller numbers of voters, and are therefore oriented more toward party activists and politicians.  Primaries, on the other hand, are generally just basic elections (in regular polling places); the voters come, vote, and leave, and they therefore also turn out in greater numbers than they do for caucuses.  Some states have “open” or “mixed” primaries or caucuses, that allow people to get involved regardless of their party registration status; while others have “closed” primaries or caucuses, in which voters may only participate in party activities if they are registered with that party.  Whichever system a particular state and its parties use, the primaries and caucuses will select delegates (and the delegates’ support to specific candidates) to the party conventions in July.

The two parties use this system slightly differently in allotting delegations and support to the candidates.  The Republican Party employs a more uniform system in assigning numbers of delegates to the states based on their electoral weight.  The Democrats, on the other hand, combine electoral weight with each state’s proportionate support to previous presidential candidates (in past general elections).  Those states that voted more heavily for the Democratic candidates get a greater delegation than those with the same electoral weight but which saw weaker Democratic votes in the previous general election.  In other words, states with strong Democratic parties get proportionally more weight at the conventions than do those with weaker Democratic parties.  Republicans and Democrats also differ in handing state delegations’ support over to the candidates.  Republicans use a combination of “winner takes all” in some states, and proportionate representation in others (so some states can support only a single Republican candidate; while others can support multiple candidates).  The Democrats more uniformly use only proportionate representation; each Democratic state delegation can in theory support multiple candidates.

A greater difference between the parties during the primary season is the Democratic Party’s use of “superdelegates,” a practice used to a much lesser extent by the Republican Party.  The Democratic National Committee (DNC) allots roughly one sixth of the delegates’ voting power at the convention to various individuals of importance within the party.  The superdelegates (selected by the DNC) include certain DNC members themselves; former presidents and vice-presidents; congressional leaders; and certain US Senators, US Congressmen, and state governors.  There are currently (for 2016) over 700 of them.  Unofficially, almost half of them (329) have already endorsed Hillary Clinton, and are therefore expected to vote for her at the convention; while only a handful support either Bernie Sanders (who has 7 endorsements) or Martin O’Malley (with only 3).  Although the entire primary process still lies yet before us, Clinton is already poised to jump out of the gate with an overwhelming advantage.

The first state caucus, on February 1, will be in Iowa, which since 1972 has kicked off every presidential election primary season.  Then, on February 9, New Hampshire will hold the first state primary, also considered a traditional beginning to each primary season.  Later in February, the Nevada state parties will caucus, and then the South Carolina voters will get to vote in their primary.  These first primaries and caucuses can play havoc with campaigns, until then only graded by public telephone polling which tends to record rather different results than do actual electoral events.  Strong campaigns, especially by insurgent candidates (like Trump and Sanders), can deflate rapidly, and be replaced by mainstream candidates (like Bush and Clinton), who are generally stronger in caucuses than in primaries (as the former are more based on career party activists and politicians), and who do much better in electoral events than in public opinion polling.

Then, on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, each party will hold caucuses and primaries in over ten states simultaneously, the largest electoral event of the primary season.  Until that day, called “Super Tuesday,” each state gets its primary or caucus to itself; and candidates usually visit each state during these vital first primaries and caucuses, talk to their voters, and speak on issues of particular importance to the voters of each of those states.  On Super Tuesday, candidates have to make priorities; usually “triaging” the states so that their limited time can be used to reap the greatest rewards.  Candidates may ignore states whose decision is not likely to change if they stay away, and focus on those states where they believe they can make a difference and change the voters’ minds.  They typically also spend more time in states with the most delegates (Texas and Georgia, in particular, among those states voting on Super Tuesday).

Two weeks later, on March 15, after numerous additional primaries and caucuses, comes a smaller version of Super Tuesday with five states voting at the same time, including the typically vital battleground states of Florida and Ohio (which usually see heavy campaign activity).  March 15 is  also a key date because with the states voting on that date, those states which have already voted have collectively, in both parties, over half of the weight of delegates to the conventions; and a good picture may finally have developed of which candidates look strong for the finish, and which candidates no longer have much hope for victory.  As weaker candidates drop out, their resources (remaining campaign funds, activists, and supporters) may be turned over to specific remaining candidates, endorsed by candidates suspending their campaign operations.

The primary process continues until June 7 or so (although some lesser primaries, like the Democratic primary in the District of Columbia, may take place after this date).  On June 7, the last five states (the massive state of California, the dominant New Jersey, as well as Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota) hold their primaries.  This last, big Tuesday can still breathe life into a foundering campaign with California’s massive party delegations, or kill a campaign barely holding an edge over its competitors.  Once the smoke has cleared, a winner should have emerged; and at the very least only those candidates with strong, national bases and support should have survived.

In the following month, July, the parties will hold their conventions – first the Republicans in Cleveland, Ohio; and then the Democrats in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A party convention can be a formality, if the winner is clear from the primaries, and the losing candidate(s) have conceded victory and endorsed the winner.  If doubt remains within either party whom their nominee will be, the delegates at the convention will have opportunities (possibly multiple such) to cast or recast (and change) their votes.  If a seemingly weaker candidate refuses to concede victory, and can still tie up enough delegates to keep a stronger candidate from getting the nomination, the process can draw out until one side or the other puts the interests of party over their personal ambitions and concedes.  Drawn-out convention fights can also erode independent voter support, and turn party voters against the party’s nominee if the final mud-slinging goes on too long and too far.  Ultimately, whether the nominee is decided before the convention, or during it, the party convention process is intended to finalize the selection within each party of that party’s nominee for the presidential campaign in the general election.  After the nomination, each party works to steer all of its support toward its nominee, including especially the candidates and supporters recently contesting the nomination.

After the party conventions and nominations in July, the two parties and their candidates concentrate on battling each other for the general election on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.  There will be more debates, between the presidential candidates; and between the vice-presidential candidates, generally also selected during the convention process.  Candidates will continue to visit those states seen as strategically vital and/or potentially undecided (the “battleground states”), and other states with something to offer one or both of the candidates.  Finally, in November, comes the general election to decide which candidate (and their party) deserves the chance to steer national policy for the next four years.  And then, we have but a mere two years until the so-called “mid-term” elections (to Congress and various state and local offices), and another two years until the next presidential election; and we begin the process all over again.

Headline image via PBS and Getty Images.