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February 2016
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Democrats: Superdelegates are real, and here are 42 more for Clinton

Since the New Hampshire primary, I have seen a flurry of Facebook posts and numerous articles all over the place, first by people suddenly shocked to learn of the existence of superdelegates, then folks complaining about the DNC “screwing over” Sanders, and then folks claiming superdelegates should be ignored because they don’t matter. All this in response to places, like my site, that point out Clinton’s huge lead due to superdelegate counts.

My current chart of raw delegate totals looks like this:


That is Clinton 461 to Sanders 50 including the latest updates that prompt this post.

The claim is that the Clinton lead here is a complete illusion. That counts that look like this are simply anti-Sanders propaganda meant to discourage Sanders voters, that looking at numbers like this is meaningless, and one should only look at “pledged” delegates, where the total right now would be Sanders 36, Clinton 32. That would indeed show a very different picture of the race. Sanders would actually be winning!

But really? Would that tell us where the race really is?

First of all, there isn’t any secret or underhanded manipulation. There are 32 delegates in New Hampshire. 24 of them were to be determined by the primary. Of these Sanders won 15 and Clinton won 9. Some of those are determined proportionately in each congressional district, some proportionately by the statewide results. Those numbers come straight from the votes. Just math.

Then there were also 8 “super delegates”. That is one Senator, one Representative, one Governor, and five members of the DNC. These are eight people who have names and have been known for ages. Six of those eight had declared they supported Clinton long before the primary. The other two haven’t publicly stated a preference yet. That means the delegate total in New Hampshire is now 15 to 15 with 2 not yet determined.

The Sanders folks might not like that, or like the existence of super delegates at all, but none of this is new or an unexpected manipulation or anything, it is simply how the race is structured. A lot of people are expressing shock because they are just now realizing this, but it is no surprise to anyone familiar with the Democratic primary process, and certainly Sanders’ campaign staff is quite familiar with it.

As we’ve chronicled here, Clinton started out with nearly 8% of the national convention delegates already in her column before the first votes were even cast in Iowa and New Hampshire. She has been working on cultivating those people since at least 2013, probably earlier. Sanders managed to get a handful of these folks, but not many. So he started out way behind, and had to get over 54% of the remaining delegates to be on a pace to catch up and win. A majority wasn’t good enough.

It isn’t a good spot to be in for him, and you might argue that super delegates shouldn’t exist. Yes, superdelegates were originally created and exist to give the party apparatus some buffer against a popularly supported insurgency, and that sounds like Sanders. But the superdelegates have existed for decades and they are a known part of the process.

So complaining about them at this point is along the same lines as complaining about the electoral college. The person complaining might be right that in some ways a straight popular vote would be more “fair”, but these were the rules of the game and anybody running knew the rules when they chose to play.

It wasn’t superdelegates specifically that made the difference, but remember that in 2008, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the Democratic primary process. It was only the structure of the delegate race that won Obama the nomination. Because those were the rules of the game. That is still the case today. And that includes superdelegates.

OK, fine, but what about the fact that super-delegates can change their minds? Their votes aren’t locked in stone, and they certainly wouldn’t want to overturn the results if a candidate was winning all the contests and had a majority of the non-super delegates, right? So since they can change their minds and will probably support “the winner” we should ignore them, right?

Indeed, it is important to note that the super-delegates are real people and complete free agents. They can and do change their minds. And yes, superdelegates may be reluctant to be the deciding factor in a close race, but you can’t really say “the super delegates would do X”. It is 712 individual humans, who will each decide on their own what they want to do.

Many superdelegates have yet to express a preference at all and can probably be fairly easily swayed. They have not expressed an opinion for a reason, and may well go either way. Others have publicly supported Clinton, but it could be weak support and maybe they could be flipped if they were actually courted. Many others are actually actively working on the Clinton campaign in prominent state level roles. People in this last category are unlikely to change their votes unless or until Clinton herself drops out and asks them to. At the very extreme, Bill Clinton is a superdelegate. Is he going to vote for Sanders?

You really do have 712 different people, with 712 different reasons for their preferences, and 712 different degrees of how strongly they support their candidate.

If Sanders was serious about the superdelegates, he and his surrogates wouldn’t be pushing talking points about how superdelegates don’t matter and will vote for the popular winner so they should be ignored. Instead he would be heavily lobbying the currently uncommitted superdelegates to start backing him. They are a constituency to be courted. They are an IMPORTANT constituency to be courted.

If you were to see such movement, the first place you would detect it would probably be a higher percentage of currently uncommitted superdelegates raising their hands for Sanders when they do come out and reveal a preference.

Superdelegates who have already publicly stated they are supporting Clinton will probably not start actually flipping back to uncommitted or to Sanders until or unless things are actually looking very dire for Clinton.

If you do end up seeing Sanders winning more contests than he loses and building up a big lead in the regular non-super delegates, you may start to see both kinds of movement. After all, people like backing a winner. But if it happens, you will actually see that change happening in the delegate counts if you watch this site or one of the other places that include superdelegates in the totals. It will not be invisible.

There is no sign of any such movement yet.

Can Sanders win without flipping any Clinton superdelegates over to his side? Yes, of course he can. It is a high bar, but it is within the realm of possibility. He just needs to get about 55% of the remaining delegates.

Can Sanders win with even a smaller portion of the remaining delegates? Why yes, of course he can, if he starts convincing Clinton delegates to change their minds. But if that is going to happen, they have to actually be convinced to do so. Here is a list. Go start lobbying them. Try to change their minds. But nobody should be assuming that is automatic.

Yes, if Sanders ends up leading the non-superdelegate count at the end of the primary season and superdelegates are the only thing putting Clinton over the edge, there will be extreme pressure on the superdelegates to flip. But they still have to actually do so. And most likely, when they start waffling on their positions, they will actually say so, and we will know.

The delegate counts including superdelegates are NOT misleading. You just have to interpret them correctly… meaning that you know superdelegates are actual human beings that can change their minds, and you think about what situations might lead that to happen. But ignoring that they exist and just assuming that of course they will change their minds is extreme folly. It is sticking your head in the sand and ignoring reality. It is willfully blinding yourself in order to believe in an illusion instead. If and when the superdelegates start changing their minds, we will see it. Until or unless that happens, Clinton really does have a huge delegate lead that Sanders would have to overcome in order to win.

Meanwhile, as the Sanders camp has been complaining about superdelegates and how they don’t matter, superdelegate movement to Clinton has continued. Since the New Hampshire Primary results, I’ve added 44 additional superdelegates to Clinton’s column. Not all of these actually announced their support this last week, some did so months ago, but I just found the references more recently. Their support gets backdated in the charts and graphs to the date of the public source documenting their support. I also removed 2 Clinton superdelegates that had been accidentlly double counted. Net gain, Clinton +42.

There were no new Sanders superdelegates.

So where does that put us on “% of remaining delegates needed to win”?


Clinton now needs only 45.18% of the remaining delegates to win.

Sanders needs 54.84%. Right before the Iowa caucuses, my best estimates were that sanders needed 54.22%. (Including pre-Iowa superdelegate preferences I know about now that weren’t included at the time, it would have been 54.65%.) So despite his close second in Iowa, and his win in New Hampshire, Sanders is worse off in the delegate race than he was before Iowa. But not by much… he has ALMOST been holding things steady. He needs to do better to catch up and win, but Iowa and New Hampshire are only a small portion of the overall delegates, so there is still a lot of room to maneuver.

The next delegate race is Nevada.

There are 35 delegates up for grabs in Nevada that will be determined by the caucuses there. Plus 8 superdelegates. Of these, 3 have already said they are for Clinton, and 1 has said they are for Sanders. So don’t be surprised when you see those added in at places showing the state delegate count. They aren’t part of the 35 determined by the caucus though.

Of the 35, Sanders needs to get 20 in order to be on a pace to catch up with Clinton. (Again, assuming no superdelegates change their minds, if a lot do, this number becomes lower.) The RCP average has Nevada at Clinton 47.5%, Sanders 36.0%. That certainly wouldn’t get Sanders the 20 delegates he needs, but that average only includes one post-New Hampshire poll, and that new poll shows the race tied. The Pollster average discounts the pre-New Hampshire results entirely and shows the race at 45% to 45%… a tie.

Delegate rules are tricky. In Nevada some delegates are determined at the congressional district level, others at the state level, there is rounding involved, etc, etc. It is also a multi-stage caucus process, not a primary, so the “real” delegate totals won’t be known until May. But we will have estimates.

Remember though that it is not that Sanders needs 54.84% of the popular vote. It is that he needs 20 of the 35 delegates. That is the number to watch.

And superdelegates of course. :-)

A final thought: It is very possible to catch up from a deficit. But catching up is much harder if you pretend you aren’t actually behind.

Note: This post is an update based on the data on Election Graphs tracks both a poll based estimate of the Electoral College and a numbers based look at the Delegate Races. All of the charts and graphs seen in this post are from that site. Additional graphs, charts and raw data can be found there. All charts above are clickable to go to the current version of the detail page the chart is from, which may contain more up to date information than the snapshots on this page, which were current as of the time of this post. Follow @ElectionGraphs on Twitter or like Election Graphs on Facebook to see announcements of updates or to join the conversation. For those interested in individual general election poll updates, follow @ElecCollPolls on Twitter for all the polls as they are added.

[Edit 18:06 to add link to Wikipedia superdelegate list.]

[Edit 18:48 to add final thought.]

@abulsme tweets from 2016-02-13 (UTC)

@ElectionGraphs tweets from 2016-02-12 (UTC)

@ElecCollPolls tweets from 2016-02-12 (UTC)

@abulsme tweets from 2016-02-12 (UTC)

Curmudgeon’s Corner: Embrace the Mud!

This week on Curmudgeon’s Corner Sam and Ivan talk about chickens! Just kidding. Of course they talk about Election 2016. New Hampshire. Sanders beating Clinton. Trump walking all over the other Republicans. The log jam at second place on the Republican side. What this means for the delegate race and the next couple of states on both sides. Everything you would expect! Then they wrap it up with a lightning round for some thoughts on the Zika virus, changes on Twitter, the Oregon standoff, and more!

Click below to listen or subscribe… then let us know your own thoughts!

Recorded 2016-02-11

Length this week – 1:39:01

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Show Details:

  • (0:00:10-0:16:41) Intro
    • Pi Again
    • Agenda
    • Ivan’s Rough Day
    • Sam’s Upcoming Trip
  • (0:17:26-0:55:16) Election 2016: Republicans
    • New Hampshire Results
    • Upcoming contests
    • Rubio’s debate crash
    • Kasichmentum?
    • Who drops out and when?
    • Gaming out South Carolina
    • anti-Trumps running out of time
    • Trump moving to center?
    • Trump/Sanders Swing Voters
    • Fighting each other instead of Trump
    • Carson in South Carolina!
  • (0:56:25-1:19:52) Election 2016: Democrats
    • No Surprise
    • Delegate Story
    • South Carolina and Nevada
    • What is the path for Sanders?
    • Clinton indictment?
    • Sanders/Clinton demographics
    • Independents
    • Sam’s Choices
    • Santorum iSideWith
  • (1:20:41-1:38:40) Lightning Round
    • Book: Prince Caspian
    • Zika Virus
    • Twitter Changes
    • Ivan iSideWith
    • Oregon Standoff

@ElectionGraphs tweets from 2016-02-11 (UTC)

@ElecCollPolls tweets from 2016-02-11 (UTC)

@abulsme tweets from 2016-02-11 (UTC)

Republicans: New Hampshire Delegate Adjustments

I mentioned yesterday that the delegate totals were provisional and the counting wasn’t done yet. The counting is complete now, and in addition there have been some clarifications to the delegate allocation rules.

First on the rules, the way in which rounding is done was clarified. Instead of just rounding at the end, the percentages are rounded to a whole number first, and then the delegates are rounded to whole numbers at the end. This is a bit of a silly way to do it, because you are introducing the rounding distortion twice instead of just once, but that’s how New Hampshire chose to do it.

Then a rule change that affects not just New Hampshire, but all subsequent states too. Frontloading HQ has the scoop. The bottom line is that national RNC party rules changes are overriding rules at the state level about what happens to the three “automatic delegates” in each state. These are the National Committeeman, the National Committeewoman, and the chairman of the state Republican Party who all get to be delegates “automatically” based on their positions. In some states they were bound by primary or caucus results. In some states they were required by the rules to stay neutral. But in others, they were free agents. In the past the ones that were free agents had been the Republican party’s equivalent of the Democratic superdelegates. But the RNC national rule change is requiring these three automatic delegates to always be “bound” by the same rules that cover at-large delegates in each state.

So, essentially, no more superdelegates on the Republican side. All delegates will be bound by primary or caucus results. (There is still an exception for delegates who are directly elected by their own name apparently, but that is rare.)

For New Hampshire, when you consider final vote totals, and both rule clarifications, this changes the results from the primary from:

11 Trump, 3 Kasich, 2 Bush, 2 Cruz, 2 Rubio, 3 TBD


10 Trump, 4 Kasich, 3 Bush, 3 Cruz, 3 Rubio, 0 TBD

The updated raw delegate chart showing this change is here:


The net result here is Trump loses one delegate, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich and Bush all gain one.

Trump is still clearly in the lead, but it does change his New Hampshire results in an important way. 11 out of 20 delegates was a majority, and above the threshold he needed to improve his “% of remaining delegates needed to win” number. 10 out of 23 is not a majority, and was not enough to improve his position on that metric:


If you look at full movement from before New Hampshire to these updated results, you can see that ALL of the candidates now got worse, as none of them got the level of delegate support needed to be on track for an outright win. Trump specifically went from needing 50.37% of the remaining delegates, to now needing 50.43% of the remaining delegates. This is much less of a change than the others of course, but it still went up.

So the statement I made in yesterdays update that “if Trump continues to match New Hampshire, he wins” is no longer true. If Trump (and the rest) continue to match New Hampshire, we are in for a contested convention.

Of course, we won’t see New Hampshire cloned in the subsequent states. We will see continued developments in the campaigns, more candidates drop out, and a very dynamic race continue to play out.

And fundamentally, the one delegate difference in Trump’s total doesn’t change the over all picture all that much.

I won’t repeat the details of yesterday’s post walking through scenarios for South Carolina and Nevada. If you haven’t already, go read it.

The bottom line is that unless there is a major change before South Carolina, it is very plausible that Trump walks out of it with a significant delegate lead. Updating for the New Hampshire changes above, that could look something like:

67 Trump, 11 Cruz, 10 Rubio, 15 Others

Nevada is more proportional, but will still give Trump a further opportunity to increase his delegate lead. Absent a surprise loss in South Carolina, he will almost certainly have a majority of the delegates allocated by then.

At that point, only 5.4% of delegates will have been decided. Lots of delegates left to play with.

But that is when things speed up. If the non-Trumps are going to consolidate support by all but one or two dropping out, it really should happen by the end of February, because 25.8% of the delegates will get decided on March 1st. And then another 30% or so in the two weeks between that and March 15th. When we pass March 15th, 60% or so of the convention delegates will have been decided.

If the anti-Trumps consolidated before then, it is possible that one of them will be leading instead of Trump. If the anti-Trumps are still divided though, then if Trump has managed to get over 50%, he’s almost certainly going to be the nominee. If he is leading, but under 50%, then talk of a contested convention becomes real, not just news junkie fantasy.

Absent the oft-predicted but never realized Trump collapse, for any of the other Republicans to beat Trump, all but one (MAYBE two) need to drop out and drop out quickly, and then they need to focus all of their effort on Trump. But for the moment, all the anti-Trumps are still squabbling with each other, leaving Trump to consolidate a lead while they are for the most part continuing to ignore him.

That is just a formula to anoint Trump. At some point people will drop out, and the race will narrow. The question is does it happen in time for whoever is the surviving anti-Trump to have a real chance.

Note: This post is an update based on the data on Election Graphs tracks both a poll based estimate of the Electoral College and a numbers based look at the Delegate Races. All of the charts and graphs seen in this post are from that site. Additional graphs, charts and raw data can be found there. All charts above are clickable to go to the current version of the detail page the chart is from, which may contain more up to date information than the snapshots on this page, which were current as of the time of this post. Follow @ElectionGraphs on Twitter or like Election Graphs on Facebook to see announcements of updates or to join the conversation. For those interested in individual general election poll updates, follow @ElecCollPolls on Twitter for all the polls as they are added.

[Edit 2016-02-14 06:18 UTC to add end note.]