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Republicans: Trump wins Super Tuesday. Is it too late to stop him?

The Republican Super Tuesday is over with the exception of a handful of delegates that were still undetermined when it was time for me to start writing up the results.

Last Tuesday I used polling to project what Super Tuesday would look like for the Republicans. The projection looked like this:

Estimate: 294 Trump, 246 Cruz, 67 Rubio, 11 Kasich, 6 Carson

We’ll dispense with the state by state totals, and jump right to the final results:

Actual: 252 Trump, 211 Cruz, 101 Rubio, 16 Kasich, 4 Carson, 6 TBD

The 6 that are still to be determined as of this update are from Tennessee (3 delegates) and Texas (3 delegates), but they won’t make much of a difference here.

The poll based estimates were not quite as close as they were for the Democrats. This may simply be because I did the estimates a full week out based on relatively sparse polling. There were a lot of polls in that last week, and it may well be that the results would have been closer if I had redone the analysis on Monday.

The general outlines of the estimate and the analysis based on them were basically correct though. The one notable difference is that Rubio did considerably better than the estimates, at the expense of both Trump and Cruz’s delegate totals. It appears that Rubio’s week of anti-Trump crusading may have worked.

The main consequence is that Trump was pushed a bit further away from the levels he needed to actually improve his position relative to last week. He was expected to lose ground anyway, but he lost more than it looked like he was going to. It was enough to push Trump back down below 50% of the delegates allocated so far:

chart (99)

On this metric, Cruz looks like he did the best coming out of Super Tuesday. But this is the wrong number to be looking at. The all important thing to be looking at is the “% of remaining delegates needed to win”:

chart (98)

Everybody’s position got worse! (Remember down is good on this chart… getting down to 0% means you win, going up to 100% means you are eliminated.)

Trump needed to get 49.4% of the Super Tuesday delegates to improve his position in terms of getting to a clean first ballot win. Instead, he got 43.1% of the delegates so far. So his “% of remaining delegates to win” increased to 51.6%.

We are back in the zone where if everybody performs the same as they have so far, we end up with Trump having more delegates than anybody else, but a bit short of the majority he would need to win. The “contested convention” scenario.

At this point the closest competitor is Cruz, who would need 57.7% of the remaining delegates in order to catch up and win outright. Next closest is Rubio, who would need 64.0% of the remaining delegates. Given their past performances, it seems unlikely that either will reach anything close to those numbers, especially since they both seem determined to stay in the race. It would take one of them dropping out AND a complete Trump collapse to enable that. This seems like an unlikely scenario at this point.

But both the Cruz and Rubio campaigns are now starting to openly talk about a contested convention. To do that, neither Cruz or Rubio need to get super-majorities of the remaining delegates. They don’t even need to get majorities. They don’t even need to have a majority of the delegates between them. They just need to keep Trump to less than 51.6% of the remaining delegates.

So Cruz + Rubio + Kasich (now that Carson has dropped out) just need to manage to get 48.4% of the remaining delegates between them. And if they successfully do that, they will need even less the next time around.

At this point, the best strategy to “stop Trump” is not for more people to drop out. It is for all three of the remaining non-Trumps to stay in to try to get as many delegates as they can, even if they know they can’t get to an outright win either. Strategies have been suggested such as the candidates working together and encouraging their supporters to vote for whichever non-Trump was strongest in each state in order to maximize the delegate totals. Then they would work it out at the convention.

That kind of coordination between rival campaigns is unlikely. But it could happen to some degree spontaneously between now and March 15th, just by the nature of having four candidates still in the race. Even though Trump is leading in a lot of the states in the next couple of weeks, it is possible the non-Trumps could keep him below that 51.6% target, and thus be on the road to a contested convention.

But… starting March 15th there are winner take all states. Not just states where the delegate totals are heavily weighted to the winner, but pure unadulterated winner take all. If Trump is below 50% of delegates at that point, but not by all that much, and he is still leading the polls, then starting on March 15th, he’ll just start cleaning up and get back over 50% very rapidly, and then close out the contest.

In order to actually force a contested convention, the non-Trumps not only have to keep him below 51.6% of the delegates that are being doled out in the next couple weeks, they either have to keep him MUCH lower than that number in the next two weeks, or they have to damage him so much that by March 15th he is losing states left and right and the others can continue to pick up large numbers of delegates in the winner take all zone. Of course, the two might have to come together.

The odds of a non-Trump winning the nomination outright are now negligible absent a major event that destroys Trump’s prospects.

The ability to deny Trump a majority is still alive though. But the time for even that is running out quickly. The non-Trumps basically have two weeks.

Of course, Trump might still come out of a contested convention as the nominee, especially if he came in with a plurality of the delegates that wasn’t very far from the 50% mark. But all kinds of things can happen at a contested convention, including the emergence of a nominee who wasn’t even running. You never know.

One final thing before closing up. I have heard a lot of commentary saying that if any other candidate besides Trump was in the position he is in, he would already be being called the presumptive nominee. Maybe. But we really aren’t quite there yet.

Trump is definitely leading. He has better chances than anybody else of ending up the nominee. But at the same time…

Trump is clearly behind where either Romney or McCain were at this stage in the process. Digging up data from my 2008 and 2012 delegate tracking…

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 17.44.01901

We are currently at the point where about 29% of the delegates have been allocated. Super Tuesday was bigger in 2008, so we don’t have a data point between about 10% and 42%, but you can see that in that Super Tuesday event, McCain took a clear lead, leaving all of the competitors behind. Although things were still a muddle before Super Tuesday, from that point forward there was no stopping McCain. His dominance was unmistakeable.


In 2012, Romney was over 50% of delegates earned almost from the very beginning. He continued to hover just below 50% of remaining delegates needed to win though, leading for continued talk of a possible brokered convention for awhile longer. It took until we got past 45% of delegates for Romney to really pull away and eliminate that possibility, making it a clean win.

2012 is probably the closest parallel to where we are today, but Romney never dropped below 50% of delegates after that first few percent at the beginning of the race. Trump is weaker than that at the moment… and his opponents are stronger. But the gap isn’t large. He trails Romney, but not by much.

We’re going to go from just under 30% of delegates determined today, to just under 60% after March 15th. Things will move very quickly, and if there really is going to be a good chance of a contested convention, the groundwork will be laid in these two weeks. If the non-Trumps want to stop Trump, that almost certainly needs to be the game plan at this point. And it has to start bearing fruit NOW.

[Update 2016-03-03 02:34 UTC – The 6 TBD delegates in Tennessee and Texas have been resolved, and there were other adjustments as results continues to be tabulated. Net changes happened in four states: Arkansas (Trump -1, Cruz +1), Massachusetts (Trump +1, Carson -1), Tennessee (Trump +2, Cruz +2, Rubio -1) and Texas (Cruz +4, Trump +2, Rubio -3). Total change for this update: Cruz +7, Trump +4, Carson -1, Rubio -4. New overall delegate totals are: Trump 338, Cruz 235, Rubio 113, Kasich 27, Carson 8, Bush 4, Fiorina 1, Huckabee 1, Paul 1. These changes do not substantively change the analysis above.]

[Update 2016-03-04 02:53 UTC – Update for Georgia: +1 Cruz, -1 Rubio.]

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.

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