We were surprised to see a lot (a lot) of social media stories yesterday suggesting that Bernie Sanders remains strongly positioned to win the nomination. Our favorite was a post saying Sanders “won nearly half of the delegates” on Tuesday night, and, that with him only needing 1570-odd delegates to hit the 2,383 magic number and there being 2,404 on the board, the momentum was there. There were also a bunch of comparisons to Barack Obama’s path in 2008.
As always, Nate Silver has a strong and succinct analysis of where things stand. It’s not impossible for Sanders to pull out a win, but for him to do so there would have to be a major shock to the system. A much more likely outcome would be that he could prevent Hillary Clinton from hitting 2,383 before the convention (i.e. without superdelegates), possibly undermining her legitimacy as the nominee – but that still has her beating Sanders by around 600 delegates.
Now let’s poke holes in this narrative. Here’s what our projection is based on:
The projection has Clinton adding another 300 delegates to her already more than 300 delegate lead. It includes some (sometimes very old) state polling in Utah, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and California. This is the “Bernie takes majority of undecideds, but not all” model that has played out over the past few weeks. This still probably overplays Hillary’s strength a tad (there’s a string of caucus states over the next four weeks, for example), which could help Sanders pick up maybe 10% better than he stands.
Another weakness in the model is that there is precious little polling, and the demographics of many of these states is at variance to those that have already voted – but it’s not totally silly to see Hillary coming out around 50% in most states.
Here’s what it looks like if Sanders picks up all undecideds:
That green line at the tippy-top is 2,383. She misses, but still leads.
In order for Sanders to catch Clinton, he would need to invert the poll numbers in the chart above. That means on average, he’d need to win all remaining states 55-45. In that scenario, both would fall short of the nomination without superdelegates. It’s not mathematically impossible, but it doesn’t track with where things are historically.