Wisconsin primary results: Trump, Clinton less likely to clinch

Sanders exceeded our pre-primary delegate estimate, picking up 48 instead of the 47 we projected to net a total of 10 delegates.  Cruz also exceeded expectations, hauling in 36 delegates instead of the 30 we projected.  The error there was all Kasich underperforming; our estimate showed him performing stronger in the 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts, where it look like he will have actually come in third.

The results don’t alter our convention projections much, which point to a likely contested convention for the Republicans.  On the Democratic side, it remains unlikely that Sanders will catch Clinton in pledged delegates, but it does look like superdelegates will have to get the winning candidate over the nomination threshold:

Sanders win cuts Clinton's lead to around 250. She has a chance on April 19th and 26th to extend the lead in such a way that make it nearly impossible for Sanders to catch her.
Sanders win cuts Clinton’s lead to around 250. She has a chance on April 19th and 26th to extend the lead in such a way that make it nearly impossible for Sanders to catch her.
GOP race post Wisconsin
Trump’s growth is stunted, but a winner-take-all for New York’s 95 delegates could have him on his way.

Sanders will likely do well in the small, western caucus state of Wyoming this weekend, but with only 14 delegates in play (and notable differences between the electorate in Wyoming and New York), it’s hard to see that contest changing the race considerably.

Instead, all eyes turn to New York.  On the Democratic side, our model projects a 10-point Clinton victory to net 23 delegates (winning 135 to Sanders’ 112).  State-level polls from Maryland and Pennsylvania also show her leading in those big April 26 states where we project her to pick up another 28 delegates.  Those two weeks would erase Sanders’ impressive rally over the past few weeks.  With Sanders’ big Wisconsin win and the age of the data in the upcoming states, it’s easy to see those numbers changing – and with them the completion of the race.  New York is, in essence, Sanders’ last shot to change the race.

On the Republican side, our baseline projection has Trump, who’s polling at 51.4%, picking up all 95 delegates.  New York awards 81 of its delegates at the Congressional district level, and the remaining for the statewide winner.  In 2014, 14 of the 27 Congressional districts elected a Democrat to the House of Representatives by more than a 10-point margin.  It’s difficult to see those districts giving over half of their vote to Trump to trigger the winner-take-all rules there, so it’s likely that Cruz (or Kasich, about whom we’ll have to write a more-speculative column) chip into the 95-delegate haul.  Our most-generous projection predicts Trump getting 1,192 of the 1,237 delegates he needs before the convention, with 122 delegates unbound on the first ballot.  A 44-delegate margin may put him in striking distance, but losing delegates on some blue districts in New York (and, in June, in California) could put him just out of reach.

Sanders needs a 30-point swing in New York

A lot has been written over the past week about Bernie Sanders’ chances of getting a majority of unplugged delegates.  Nate Sanders has a good writeup, but doesn’t show a lot of his work.  Demrace.com would be a better tool if it defaulted to current polling.  Here’s our contribution to this theme:

Bernie Sanders' unlikely path to pledged delegate majority.
Bernie Sanders’ unlikely path to pledged delegate majority.

A few assumptions at the top:

  • Our model has Sanders winning Wisconsin 54.6-45.4, giving him +8 delegates.  We’re keeping that assumption.
  • Few states have state-level polling (though the states that do account for 70% of outstanding delegates).  Our model uses national polls there, which would give Clinton a 53.2-46.8 edge.  We’ll ignore that in every state, with most states going 60-40 for Sanders, which means he needs to over perform his polls by 15 points.
  • For a few states (Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, DC), we’ve assigned Sanders Alaska-level blowouts.
  • We’re putting Clinton’s delegate lead at 229 through April 1.

Our rough estimate is that Sanders would need to take 15 points off of Clinton in New York to have a chance of breaking even, even with the generous spot our assumptions give him.  The latest polling average has Clinton up there 57-37.  For this exercise, we have Sanders winning 58-42.  Here’s how this scenario plays out, and look closely at what a polling shift would need to happen to get there:

An incredible change of fortune for Sanders gets him an edge over Clinton, but both would need super delegates to decide.
An incredible change of fortune for Sanders gets him an edge over Clinton, but both would need super delegates to decide.

We left Maryland and Pennsylvania within the reasonable bounds of change, and assigned Sanders a 10-point victory in California (our model shows Clinton actually just squeaking by there by one point).

Here’s a more-likely scenario:

A more-realistic Bernie surge leaves him about 90 delegates short.
A more-realistic Bernie surge leaves him about 90 delegates short.

For this chart, we leave in place most of the favorable projections from the last run, but instead leave Clinton winning New York 52-48 and giving her the 1-point victory in California, a conservative estimate on the latest polls. This still represents Sanders taking away 5 points of Clinton’s support in New York, which a 10-point win in Wisconsin might reasonably do (despite Clinton’s heavy campaigning in the Empire State).  The final tally in this scenario would be Clinton 2,061 delegates, Sanders 1,979.

The key here is that each percent of the vote in New York is worth about 2.5 delegates.  If Clinton nets more than about 10 delegates there, it’s very difficult to see how Sanders can break even.

Trump needs New York, California, and Unbound Delegates

Our model takes into account the state-specific delegate selection rules and the state-specific poll averages (if they’re available).  In roughly half of the plausible scenarios we run, Donald Trump comes up around 100 delegates short of the 1,237 he needs to win on the first ballot. In real life, this probably requires more strategy than #NeverTrump actors have heretofore realized, but makes Cook Political/FiveThirtyEight’s “two-front war” look like what the electorate is already planning.

If Trump fails to exceed his poll numbers and Kasich wins districts in which a Democratic representative won by more than 10 points in 2014, Trump gets 1,147 pledged delegates.
If Trump fails to exceed his poll numbers and Kasich wins districts in which a Democratic representative won by more than 10 points in 2014, Trump gets 1,147 pledged delegates.

The chart above is a reasonably likely outcome:  Trump fails to exceed his poll averages and John Kasich wins congressional districts in which the House member won by over 10 percentage points in 2014.


Above is the math behind that projection.  A couple of notes:  Colorado is just a guess for delegate outcomes, the state will be a black box.  The model has Trump winning 100% of the Congressional districts, in New York’s district winner-take-all contests based on the strength of his state-wide polling (he’s a good 35 points ahead of Kasich), but it’s hard to imagine Ted Cruz and Kasich failing to pick up. That’s probably balanced by Katich’s stronger showing in California, where the model shows him picking up 3 delegates in 30 of the 53 House districts.

Closer examination shows a big gap in Pennsylvania’s delegates.  That’s because voters select unbound delegates on the district basis.  West Virginia follows a somewhat similar model, where delegates may or may not declare their intention on the ballot.  There are already 75 unbound delegates heading to Cleveland, and another 174 bound to candidates who have “suspended” their campaigns.  That’s a big wildcard:  enough to push Trump over the edge if a majority break for him.

This outcome actually requires Kasich to stick around and remain viable through June.  Kasich can’t win the 1,237 needed on the first ballot; there just aren’t enough points left on the board, so a vote for Kasich is just a “none of the above” vote.  Sure, he beat Trump in Utah, but he lost to Rubio – who had dropped out a week earlier – in Arizona due to the prevalence of early voting.  It isn’t too big of a stretch to see the “mathematically unviable” argument swaying enough voters in Pennsylvania, New York, and California to make his spoiler status not that big of a deal.

It’s also not a sure thing that this is the direction late-deciders break.  The  models above show Trump picking up 0% of undecided voters.  If Cruz picks up 60% and Trump picks up just 20%, the race looks a lot different:


In that projection, Trump falls just 3 delegates short, and it’s easy to imagine him picking those up among the unbound delegates.

If, based on that slightly weaker projection for Kasich, he loses more of the Democrat-heavy congressional districts in California, with Trump and Cruz picking up a proportional share, Trump wins outright:

Cruz Momentum with no Kasich CD bonus

None of this takes into account the political realities that govern the later elections and a brokered convention itself.  As Trump has picked up some endorsements (and Cruz only some half-hearted ones), GOP leaders could fear the “riots in the streets” outcome, or fear that by suppressing Trump the party could permanently lose the voters he’s won. It also assumes that almost no delegates jump on the Trump bandwagon in subsequent ballots.  Nevertheless, it shows there’s still a reasonable set of outcomes in which Trump fails to secure 1,237 delegates before Cleveland, if the GOP plays its cards right.

Big Sanders Wins Coming, But Trouble Looms In New York

Bernie Sanders is likely to rack up a string of wins over the next two weeks:  it’s a favorable calendar combining both caucuses and voting demographics that have favored him throughout the cycle.  It’s entirely plausible that he wins the next five contests — most of them in blowouts.

In so doing, he may chip in to Hillary Clinton’s lead by 70-80 delegates, leaving her around 250 delegates ahead, and helping forestall for a bit the growing narrative that he doesn’t have a chance.  We should note here that there isn’t much data in the upcoming contests, but our upgraded projection model allows us to posit what a Sanders blowout might look like.

A favorable calendar helps Sanders chip away, but a strong Clinton lead in New York erases his progress.
A favorable calendar helps Sanders chip away, but a strong Clinton lead in New York erases his progress.

You can see above that there’s no polling data for Alaska, Hawaii, or Washington state, so we’ve plugged in big wins for Sanders (with Wyoming following suit).  That would track with similar performance in small caucus states with similar demographics.

The potential trouble for Sanders, though, is that the latest polls in New York show him trailing badly.  The 67-24 split would be among her bigger margins.  Even if she were to drop to a more-realistic 55-45 win, the two Democrats would break even on delegates over the six contests, and Sanders will be left to fill a 310-delegate gap with significantly fewer chances.

The silver lining for Sanders is that our projection shows Clinton falling short of the pledged delegates she’s need to win the nomination outright, meaning she would need around 15% of the superdelegates to lean her way (she has nearly two-thirds in her camp now).  Barring a big turnaround in New York, though, Sanders is unlikely to make a dent in Clinton’s lead.



Model updates

We’ve completely overhauled the projections spreadsheet on the Republican side to narrow in on the variables that are likely to matter in the 18 contests before the convention.  The updates also allow for more-granular control to adjust the remaining states on both sides, which will be especially useful due to the lack of state-level polling data for the upcoming states.  That granular control is not user-editable (yet), but we’ll be using the scenarios to help make predictions in the coming weeks.

We’ll have a series of posts in the coming days, but the updated model suggests that Donald Trump’s path to 1,237 delegates requires strong shows in California, New York, and Indiana.  Our projection still shows him falling short, needing to pick up a significant portion of the unbound delegates (and Marco Rubio’s soon-to-be unbound delegates) to avoid a second ballot.

Quick take: Another Tuesday

We’re updating the underlying model to tune it a bit and allow a little bit greater variable control, but it won’t be ready until after the March 22 primaries.  These may end up being relatively straightforward.


Surprisingly, this side works out pretty easily.  Arizona is winner-take-all.   Trump is leading Cruz by over 10 points, and should all 58 delegates.  Utah offers a bit of excitement.  Cruz is polling just over 50%.  Our model has him taking nearly 55%.  If he gets above 50, he gets all 40 delegates.  If not, he has to split them proportionally with Kasich (who would get 10-12) and Trump (who’d get 5).


The next week should be good for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders should take at least 50% of the next week's delegates...but that does little to close his gap.
Sanders should take at least 50% of the next week’s delegates…but that does little to close his gap.

That’s a bunch of caucuses in states that should favor him.  The one where he might come out behind is Arizona.  There’s simply no state-level data in most of the states though.  One big pickup for him could be Washington, where a 10- or 20-point gap could help him chip into Clinton’s delegate lead.  In the best-case scenario, though, it’s hard to see him making up more than 30 delegates all in, which is less than 10% of what he needs to get even.  April may help, but new polls in New York show Clinton building a big lead there.

Does Bernie have a chance? Probably not.

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:

Democratic Primary lookahead.
Democratic Primary lookahead.

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:

Hillary's ceiling is her poll average, Bernie picks up the rest.
Hillary’s ceiling is her poll average, Bernie picks up the rest.

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.


Will Clinton get 400 delegates tonight?

Before voting opened, we said that 400 was Hillary Clinton’s “over perform” number, expecting her to pull in closer to 368 delegates.  We’ll update the delegate counts in the morning, but it looks like she’ll hit that 400 target. Combined with the narrative of winning 5 of 5 states (if only just), she would seem to be back on track to get the 2,383 delegates see needs without dipping into her superdelegate reserve.  She should have a 300-330 delegate lead when she wakes up tomorrow. For context, Sanders would need to win every delegate in the next seven states just to catch up. He needs blowouts in places like Wisconsin and Washington to even start chipping into the lead.

Does Trump get 1,237 delegates?

It’s close, but it looks like Donald Trump will win Missouri, getting the 12 bonus delegates that go with it. We have some model updating to do in the coming days, including adding elements that help lean low-count delegate states to the right candidate.

In the meantime, now that some of our projections are now fact, we ran a few versions of the model to see what the future might hold.  We think a three-way race probably hurts Trump the most, with blue states (like Pennsylvania and Maryland) giving Kasich a good chance and “values” states (like Utah) helping Cruz.  We don’t know what to make of Indiana, home to many religious conservatives (but also Kokomo).

Here is our (rough) look ahead.  It doesn’t factor in momentum, or states that don’t have local polls but may deviate from national based on past voting patterns. It does suggest, however, that Trump winning 1,267 delegates is far from a lock.

Depending on how Rubio voters break, it's far from a lock that Trump gets 1,267 delegates.
Depending on how Rubio voters break, it’s far from a lock that Trump gets 1,267 delegates.

Early returns: Trump’s ceiling and Sanders’ undecideds

It’s early still, but the returns look to show that Trump will come out pretty close to our projections, though may lose a few delegates in Illinois and a few more in Missouri. It’s limited data, but the returns suggest Trump’s ceiling correlates closely to his poll numbers. With that and Rubio’s drop out, our model shows Trump missing a win by around 150 delegates – particularly if Rubio (and perhaps Bush) throw some weight behind Kasich.  Big asterisks:  Kasich still might not end up on Pennsylvania ballot.

On the Democratic side, Clinton appears to be exceeding our projections slightly, particularly in Ohio and Illinois (and, of course, Missouri, where we had her losing by nearly 10).  This suggests her polls need to add somewhere near a one-third take of the undecideds (vice the worst-case 0% we projected). This still has Clinton short exactly 100 delegates from an outright, no-superdelegate win, but she finds herself in a much stronger position.