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.

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.