Nope, not about Bill Maher (bleagh). Since we’re having the first real primary today, I thought it might be interesting to review delegate thresholds in primaries and the (new) convention rules for Democrats. The site 270 to Win has a good overview of both.[Edit: Thanks to Zzyzx in the comments for pointing out this 538 article about statewide vs district apportionment of delegates. I’ve re-written the following 3 paragraphs and added a bullet point below to reflect it.]
For primaries, the key rule is that there’s a 15% viability threshold at both the statewide and district levels. District level is generally a Congressional district, but it varies in some state. Every candidate who earns 15% or more of the vote statewide will take part in a proportional allocation of 35% of the delegates. Anyone under 15% is out of luck. So if one candidate gets 15% and the rest are under that threshold, that candidate gets all the delegates. The same threshold rules hold true for the remaining 65% of the vote. So if a candidate is at 14.5% statewide, but 15% in a couple of districts, they still could get some delegates.
There’s another rule if no candidate gets 15% of the vote. Then, the threshold is 50% of the percentage received by the front runner. So if the front-runner gets 12%, the threshold is 6%.
The apportionment rule isn’t new, but since the party has only a few caucuses left, almost all in tiny states (Nevada is the exception), it is the rule that governs almost all the contests, including 1,338 of the huge Super Tuesday haul of 1,344 delegates.
To win the nomination, a candidate must earn a majority of the 3,979 pledged delegates (which, arithmetically, is 1,990 but some sources are saying 1,991) on the first vote. If there is a first vote where no candidate is picked, the 771 superdelegates are allowed to vote in the succeeding votes. This means that the victor will need 2,376 of the pledged and super delegate count of 4,750. This is the new rule that came out of the complaints about superdelegates being in the mix.
Every four years, there’s a lot of talk about a brokered convention (I think Chris Cillizza masturbates to that notion when he isn’t thinking about his favorite baseball player). Remember that a brokered convention doesn’t mean that the party elders step in and pick a winner that both Chuck Todd and Morning Joe would love. Instead, a brokered convention is one where marginal candidates make deals with one of the delegate leaders and pledge their delegates to them. The second round of voting superdelegate release complicates this – in hindsight it might have been smart to make that the third round, since the second round would give candidates a chance to do some horse trading without the complication of 771 new votes.
Since a lot of the political media (and some consultants) can’t count, and are too lazy to review the rules, it’s worth keeping these rules, and their consequences in mind. Specifically:
- When looking at polls, anyone who is far under 15% probably isn’t getting anything for their efforts. There’s a real incentive for marginal candidates to drop out.
- But if a candidate is in the low teens or at least double digits, it’s easy to imagine that they could win some districts and therefore get a good number of delegates.
- A candidate who is polling in the 30’s consistently can win the nomination with 1/3 of the vote in primaries, if the other candidates split most of the vote and a lot of them don’t hit 15%.
- But, if 2-4 candidates are in low 20’s and high teens, from a delegate perspective, the high teens candidates get a fair amount of benefit from their “loss”.
- Getting in late means you have to win big. Specifically, Super Tuesday, where more than 1/3 of the delegates are awarded, is key.
- If the convention looks like it’s going to be brokered, the superdelegate rule will put immense pressure on the candidates to come to some sort of deal prior to the first vote. (If that’s possible, some delegates will feel obligated to stick to the candidate they support.)
If you know more about any of this, please feel free to drop a comment I can update the post. I hope we can keep this around — maybe I can re-write it with corrections/amplifications as a page to refer back to as the primaries continue.