The Post-Nevada Sanders Lead

It took a couple of days, but as of Monday afternoon, the Nevada results were final. It was clear from the moment returns started coming in that Sanders was going to win handily, but the extent of that lead in terms of the delegate estimate moved around a bit as the returns slowly came in.

During this time, the estimated number of Sanders delegates in Nevada ranged from 22 to 28, Biden ranged from 7 to 11, Buttigieg ranged from 0 to 6, and Warren ranged from 0 to 1. But once we knew the final count, these were the results from Nevada:

  • Sanders 24
  • Biden 9
  • Buttigieg 3

Sanders needed to get 19 or more of the Nevada delegates to improve his overall position in terms of the % of remaining delegates needed to win. He did that handily. The updated chart of that metric looks like this:

Remember, for this chart down is positive and up is negative. When you get down to 0%, you clinch the nomination. If a candidate goes up to 100%, they become mathematically eliminated.

Sanders has made a turn downward. He is not only in the lead, but Nevada put him on a winning pace.

Now, the general talk is about how absent a significant change, Sanders may be in an uncatchable position after Super Tuesday. That isn't based simply on today's delegate totals, but also on his polling in South Carolina, the Super Tuesday states, and nationwide, and a bit of knowledge of how a small popular vote lead translates into a massive delegate lead.

For instance, in Nevada, Sanders got about 33% of the popular vote, but that translated into 67% of the delegates. This kind of magnification for the winner is intentional in the delegate allocation rules. The 15% delegate threshold in one cause. The fact that the results in individual congressional districts determine many of the delegates is another.

Rather than look at the prognostications of how future states might go, instead, let's look at how you would expect the % of remaining delegates needed to win chart to change as this progresses. That will help us know how we will identify if it seems like Sanders is on track to a clear win, if we are heading towards a contested convention, or if someone else still has a chance to win.

To illustrate, we'll look at some graphs from previous cycles to compare to where things are now.

Let's look at the contested races in both parties since 2008 when we did the first Election Graphs delegate tracking. We'll look at them in order of how quickly the nominee was pretty clear in each contest.

Which means we will start with the Democrats in 2016:

This chart shows what it looks like when we have a runaway victory that is clear from the beginning.

Sorry, Sanders folks. 2020 is going differently, but in 2016, because of the courting of superdelegates long before Iowa even happened, Clinton built up a delegate lead starting from the very beginning.

From the 0% starting line, Clinton improved her position with every contest, and Sanders's situation got worse. The only exception was a slight bump around the 58% mark when Sanders had one outstanding day. But the overall trend was clear from the very beginning. Clinton was on the road to an outright victory, and Sanders never managed to slow that progress.

Next up, the Republicans in 2008:

It took slightly longer for this one to become apparent. Romney took an early lead, but his line stayed flat, hovering around the 50% line. McCain was heading upward along with the also-rans. But at about the 5% mark, McCain started hitting his mark and improving his position with every contest. He pulled ahead of Romney at about the 10% mark, then when Super Tuesday jumped the race over 40% every other candidate was at the point where they needed 60%+ of the remaining delegates to catch up and win. That was, of course, unrealistic. Except for one short jog just past the 50% mark, McCain kept improving his position in every race.

Unlike Clinton in 2016, McCain had some issues before Super Tuesday but hit his pace quickly, and Super Tuesday made things inevitable.

Next up, Republicans in 2012:

This chart shows an example of a slower burn. Romney was in the lead from the very beginning, but his "% of remaining delegates needed to win" basically stayed flat right around the 50% mark for a long time.

This pattern means that he was accumulating delegates much faster than anybody else, and it was clear the other candidates were not going to win outright. But the other candidates were continuing to take enough delegates to keep a contested convention an active possibility for awhile.

That changed around the 43% mark though. Winner-take-all states on the Republican side undoubtedly helped with this. But also once it is clear that candidates can't win, it becomes tough for them to actively continue a campaign based on the idea of forcing a contested convention where maybe they will be picked, but probably not. So one by one, the other candidates drop out, and then the candidate in the lead starts rolling up the remaining delegates.

So this race had a clear leader way ahead of the rest virtually from the 0% mark, but Romney didn't start hitting a winning pace consistently until 43%.

Now Democrats in 2008:

This graph shows a real two-person race. Both Obama and Clinton maintained flat lines for a long long time. Clinton was even improving a little. But not very much. Obama was getting enough delegates to keep her from hitting the marks she needed to improve the "% of remaining delegates needed to win" number significantly.

Clinton still had the advantage for more than the first half of the campaign delegate wise. Around the 50% mark, though, Obama started consistently hitting the percentages needed to improve his position while Clinton fell further and further behind. For a long time, though, the situation was dynamic. Clinton didn't get mathematically eliminated until around the 96% mark!

Finally, the Republicans in 2016:

This graph shows the closest we have gotten to a contested convention since I started tracking delegates in 2008. The other Republican candidates kept Trump over 50% of delegates needed until more than 70% of the delegates were allocated; around the same time, Cruz became mathematically eliminated. Although there were a couple of ups and downs along the way, Trump didn't start consistently improving his numbers until about the 67% mark. Until then, while Trump was way ahead, the possibility of a contested convention was kept open. But just like 2012, once it was clear that other candidates did not have a realistic path, and they started to drop away, the leader was able to take all or almost all of the remaining delegates, and wrap things up.

This year after South Carolina, we will be at 3.9% of the delegates allocated.

After Super Tuesday, we will be at 38.0%.

We'll hit 50% on March 17th  after Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio.

We'll hit 67% on April 4th  after Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Wyoming.

As we pass each of these milestones, the question is, does 2020 look like one of these past patterns? Or something else entirely?

If Sanders (or any other candidate) is under 50% of remaining delegates needed, and the number goes down after each contest, then we are on track for that candidate running away to an outright win with no significant obstacles to that result. (This is like the Democrats in 2016, or the Republicans in 2008.)

If all of the candidates except one are racing up to 100%, but the leader is kept flat around 50%, it means that while one candidate has a chance of winning outright, the other candidates are combining at a level that keeps the possibility of a contested convention open. The tendency in this situation is that once all the opposing candidates are mathematically eliminated, they will drop out, and the leader will be able to at that point hit the marks they need to get to a majority. (This is like the Republicans in 2012 or 2016.)

If two candidates are managing to keep their lines relatively flat, you have a two-person race, with both really still in contention. Until the point where one person's line goes up consistently, and the other person's line goes down, you have a real race. Unless the two candidates are closer together than the sum of the other candidates' delegate totals though, one of the two will end up winning. The only question is how close to the end you get before the winner becomes clear. (This is like the Democrats in 2008.)

So what pattern would we see if we are actually on a path to a contested convention?

If after each contest ALL the candidates' numbers for "% of remaining needed to win" go up, time after time, and every candidate is heading up toward 100%, and no candidate is curving down toward 0%, then we are actually on a path to a contested convention.

Be aware, though, until EVERY candidate has gone over 100%, someone can still win. If every candidate other than the leader drops out and stops collecting delegates, allowing the remaining candidate to claim 100% of the remaining delegates, that remaining candidate can still manage to get the delegates they need to win outright.

A contested convention scenario requires multiple candidates who know they are not on pace to get a delegate majority to keep running and accumulating delegates anyway.

That is a pretty tricky path to follow, especially for the candidates who rely on fundraising to keep going.

So far, Sanders is ahead, but it is hard to classify which of these patterns will hold. The situation is even more apparent if you rescale the 2020 Democratic chart to show the entire race:

We have just barely started. Current polling in South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states is driving the current predictions of how this race will turn out. If those polls are correct, then the projections of Sanders winning outright or having a contested convention where Sanders has a significant plurality are probably right.

But we don't know for sure quite yet.

So after South Carolina, and especially after Super Tuesday, come back here and see which ways these lines are all moving, and we'll know a lot better which kind of pattern 2020 is going to follow.

Depending on what we see, this thing may be mostly over, or we'll have indications it will go on awhile.

It will be a fun week. Keep watching Election Graphs!

138.6 days until the Democratic National Convention.

180.6 days until the Republican National Convention.

This post is an update based on the data on the Election Graphs 2020 Delegate Race page. Election Graphs tracks estimates of the convention delegate totals for both parties. The charts, graphs, and maps in the post above are all as of the time of this post. Click through on any image for the current interactive versions of that chart, along with additional details.

Follow @ElectionGraphs on Twitter or Election Graphs on Facebook to see announcements of new blog posts. For those interested in more granular updates of delegate updates or general election polling, follow @ElecCollPolls on Twitter. If you find the information in these posts informative or useful, please consider visiting the donation page.

New Hampshire Tie Leaves Buttigieg Ahead

So, New Hampshire went much more smoothly than Iowa, so a few hours after polls closed, the delegates are already locked in.

A lot of coverage has talked about popular vote totals in both Iowa and New Hampshire. This is a mistake. That should be ignored. Just like winning the popular vote did not make Hillary Clinton president, winning the popular vote means nothing in the nomination process. What matters is delegates, and only delegates.

In New Hampshire, the delegate breakdown is:

  • 9 for Buttigieg
  • 9 for Sanders
  • 6 for Klobuchar

It was a tie.

No matter what happened with the popular vote.

Now, what does that mean for the race overall?

Time to look at the "% of remaining delegates needed to win" graph:

Remember, on this graph, down is good, up is bad. When a candidate gets down to 0%, they have won the nomination. If they go up to 100%, they have been mathematically eliminated.

Everybody is still going up!

This reflects the fact that nobody is even getting a majority of the delegates in contests yet, let alone performing at the (currently slightly higher) levels they would need to in order to actually start bringing these lines down.

There are clear differences between the candidates of course. We have two groupings at the moment.

The leaders are Buttigieg and Sanders, because they are going up more slowly than the others.

Buttigieg is doing the best, but Sanders is just behind him.

Sanders is also disputing some results in Iowa. If Sanders gets the best result he can hope for from those disputes, Sanders gains a delegate and Buttigieg loses a delegate, which would move Sanders and Buttigieg into an overall tie. (If that is resolved before Nevada anyway.)

Then there is a gap, followed by Warren, Klobuchar, and Biden (in that order) in the second tier, grouped pretty closely together.

The only actual change in the ordering caused by New Hampshire was Klobuchar overtaking Biden. This puts Biden in 5th place, which is clearly not where he wanted to be at this point.

Lots of people are making prognostications on how the rest of the race will play out based on these two contests. And it certainly does look like Biden's standing in future states has been hurt by his poor performance so far. But it is important to remember that only 1.63% of the delegates have been allocated so far.

All of the candidates still only need between 50% and 51% of the remaining delegates in order to be on pace to win. That is better than any of them have done so far of course, but that is not an outrageous or impossible number.

There is a long way to go. A lot can happen. And we haven't even gotten to the states where Bloomberg has been dumping money yet.

OK, especially at this stage, it may also be helpful to look at the chart in some more familiar ways before we close up.

Here are the results so far in terms of total delegate count :

And in terms of percentage of the delegates so far:

Or for those who prefer tables:

And broken down by state:

Bottom lines:

Buttigieg is the leader, with Sanders nipping at his heels.

Warren, Klobuchar, and Biden are behind, but it is so early, all three of them, and also candidates with no delegates yet for that matter, still have plenty of time to catch up… if they can get ahead of the rapidly growing narrative that the first 1.63% of the delegates have already determined their destinies.

152.5 days until the Democratic National Convention

194.5 days until the Republican National Convention

This post is an update based on the data on the Election Graphs 2020 Delegate Race page. Election Graphs tracks estimates of the convention delegate totals for both parties. The charts, graphs, and maps in the post above are all as of the time of this post. Click through on any image to go to a page with the current interactive versions of that chart, along with additional details.

Follow @ElectionGraphs on Twitter or Election Graphs on Facebook to see announcements of new blog posts. For those interested in more granular updates of delegate updates or general election polling, follow @ElecCollPolls on Twitter. If you find the information in these posts informative or useful, please consider visiting the donation page.

Iowa! (Finally)

I'm sure anyone reading blog posts on Election Graphs already knows about all the drama about getting results from the Iowa caucuses. So suffice it to say that they had some issues.

The 2020 Delegate Race page has been updating whenever new results have become available over the last few days. For the most part, we use the excellent delegate breakdowns at The Green Papers as our definitive source for this information. You can find their current detailed status of the Democratic results in Iowa here. Note that they present a more conservative estimate at the top of the page, but a more aggressive estimate (using more provisional data) at the bottom of the page. Election Graphs uses the second estimate.

The delegate estimates here represent the best estimates for national delegates at the point the Iowa Democrats reported 100% of the vote counted. These may change slightly if there are corrections or recanvasses based on some of the irregularities that were found. And they almost certainly will be adjusted months down the line when national delegates are actually selected at the Iowa Democratic Convention in June.

With that in mind, let's jump right in and explain the central chart that Election Graphs uses to examine the delegate race. It isn't a straight forward chart of the number of delegates each candidate has accumulated either at the present moment or over time. You can find that kind of chart, and others, on the 2020 Delegate Race page. But the most important chart to watch is actually this one:

Rather than the date on the horizontal axis, we show the percent of available delegates that have been allocated so far. In the case of the Democrats this year, this is only the PLEDGED delegates (no superdelegates) since superdelegates will not be able to vote in the first round at the convention unless it is mathematically impossible for them to change the winner.

Using % allocated rather than date gives us a better idea of how far along we are in the race, given that primary and caucus dates are scattered across the calendar irregularly, and the number of delegates available on different dates varies wildly based on which and how many states are handing out delegates that day.

Even more critically though, the vertical axis is not simply a count of delegates. We do have that graph too. But the headline graph shows something that gives a much better idea of how the race is going.

Namely: The percentage of the remaining delegates each candidate would have to win in order to have a majority of the delegates (and therefore clinch the nomination).

If you support a particular candidate, you want this number to go DOWN. When it reaches 0%, a candidate has clinched the nomination. If it goes above 100%, on the other hand, then a candidate has been mathematically eliminated. (Absent pledged delegates being released from their pledges and voting a different way than they were "supposed" to.)

In practice, a candidate can be in a position where they have not yet been mathematically eliminated, but it becomes harder and harder to envision a scenario where they would win. For instance, if a candidate would need 60% of the remaining vote to win, but their percentage of the vote so far is only 40%, unless you know that they are really heavily favored in the remaining states, their chances are actually very slim.

Candidates who are on a pace to win will see their lines moving down.

Candidates who are not on a winning pace will see their lines moving up.

So, what do we see so far after the preliminary results from Iowa?

Well, everybody is moving up. This is quite simply because nobody got over 50% of the available delegates in this first round, which is where you start when nobody has any delegates yet. To move your line down, you need to collect delegates faster than your current "% of remaining needed". If you don't, your line keeps going up, as it becomes harder and harder to catch up.

This is just like how if you are behind in a race, to win you have to not just go faster than the car that is in the lead, you have to go enough faster to catch up with them before the finish line.

As of this writing, the best estimate of the delegate breakdown is:

  • 14 for Buttigieg
  • 12 for Sanders
  • 8 for Warren
  • 6 for Biden
  • 1 for Klobuchar

This seems like an absolutely huge difference between the top and bottom of this list until you realize that only 41 delegates out of 3979 have been allocated so far. That is only 1.03%.

So the "% of remaining delegates needed" varies from 50.18% for Buttigieg, to 50.51% for Klobuchar. (It would be 50.53% for any candidates who still have zero delegates.) These numbers are still very very close to each other.

The news has been filled with pronouncements of the possibility of Biden being doomed by this result or hyperventilation about the momentum for Buttigieg or Sanders. If such a small percentage of the delegates have been allocated so far, and everybody is still pretty close to each other, why is this?

Well… How candidates do in Iowa impacts their perception in New Hampshire. And New Hampshire impacts their perception in Nevada. Which impacts South Carolina. Which impacts Super Tuesday. And perhaps even more importantly, their performance in each state impacts fundraising and media coverage.

In these early stages, the "narrative" dominates. It does matter. A lot.

But in the end, it is all about the delegates. And so far, there is still not all that much difference between the candidates. Anything can still happen.

In terms of the graph above, look for when one of the curves starts heading down instead of up. That's when someone is really getting some momentum. It means that in every new contest, they don't even have to do as well as they have before in order to win. They can just keep chugging along how they have been, and they will end up winning.

For now, though, things can still get crazy.

Finally, before wrapping up, there was another surprise in Iowa besides Biden doing badly and Buttigieg doing well. The surprise was on the Republican side, where Iowa was actually the third state to allocate delegates (after Hawaii and Kansas).

In the Republican Iowa Caucuses, Bill Weld got 1.29% of the vote. Which was enough to get him one delegate out of the 40 available. So we have a race on the Republican side too!

Yeah, OK. Not really. But hey. Weld got a delegate.

157.4 days until the Democratic National Convention.

199.4 days until the Republican National Convention.

It is going to be a fun ride…

For more information:

This post is an update based on the data on the Election Graphs 2020 Delegate Race page. Election Graphs tracks estimates of the convention delegate totals for both parties. The charts, graphs, and maps in the post above are all as of the time of this post. Click through on any image to go to a page with the current interactive versions of that chart, along with additional details.

Follow @ElectionGraphs on Twitter or Election Graphs on Facebook to see announcements of new blog posts. For those interested in more granular updates of delegate updates or general election polling, follow @ElecCollPolls on Twitter. If you find the information in these posts informative or useful, please consider visiting the donation page.