The 15 percent delegate allocation rule & Super Tuesday

Bernie Sanders may get virtually all of the delegates in California and a very large proportion in Texas on Super Tuesday with around 30 percent of the popular vote because of the 15 percent delegate allocation rule and the large number of candidates still in the race. The movement of the California primary from June to Super Tuesday has accelerated the nominating contest and may result in selection of a candidate opposed by 60 percent of the party.

Statistical Analysis of Likely Super Tuesday Outcomes

Under rules governing the allocation of delegates to the Democratic convention, candidates who receive less than 15 percent of the vote in a geographic area are not awarded any delegates. A candidate with less than 15 percent of the statewide vote but more than 15 percent of the vote in a particular district can receive a delegate from the district. However, a good first-cut estimate of delegate totals can be obtained by assuming all candidates with less than 15 percent of the statewide vote receive no delegates and total delegates are allocated among all candidates with vote totals over the threshold.

We use RCP average data for state primaries to obtain estimates of delegate totals contingent on current poll results. Our estimate of delegates for candidates with 15 percent or more of the votes is votes for candidate as a percent of total votes for all candidates with more than 15 percent. Again, candidates with less than 15 percent of the vote get no delegates under the rules.

The RCP average of polls for the California primary have Sanders in the lead with around 27 percent of the vote. No other candidate reaches the 15 percent threshold. If current polls hold, Sanders will receive the lion share of California delegates.

The California primary is traditionally held in June. This is the first year it was held on Super Tuesday. The large number of candidates splitting the California vote could lead to a large delegate haul for Sanders and essentially determine the outcome of the convention even though Sanders has less than 30 percent support in California.

The RCP average for the Texas Democratic Primary currently has Sanders with 22.3 percent, Biden with 20.7 and Warren with 15.3 and no other candidate meeting the threshold. Based on these poll numbers being reasonably accurate, Sanders would get around 39 percent of Texas delegates if Warren stays above the threshold and around 52 percent if she falls below the threshold.

The polls indicate Bloomberg takes around 13 percent of the vote in California and Texas. His presence in the race takes votes away from other centrists and results in higher delegate totals for Sanders. The large projected Sanders victories in California and in Texas are in part contingent on a strong showing by Bloomberg.

North Carolina has three candidates, Sanders, Biden and Warren, above the threshold and based on RCP averages the candidates would get 35, 33 and 31 percent respectively.

In Minnesota two candidates –Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders. — would get delegates. In Massachusetts two candidates — Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — would get delegates, Sanders does reasonably well, around 40 percent, in the home states of two of his rivals. However, both states have relatively few polls so there is a lot of uncertainty in these estimates.

The Super Tuesday poll results indicate that Biden is better positioned than Buttigieg or Klobuchar but Biden performed poorly in the early contests and is behind Buttigieg in delegate totals. Also, Klobuchar has done better than Biden in most states.

Buttigieg and Klobuchar are probably the two most viable centrist candidates in the race. The race between the two has been bitter and personal and both candidates will resist dropping out. The numbers to date indicate that Buttigieg is the more effective vote getter but it may be the case that supporters of Biden and Bloomberg prefer Klobuchar to Buttigieg because of her experience.

Concluding Remarks:

The front loading of the primary process on Super Tuesday, the large number of mainstream candidates still in the race and the 15 percent allocation rule may result in the Democrats nominating a candidate on one side of the political spectrum in the United States without the support of most of the party.

David Bernstein is the author of the book Defying Magnets: Centrist Policies in a Polarized World. The book explores policy debates in three areas also being considered in the 2020 campaign — student debt, health care and retirement income.

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