Even after the Bernie surprise, the reality of hard math
Big victories like the Sanders campaign snatching Michigan from Hillary Clinton show new-found momentum. But the Democratic and Republican contests are also about winning the most the delegates. Affan Chowdhry looks at where the delegate math stands after Tuesday's contests in Michigan, Mississippi, Hawaii and Idaho.
Democrats: Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders
- 2,383: Number of delegates needed to win the nomination
- 166: delegates up for grabs in March 8 Michigan and Mississippi primaries
Bernie Sanders is on a roll. He has won four of the last six contests. And Michigan is by far the biggest surprise of the Democratic race so far. But big wins do not always mean a big haul when it comes to delegates, and that is where he needs to narrow Hillary Clinton's delegate lead.
The way delegates are awarded is based on a proportional system, which means he can win the most delegates in the Michigan primary. But there's one catch: "superdelegates."
They are the elites of the Democratic party – officials, elected representatives, and one-time politicians. They don't have to pledge to a candidate before the party's convention – but often, it is understood which candidate they are backing. And so far, the overwhelming majority are backing Ms. Clinton.
That means that even in a state like Michigan, Mr. Sanders loses when it comes to combined total of delegates and superdelegates. According to Associated Press, Ms. Clinton gets 68 delegates and Mr. Sanders gets 65. Add on top of that the margin by which Ms. Clinton won in Mississippi, the former U.S. secretary of state clearly won the most delegates overall on Tuesday.
As an experiment, if we were to take out the superdelegates from the equation it would be a closer race on the Democratic side.
Republicans: Donald Trump versus The Rest
- 1,237: Number of delegates needed to win the nomination
- 150: delegates up for grabs in March 8 contests in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii
On the Republican side, there has been a scramble to try and stop front-runner Donald Trump ever since Mr. Trump's strong Super Tuesday showing on March 1 made him appear unstoppable.
In the four contests on Tuesday, Mr. Trump won in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii. Senator Ted Cruz won in Idaho.
The overall trajectory of the race on the Republican side is largely unchanged. Of the 24 contests, Mr. Trump has won 15, Mr. Cruz has won 7, and Senator Marco Rubio has won two.
It is looking hard, although not impossible, to catch and overtake Mr. Trump in the delegate math. By mid-March, about 58 per cent of the Republican delegates will have been awarded, which is why the March 15 contests are so crucial..
Next up: watch out for the next Super Tuesday
- 5: the number of states holding Democratic and Republican contests on March 15. The states are Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.
- 691: delegates up for grabs on the Democratic side
- 367: delegates up for grabs on the Republican side
After the slew of Super Tuesday contests on March 1, the handful of contests on March 8, there is another big Tuesday shaping up on March 15.
The five upcoming state contests present an opportunity to significantly narrow the gap in delegates, particularly on the Republican side. On that day, two states will be winner-take-all contests. Of the 367 delegates up for grabs that day, 165 will be go to the Republican candidate, or candidates, who win Ohio and Florida.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders will need a strong showing. But there is no winner-take-all system of awarding delegates. That means that the Vermont senator will likely see himself falling short in the delegate math, even if he wins some of those delegate-rich states like Florida and Ohio.
The Sanders campaign strategy is to keep winning states and, hopefully, enough momentum that the Democratic party superdelegates will be tempted to reconsider their support for Ms. Clinton. Right now, there is no sign that superdelegates are about to abandon the Democratic front-runner.
There is another hurdle: the RealClearPolitics average of polls in Ohio and Florida show that Ms. Clinton is leading. But polls can be wrong. That was one of the big takeaways from the Sanders win in Michigan on Tuesday, as pointed out by U.S. pollster Nate Silver on Twitter.
In the famous New Hampshire upset in '08, Clinton trailed Obama by 8 points. Big upset. But today, Sanders trailed Clinton by *21* and won.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 9, 2016
A couple of surprise wins on Super Tuesday 2 could super-charge the Sanders campaign, and turn the Democratic race into a hunt for delegates through March and beyond – and suck the air of inevitability out of the Clinton campaign.
Follow me on Twitter: @affanchowdhry