Somehow, the 2016 presidential campaign seems as though it is simultaneously just getting underway and six months past its expiration date. The steady stream of election days is starting to slow, since in years past this thing would have been settled by now. But the endless/just-gearing-up 2016 contest is endless. Just gearing up.
More than half of the delegates that will be allocated in each race have already been given out -- or, really, should have been given out and will once the actual voting results drop down through the Plinko board that is the Republican allocation system and separate into each candidate's pile. What's left is a bunch of days with small states handing out small clumps of delegates and a few big days with big states that could make all the difference.
What we decided to do, then, is look at those big delegate states left on each calendar and try to figure out how much of our conversations about "percents needed" and so on hinges on delegates that will be given out in big groups for places that have recently been polled. ("Big" is relative here, so we included delegate hauls in the 75th percentile of each race.) Figuring out how Democratic delegates in each place are handed out is easy; they're all given out proportionately. On the Republican side, we'll outline the process each state uses (and where that forces us to guess).
Things begin in the Empire State three and a half weeks from now.
April 19: New York
Delegates at stake for the Democrats: 247
Delegates at stake for the Republicans: 95
How the Republican delegates are allocated: If someone wins 50 percent of the state, he gets all 14 at-large delegates. Otherwise, the delegates are divvied up among those who got at least 20 percent in the polling. In each of the state's 27 congressional districts, the winner of the vote gets two delegates and the second-place candidate one -- provided the second-place person gets at least 20 percent in the district. But if the winner gets 50 percent in the district, he gets all three and the second-place finisher gets none.
Most recent poll: Emerson College, finished on Mar. 16.
Democratic polling: Hillary Clinton, 71; Bernie Sanders, 23
Republican polling: Donald Trump, 64; Ted Cruz, 12; John Kasich, 1
These are some massive leads -- far bigger than the still-large leads conveyed in a poll from Siena College, which had Clinton up by 21 and Trump up by 27. But we're using the most recent poll, so let's game it out.
So this is easy for the Democrats: Clinton would get 187 and Sanders 60. (Using Siena's numbers, the split is a closer 153-94.)
For the Republicans, less so. Trump wins the 14 at-large delegates, since he's over 50 percent statewide. We can also assume he'd be over 50 percent in most of the congressional districts; after all, you can't get to 50 percent statewide without getting over 50 percent somewhere. But just for kicks, let's say that some of the congressional races are closer. Let's give Cruz 3 congressional district wins and assume Trump gets 50 percent in 10. (This is the approximating.)
That gives us: Trump, 75; Cruz, 20; Kasich, 0.
Believe it or not, New York was an easy one.
April 26: Pennsylvania
Delegates at stake for the Democrats: 189
Delegates at stake for the Republicans: 71
How the Republican delegates are allocated: The winner of the state gets 17 at-large delegates, regardless of the margin of victory. Then there are 54 delegates given out over the state's 18 congressional districts, allocated by ... nothing.
(Seriously. The 54 delegates just run as people on the ballot, without even an affiliated candidate they're meant to officially represent. People just pick three folks to be their district's delegates. Obviously candidates will push slates of delegates that they want people to vote for, but those people don't actually have to vote for them! It's bananas.)
Most recent poll: Franklin and Marshall College, finished on Mar. 20.
Democratic polling: Clinton, 53; Sanders, 28
Republican polling: Trump, 33; Kasich, 30; Cruz, 20
Democrats: Clinton, 124; Sanders, 65.
The Republicans? Sigh.
Trump gets the 17 at-large. Then let's assume that he wins the equivalent of 10 districts' worth of delegates, Cruz gets 3 (as before) and Kasich gets 5 (since he's in second). These are uncommitted delegates, so who knows who they end up voting for, but let's just go with it.
So: Trump, 47; Kasich, 15; Cruz, 9.
May 3: Indiana
Not a key state for Democrats.
Delegates at stake for the Republicans: 57
How the Republican delegates are allocated: The winner of the state gets 30 at-large delegates, regardless of the margin of victory. That's why this is a big state for the party -- the GOP gives out at-large delegates to states that have more elected Republicans in office. Pennsylvania and New York (and California, coming up) have fewer elected Republicans. On top of that, the usual three delegates for each congressional district, with the highest vote-getter in the district scooping all three up.
Most recent poll: There hasn't been one this year. Someone poll Indiana, please! This will be important to know.
In lieu of that, we'll use national numbers.
Republican polling: Trump, 43; Cruz, 30; Kasich, 19
Could Kasich do well in the state next to his home state of Ohio? Maybe as well as he did in the adjacent state of Michigan ... where he came in third.
Giving Cruz three congressional wins, this is easy to sort out (by Republican standards). Trump, 48; Cruz, 9; Kasich, 0.
June 7: California
Delegates at stake for the Democrats: 475
Delegates at stake for the Republicans: 172
How the Republican delegates are allocated: The winner of the state gets 13 at-large delegates, regardless of the margin of victory. Then there are 159 delegates given out over the state's 53 congressional districts, going to the winner of each one.
Which is why the night of June 7 will probably be ridiculous, with all of us waiting to hear how the vote in Visalia looks to determine if Cruz wins the 22nd.
Most recent poll: PPIC, finished on Mar. 15.
Democratic polling: Clinton, 48; Sanders, 41
Republican polling: Trump, 38; Kasich, 27; Cruz, 14
Democrats: Clinton, 256; Sanders, 219.
Republicans: Using the distribution we've been using, we'd end up at Trump, 163; Cruz, 9; Kasich, 0. But the fact that we're looking at 53 separate contests, letting Cruz target specific places with visits and ads to peel off votes -- and given that we looked at data earlier this month showing Cruz doing well in the Central Valley, let's pocket an alternative scenario: Trump, 148; Cruz, 24 -- as he wins eight districts.
June 7: New Jersey
Not a key state for Republicans.
Delegates at stake for the Democrats: 126
Most recent poll: Rutgers-Eagleton, finished on Feb. 15.
Democratic polling: Clinton, 55; Sanders, 32
Democrats: Clinton, 80; Sanders, 46.
See how easy that is? Sure, the proportional allocation means long, drawn-out nomination contests, but it makes the math much, much simpler.
Adding it all up
OK. Tallying the bold-faced numbers above we get:
In other words, then, that's a net gain for Clinton of 257 delegates and a net gain for Trump over Cruz of 256.
Right now, Clinton's got a lead of 303 delegates over Sanders, so she'd jump to 560. If we use the Siena College numbers instead, Clinton's lead only grows by 189, bringing her to a 492-delegate lead.
Trump's lead would move to 530 -- and he'd only be 180 delegates shy of clinching. If we ignore the delegates that haven't been allocated yet in states that have already voted, Ted Cruz would need to win 113 percent of all of the other delegates from here on out (save the states above) in order just to tie Trump. Which is to say: If Trump manages the performance shown above, indicated by the polls, Cruz officially can't catch him.
That's important. If Trump can't clinch the nomination, he'll want to go into the convention with the lead. If he does the above, he will. Even if we give Cruz those eight districts in California, Cruz can't pass Trump, needing 110 percent of the rest of the delegates from here on out. Even if we give him a win in the state of Indiana and those eight California districts -- still no good. Trump will have the lead.
Not only that, but using the numbers in the table above, Trump would only need 41 percent of the delegates in the rest of the states to clinch the nomination outright.
But let's go back to the Democratic side. We've been looking at this thing only through the lens of the pledged delegates, setting aside the free-roaming superdelegates that are leaning heavily to Clinton. For Sanders to tie Clinton using the numbers in the above table, he'd need to win 83 percent of the delegates elsewhere. But that's just tying her. To clinch, he'd need to sweep all the rest of the delegates in every other state -- meaning winning every state with 100 percent of the vote -- and then also add on 221 more superdelegates from the pool that haven't yet committed to a candidate. That pool is 221 people big, by our estimates. So: 100 percent of the pledged delegates and 100 percent of the remaining superdelegates.
Superdelegates can change their minds, of course, which is one of the many variables worth keeping in mind.
The main lesson to take away from this exercise is this: Current polling in the largest states yet to vote suggests that the two front-runners will expand their leads significantly in these states -- so much so that the ability of their opponents to stop them will likely diminish significantly.
Sanders and Cruz need to scoop up a lot of votes over the next few never-ending months. Right now, polling suggests that their ability to do so may be more limited than you at first might assume.