Millennics EP8 – Delegate Math and Strategy

In this episode of Millennics, Host Jonathan J. Cianfaglione conducts delegate math to highlight the strategy of each campaign.

Host: Jonathan J. Cianfaglione (@jjcianfaglione via Twitter)
Presented by:
Support from: VIG & Associates

Show Resources:

2016 Delegate Count and Primary Results

Show Notes:

Millennics EP8 – Delegate Math and Strategy, March 25, 2016.

Welcome to another episode of Millennics.  I’m your host Jonathan J. Cianfaglione and Millennics is presented by  Before we start, I want to offer my condolences to anyone who has been effected by the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels.  I’ve decided to save the conversation of terrorism and counter-terrorism for a footnotes episode in the near future.
Moving to the delegate math and strategies.  This episode is here to make sense of delegates … something mass media, in my view, has simply just made more confusing.
Here is how delegates work: The total number of delegates on each side —that is Republicans and Democrats—is different.  This simply boils down to how many delegates there are per state.  To win the nomination, in either party, the number is just over half.  Thus, the number to win on the GOP side is 1,237 delegates, and the number to win on the Democrats side is 2,245 delegates.
I’m making this particularly clear, b/c I know last week, Trump injected the notion that the number to win the GOP delegates, 1,237, was just some random number that the GOP god made up.  Actually, its not.  Its just over half; so, you know, majority, like how democracy works.
Now that the foundation is set, Let’s add a second layer: how to get delegates.  This is tricky on the GOP side, so, let’s start with the democrats.  The democrats adhere to proportionality in all 50 states, including DC and territories.  Therefore, when you see states where the outcome is really tight between Sanders and Clinton—say 53 to 47—its like a break even for them.  The only time a candidate on the Democrat side runs away with delegates, is where candidate wins by a a large margin.
As the fight for delegates continues on the democrat side, where Hillary leads Sanders 1223 delegates to 920 delegates, respectively, Sanders has to take on some wins.  But, if Sanders wants to take the nomination, his wins can’t be by slim margins.  Instead, Sanders needs to win states by large margins to keep Hillary from reaching the threshold of 2,245 delegates.
In terms of delegate math, Sanders chances are really really slim.  At the same time, though, the next set of contest out in the pacific northwest favors Sanders.  He needs to do extremely well in the remaining contests, similar to his showing in Idaho, where he crushed Hillary.  If any other outcome happens, Sanders is, well, doomed to loose.
Turning to the Republicans, they have a more complex way to divvy out delegates. Specifically, they have three, and here’s how they work:
First, the most common divvying of the delegates—that is, the system most widely used on the conservative side—is proportionality.  In typical cases, similar to the democrat proportionality rule, each candidate can walk away with delegates in a state that uses this system.  However, where a candidate wins every congressional district, a candidate can steal all the delegates.
We saw this in the battle for South Carolina.  South Carolina uses the proportionality system to award delegates, allowing each candidate to walk away with some delegates despite a candidate winning the state.  At the same time, though, if a candidate wins all congressional districts, the candidates sweeps the delegates in the state.  In S.C., Trump not only won the state, but he won every congressional district.  Thus, he swept the delegates available, and the other candidates walked out of S.C. with nothing despite S.C. being a proportionality system.
Further, some proportionality states have minimum thresholds for a candidate to be eligible to be awarded delegates.  A common threshold for states utilizing this rule is 10%.  Thus, where this 10% threshold is not met, a candidate is precluded from being awarded any delegates, even if a candidate has won a congressional district.  The delegates from the congressional district the candidate won, are now open to go to whomever candidate so they choose at the convention.
The second system is Winner-take-all states.  In winner-take-all states, all the delegates in the state are awarded to whichever candidate accumulates the most votes, circumventing the congressional district system.  Thus, in winner-take-all states, the candidate who has the most votes snags all the delegates, even if the candidate didn’t win every congressional district.  Most recently, we saw this in FL, OH, and AZ.  There are 5 more winner-take-all states.
But, wait: there are still more systems on the GOP side.  The best way to categorize the remaining systems would be to call them hybrid states.  One of these hybrid systems is the winner-take-most states.  This system is substantially similar to winner-take-all states, though, so we can bypass this discussion.
An example of another hybrid system is Utah.  Utah is a winner-take-all state, if and only if, a candidate wins 50% of the vote, or more.  Should no candidate break this 50% threshold, the delegates are divvied up by proportionality.
I’ll stop here briefly, and answer the question I know you’re thinking: “why so many different systems? And who comes up with these systems?”  In short, each state’s party is responsible for the system in their state.  There are many political reasons on why they would choose one system, over the other.  The reasons span from how important a state wants to be in the election to how fiercely divided it is to considering geographically disproportionate population bases in a state.
In example, a majority of the population of IL lives in the Chicago Metropolitan area compared to Southern IL.  To ensure that one geographic area of a state—in this case, Chicago—doesn’t  doesn’t drown another geographic area of a state, or really the rest of the state in the case of IL, and effectively disenfranchise them, systems like the aforementioned are used to inject balance and provide a voice to those who otherwise go unheard.
Ok, I digress: Let’s talk strategy for the Republicans.  Trump is in the lead with 738 delegates, Cruz trails with 463 delegates, and Kasich is way back there with 143 delegates.
Doing the delegate math for Kasich, he has no possible way of reaching 1,237 delegates.  Thus, his strategy is simple: take as many delegates as he can, in an effort to keep them from Trump.  In so doing, he will help boost Cruz, and attempt to prevent Trump from being the nominee.
Cruz on the other hand, has as fighting chance, though its slim.  Doing the delegate math for Cruz, he has to do something similar to Sanders, where he not only needs to win, but he needs to win by big margins.  If he can do that, Cruz can effectively do the “come from behind win.”
But, this is unrealistic to put it in simple terms.  In reality, Cruz is doing the same thing as Kasich: win as many delegates as possible, in an effort to prevent Trump from attaining the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination.
What happens if no one candidate reaches the 1,237 delegates reached for the nomination?  We have a brokered convention.  At a brokered convention, the delegates vote on who will be the nominee.  If a candidate is close to 1,237 delegates, he could win on the first ballot, or vote, by persuading delegates to vote for him.  If that doesn’t work, the delegates will hold a second ballot, and vote again. They’ll continue to do this, until they pick a nominee.
There are a lot of party rules at the convention, and going over them might just be more confusing.  In addition, it might be completely fruitless to go over, if one of the candidates, namely Trump, reaches the 1,237 delegates and secures the nomination. So, I’ll save everyone the pain.
I will take this moment, though, to go over arguments against not awarding the candidate who is closest to 1,237 delegates, the nomination.  First, and foremost, there is no such thing as automatic nomination if a candidate hasn’t reached 1,237 delegates.  Trump has gone on TV saying he should get automatically, even if he doesn’t reach the number.  But, this makes no sense.
As a corollary consider playoffs for a professional sports league.  To get into the playoffs, a team must reach a certain amount of wins.  Upon obtaining such wins, they clinch the playoffs.  Anything short, doesn’t get the team in the playoffs.  Thus, a candidate, similar to that of a professional sports league, must clinch the nomination by winning the 1,237 delegates.  Anything short of this, well, sorry, you don’t get the nomination.  At least automatically.
Another argument proffered by Trump is that we would be disenfranchising the people who voted for him.  This is simply bad logic.  Under this logic, if Trump became the nominee, it would be correct to say that we have disenfranchised the voter who voted for Cruz, Kasich, Bush, etc., the other 12 candidates are so that were once in the race.  This argument strains logic beyond its bending point, and just shows how little trump understands how democracy works.
A final argument I frequently hear, perhaps from Trump supporters, is if a brokered convention yields a different person than who was in the lead would be violative of the democratic process.  This is untrue.
First, we must consider the previous argument, where a candidate must obtain 1,237 delegates to obtain the nomination.  Absent this magical number, the candidate doesn’t clinch the nomination.
Secondly, recall that 1,237 delegates is just over half of the republican delegates available.  Thus, if a candidate doesn’t reach this number, he has yet to receive even half of the people who voted on a republican ballot.  Put in other words, 1,237 delegates constitutes the majority of votes cast for republicans, and, where a candidate doesn’t achieve a majority vote—a basic operating principle of democracy—then it can’t be said that it is violative of the democratic process.  Indeed, the more correct answer would be to say the contrary: should a candidate be selected without achieving a majority of delegates or votes cast would be violative of the democratic process.
With that, I leave you.  Hopefully this Millennics episode on Delegate Math has cleared up some confusion, and presented a clearer picture of not only what has happened, but what’s to come, and how our system works.  I’m your host Jonathan J. Cianfaglione, and don’t forget to find us on Facebook at and twitter, @jjcianfaglione.  You can subscribe to the Millennics podcast at the iTunes store, or you can listen on soundcloud at  Chat soon.