The Nomination Complication
For those of you who’ve managed to avoid the news for the past few months, America has been occupied with the total circus that is the 2016 Presidential Elections.
From a grand total of 23 candidates (6 Democrats and a whopping 17 Republicans), the Democratic (Dems) and Republican (GOP) nomination races have narrowed down to just two Dems and four GOP candidates. This isn’t even counting the handful of other Independent or Libertarian candidates running as well.
If the numbers weren’t ridiculous enough, the politics and drama roiling this election cycle have turned the race into a surreal reflection of the show, House of Cards.
Here’s the breakdown of the nomination races, what’s going on within each major party, and general election predictions.
Primaries and Caucuses and Delegates
Between February and June, all 50 US states plus territories vote for their preference for candidate for either the Democrats or the Republicans.
States often handle this process in their own way, voting either through primaries or caucuses to determine allocation of delegates for each candidate. These delegates then head to the national convention for each party to vote for the nominee.
Primaries involve a simple statewide vote divided between counties, supervised by state and local governments.
Caucuses involve meeting up in locations spread out through counties, physically walking to a side of a room to express your support for a candidate, and then going through rounds of trying to persuade others to join your side. Once concluded, people are counted up and county delegates are allocated accordingly. County delegates pick state and/or district delegates, who then pick national delegates. States who use caucusing systems can have variations on this, but all caucuses are run privately by the parties themselves.
Not all states are equal in the nomination process either.
When your state holds its primary or caucus matters, and population size holds a disproportionate effect on delegate allocation.
States like Iowa and New Hampshire have low delegate counts as per their low populations sizes, but vote early and often act as the first filter for candidate success.
Conversely, states like New York and California vote towards the end of the nomination process, but offer several hundred delegates each and wins here can easily seal nominations for candidates.
States like Maine or Alaska, who offer neither large delegate counts nor strategic time positions, end up doing little to the overall nomination race.
The Dems and the GOP handle their respective delegate allocations differently too.
The Democratic Party mandates that all its state primaries and caucuses allocate their delegates proportionally by vote percentages, subject to a 15% barrier to entry. A candidate may “win” a state, but their opponents will receive delegates from that state as well, according to how well they did.
The GOP lets its state primaries and caucuses manage allocation as they like. Some opt for a proportional system, others for a winner-take-all system, and some for a sort of hybrid where winner-take-all is applied just to counties which then allocate proportionately by those results.
All this makes for a confusing election map, requires the need for immense political calculation and strategy, and results in unique nomination races for each party (which I will explain later on).
The following is a rundown of the major primaries and caucuses for each party so far and in the near future:
Iowa Dem and GOP caucuses – Feb 1st
- 1st in the nation caucus, predominately white and conservative
- Filtered out 1 Dem and 3 GOP candidates
New Hampshire Dem and GOP primaries – Feb 9th
- 1st in the nation primary, predominately white and liberal
- Filtered out 3 GOP candidates
South Carolina Dem and GOP primaries – Feb 27th and 20th respectively
- 1st of the southern primaries, 1st with a significant black population
- Filtered out 1 GOP candidate
Super Tuesday or the “SEC Primary” – March 1st
- 11 state Dem and GOP primaries and caucuses, primarily southern states
- Offers 22% of available delegates for Dems, 24% for the GOP
- Texas is the largest delegate state and offered numerical advantages to those who won it
- Almost single-handedly shaped the remainder of the nomination races
- Filtered out 1 GOP candidate
Michigan Dem and GOP primaries – March 8th
- Major delegate count for both parties
- Offers the first glimpse at success rates with a significant population of low income industrial, urban workers
- The Flint Water Crisis has been a major backdrop to these primaries
Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and North Carolina Dem and GOP primaries – March 15th
- Offers 15% of the Dem delegates and 12% of the GOP delegates, a significant portion of the delegates for both parties that won’t be matched until a few weeks after
- Florida and Ohio are the first of several winner-take-all states for the GOP, offering a chance for major gains for savvy candidates
March 15th roughly marks the end of the first half of nomination season for both parties, and the final southern states. Every primary and caucus afterwards will be mostly western, mid-western, or New England states, featuring a plethora of urban voters and very liberal states, and the delegate giants of New York, California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The race typically reshapes itself to better reflect the impending general election at this point, pivoting away from inner-party conflict. But as you will soon see, that might not be the case this election cycle.
The Dems have narrowed down to just two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Hillary, with a sweeping win across Super Tuesday highlighted by a dominant win in Texas, built herself a “firewall” of delegates, which she has since expanded to a couple hundred. She decisively won the southern states and had overwhelming margins of black voters compared to Sanders. So far she has won 12 states with 676 delegates total.
Sanders on the other hand, has been relegated to winning only states with predominantly white populations, with his only major win so far being Colorado. However, he continually outperforms Hillary with young liberals and has built a juggernaut fundraising ability. So far he has won 8 states with 476 delegates total.
While Hillary maintains a definitive lead over Sanders, Sanders’ last chance to take the nomination race lies in Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois. Failure to outperform Hillary in these states would spell the end to any hope Sanders has for winning. However, current polls favor Hillary in these states by significant percentages.
Mathematically speaking, for Sanders to win at this point he must achieve several landslide victories to offset Hillary’s “firewall.” Because the Dems use a proportional system, even if Sanders wins a state, Hillary still can get a large portion of the delegates and quickly negate Sanders gains from a win. All Hillary needs to do is win or draw in any state. Sanders on the other hand, needs to win by large margins consistently until he breaks the “firewall.”
The Dems also utilize superdelegates – party officials, key elected officials, governors, and other politicians, and other major figures for the Dems who act as unbound delegates and can vote for who they like. There are a couple hundred of them, and can easily flood support into a win for a candidate. Most have endorsed Hillary, giving her a major advantage and more than double of Sanders’ delegates. However shady that might seem, Hillary is still extremely likely to win the nomination without the need for superdelegates to tip her over into a win.
There have been several heated moments between the Hillary and Sanders campaigns, and the closest it got to unraveling was when the Sanders campaign got into hot water for improperly accessing the Hillary campaign voter records.
Compared to the GOP though, the Dems have had smooth sailing.
Republican Party (GOP)
The GOP has been turned on its head by the nomination race.
Originally swamped with a record 17 candidates, they’ve whittled down to just four: John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump.
Kasich remains without a single win, but hopes to utilize his favored-son status as governor of Ohio to claim a victory in that winner-take-all state. From there he plans to take some momentum going forward. Polls have Kasich at a 61% chance to win in Ohio come March 15th. He only has 37 delegates.
Presumptuous champion of the GOP “establishment,” Rubio (who, by the way, is a UF alumni) has been left with wins only in Minnesota and Puerto Rico. Having faced disastrous results on Super Tuesday, his last hope is winning his winner-take-all home state of Florida. He has 151 delegates.
Ted Cruz, thoroughly and openly disliked by the vast majority of Washington and his fellow congressmen, has come out as an unlikely major contender. He has won a surprising 6 states, with one unsurprisingly being his home state of Texas. He holds 300 delegates and is in second place.
And finally in first place is Donald Trump, the populist, crass, strongman billionaire candidate who has managed to turn an amusing media story about a candidacy that won’t last, into a firm frontrunner position. He’s won an astounding 12 states and carries 384 delegates. Capitalizing on disunity and lack of solidarity amongst the rest of the GOP electorate, he’s leveraged significant pluralities into almost continual wins. If allowed to take wins in places like Ohio and Florida, he’ll cement his position as the eventual nominee for the GOP.
Anyone but Trump
Two things have emerged from the chaos of the GOP race:
The first is that where before the majority of the GOP was scared, paralyzed, confused, or discordant over how to handle Trump, they have now begun to fall in line in very vocal opposition to Trump. The problem is that it might be too little, too late. The party elites have seemingly lost all control over their party.
The second is that a brokered convention, nomination mechanism to settle dispute over the nominee that hasn’t been used in more than half a century, has suddenly become the last and only hope for the GOP to prevent Trump from being the nominee.
A brokered convention is where no candidate manages to secure enough delegates to outright win the nomination, triggering all delegates to become unbound with several rounds of negotiating and re-voting following where the party attempts to convince a majority of delegates to back a compromise nominee. This brokered nominee could be one of the existing candidates, but could be another party figure, such as 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, or current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
In the context of the GOP, this means that Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich would have to recognize that neither of them will win the nomination outright and enter a truce. They would then proceed to each attempt to win as many states as possible that they are most likely to win out of the three of them. This would be necessary to deny Trump as many delegates as possible.
Kasich would no longer be winning Ohio in order to take the nomination, and Rubio would no longer be banking his candidacy on Florida. Instead they would be trying to win just to keep Trump from sealing the nomination.
While Cruz has been on an unexpected win streak, when looking at the more liberal second half of the nomination season the evangelical conservative candidate is unlikely to pick up more than a handful wins at best. The more moderate Rubio looks like he’ll perform better in the second half, and Rubio and Cruz have effectively established a truce to capitalize on this. They’ve started to refrain from attacking each other in debates and on the campaign trail, but that might very well dissipate quickly if Cruz bets he has more to gain by sinking Rubio.
Kasich doesn’t appear to be following the brokered convention strategy and stubbornly says he’ll still win outright. The problem for himself, and Rubio/Cruz, is that he’s largely failed to win more of the northeast states. Except for Ohio, his prospects look dim across the board.
Trump on the other hand could care less about the possibility of a brokered convention. Attacks on him haven’t taken away from his lead or his voter base. At times it seems like any attack at all helps him surge a little.
If the GOP hopes to get anywhere with their brokered convention strategy, they had best take every measure they can to scoop up the undecided voters away from Trump.
But all this remains a hypothetical at best. Statistical models still heavily favor Trump as the GOP nomination for president, much to the dismay of a majority of Republicans and the unrestrained glee of the Dems.
A Look to the General Election
While it still is a little early to accurately predict the outcome of the general election, we can make a read off what we know so far.
The Dems will very, very likely nominate Hillary. The GOP will very, very likely nominate Trump.
My personal opinion, backed by very early polling, is that Hillary will beat Trump and secure a third consecutive term for the Dems.
My reasoning is that while Trump’s rhetoric and strongman tactics have fired up a very vocal and passionate voter base, he has effectively alienated every minority group there is in America, made statements and actions that have drawn comparisons between him and Hitler, Mussolini, and Kim Jong Un, and scared away moderates and conservatives who either don’t appreciate his flip flopping, his rhetoric, or his advocacy of blatant violation of laws and human rights. These factors don’t bode well for Trump for general election voters.
Hillary may have an issue with an image of trust, but many voters might be willing to swallow their dislike of her to prevent Trump from winning. Voters may also turn to a third party, such as the Libertarian Party.
The 2016 Presidential election has easily become one of the most entertaining, terrifying, and absurd elections in recent history, helped along by the GOP nomination race devolving into a middle school fight involving name calling, petty revenge, discussion of Trump’s genitalia on national television.
And to think, this has only been the first half of nomination season.