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Delegate Count Switcheroo

What if Republicans were Democrats and Democrats were Republicans?

This year’s wild election has been a crash course in how the byzantine ways the states select convention delegates affect the nomination process. How does Donald Trump lock up the Republican nomination without achieving a majority in any state until mid-April? How does Bernie Sanders win state after state, yet keep falling further behind in his quest for the nomination? Look no further than the delegate rules.

But what if Trump were competing under the Democrats’ proportional-representation rules, and Sanders and Hillary Clinton were navigating Republicans’ hodgepodge of winner-take-all states, congressional district delegates and loophole primaries?

Delegate tallies vary, but the current state of the Democratic race is, more or less:

Clinton 2228 (2,382 needed to nominate)
Sanders 1454

Under Republican rules:

Clinton 2250
Sanders 1128
Unbound 243
O’Malley 1

Since the Republicans don’t have superdelegates, I counted them in the statewide allocation in states which have it, or in the proportional allocation in states which don’t. Clinton doesn’t gain much because many of the superdelegates, who are overwhelmingly in her corner, are from states which haven’t voted yet, and thus disappear from this calculation entirely; others, because they’re now bound by the vote totals, end up going to Sanders. But Sanders still bleeds delegates, as big states he lost, like New York, Ohio and Florida, are transformed into winner-take-all states or close to it.

The Republicans are less surprising. Current estimates (1,237 to nominate):

Trump 1068
Cruz 564
Rubio 166
Kasich 153
Carson 9
Bush 4
Fiorina 1
Huckabee 1
Paul 1

Under Democratic rules:

Trump 872
Cruz 611
Rubio 275
Kasich 174
Unknown 92

(The “unknown” column reflects North Dakota and Colorado, who didn’t take a vote because their delegates are unbound, and three territories which didn’t release vote totals from their caucuses and conventions.)

Democrats have a 15% threshold to receive delegates, which shuts out the candidates who didn’t make it past Super Tuesday. (Republicans’ thresholds in the states which award delegates proportionally are as low as 1%, which is how Martin O’Malley manages to eke out a delegate.) But while adding winner-take-all states doesn’t aid Clinton much, subtracting them erases Trump’s hammerlock on the nomination. The seven states where Trump swept the available delegates, including Indiana, suddenly award 152 delegates to his rivals. He’d still be the only candidate with a mathematical chance at a first-ballot victory – but he’d need 84% of the delegates in the remaining states, and a contested convention would be on the horizon after all.

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