Election 2020

Do the Math: Sanders Won't Have Enough Delegates Before the Convention to Clinch It

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

He hasn’t won any delegates and probably won’t win many before Super Tuesday on March 3. But the Michael Bloomberg campaign is telling other Democratic candidates to drop out so that he can go one-on-one with Bernie Sanders — and save the Democratic Party from itself.


“The fact is if the state of this race remains status quo — with Biden, Pete and Amy in the race on Super Tuesday — Bernie is likely to open up a delegate lead that seems nearly impossible to overcome,” Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s top strategist, told Axios. “I don’t think many people understand the dire circumstances here.”

Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe agrees:

The Washington Post calls Sanders “uncatchable,” but is he a sure thing to win the nomination? The math says he can’t lock up the nomination before the convention.

And the reasons are varied, but you can start with the Democratic Party itself, which appears to have a talent for trivializing the momentous and complicating the obvious.

Those rules were clearly not designed for a situation like the one in which the party finds itself. Setting aside the self-serving argument by Bloomberg’s camp, the party is in fact headed toward a bizarre scenario. It could wind up with a clear front-runner in the delegate count — who is nonetheless unable to clinch a majority of the delegates, and therefore the nomination, before the party’s convention.

The key here is the 15 percent threshold that a candidate must reach in order to get any delegates at all. The delegates will be awarded proportionally, with better-performing candidates getting more delegates. But if you don’t get 15 percent, you get nothing.

Nate Silver ran the numbers and came up with some pretty shocking results.

By the end of Super Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight estimates that Sanders will have earned about 4 out of 10 delegates that will have been awarded.

But remember: To clinch the nomination, candidates need to earn a bit more than 50 percent of the delegates awarded after New Hampshire. While Sanders is projected to have a lead, the percentage of the rest of the delegates he needs to win will have gotten bigger. Right now he needs to win 50.3 percent of the remaining delegates. If he does as well as projected on Super Tuesday, he will have won only a bit over 40 percent of the delegates to that point, well off the 50-percent-plus pace. After Super Tuesday, then, he will need to win more than 56 percent of the remaining delegates, in part because there are far fewer delegates remaining.

If it’s still a three-person race after Super Tuesday, Sanders won’t even come close. And even if he’s one-on-one against Bloomberg, a guy who has more money than Midas isn’t going to lose by a lot. Bloomberg will keep it close largely because there are so many Democrats who know that a Sanders victory would destroy the party.

And if Bloomberg gets tired of spending his own money, he can always tap Biden’s bundlers.


Key fundraisers are jumping ship from Joe Biden’s struggling presidential campaign to instead support Mike Bloomberg’s ascending candidacy.

The development comes amid growing concerns within Biden’s affluent donor network that the former vice president is struggling to convince voters that he can defeat Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, for the Democratic nomination. The financiers are also impressed with Bloomberg’s self-funded operation.

It’s an open question where the ceiling of support is for Bernie Sanders. Is it 35-40 percent? Or 40-45 percent? It’s almost certainly not 50 percent. As long as there are a dozen candidates running, Sanders won’t be able to crack 30 percent, much less 50.

In 2016, anti-Trump Republicans — mostly — fell in line to support Trump at the convention. Will that happen if Bernie Sanders ends up having a clear majority of the delegates but not enough to clinch it?

With “unity” being the party’s watchword in the fall, it’s very likely that most Democrats will swallow their tongues and eventually accept Sanders as the nominee. The alternative would mean chaos at the convention and the re-election of Donald Trump.