Four reasons why it’s so unlikely Sanders will win the Democratic nomination

Behind by more than 300 pledged delegates* since the March 15 primaries, the Sanders campaign has been promoting the idea that Democrats have just finished the “first half” of the nomination fight and the next half is much, much better for them. This, they contend, gives them a credible path to the nomination.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

It’s reasonable that the Sanders campaign wants to continue the nomination fight and wants to spread its messages. But in part because each state awards delegates proportionately, their delegate math is really uphill.

Moreover, other arguments they’re making give clues that they know they’re wrong.

First, one specific claim is that Sanders will do much better in the next eight contests.

Those are the Arizona and Wisconsin primaries, the Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Washington state and Wyoming caucuses.

That’s true for the caucuses and indeed the Sanders campaign could win the primary in the very progressive Wisconsin, although the recent polls have it close.

However, there are just not that many delegates in all of those contests. Taken together, there are just a few more than in just Florida and Illinois. Clinton won Florida huge and Illinois narrowly, netting 69 more delegates more than Sanders from those two states.

Moreover, Arizona is by no means a slam dunk for Sanders. He has weaknesses on immigration and gun control, both of which matter in Arizona, due to the shooting of former Rep. Gabby Gifford and the large Hispanic population.

In fact, the most recent poll I could find for Arizona found Clinton with 50%, 24% for Sanders and the rest undecided. Given that Arizona is the third largest of the eight states, a good Clinton win here could provide enough delegates to wipe out Sanders leads from small caucus states or even from a small win in one of the large states.

Second, the states following those include many states that, based on demographics and their past voting behavior, are likely to be good states for Clinton.

For example, April 19 and 26 include a trove of 753 delegates in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

New York elected Clinton as U.S. Senator with 55% in 2000 and 67% in 2008. The most recent polls have her 21 points ahead. It’s also a diverse state with a closed primary. All of that suggests she should do well there.

As for the other states of April 19 and 26, unless something comes along to seriously transform the race, Clinton will likely win all or most of the others.

There are of course other states after this, and those could be won by both candidates or be close, but if Clinton gets to April 27 having done well on April 19 and 26, any chance for Sanders winning most pledged delegates is pure fantasy.

Third, right now Sanders needs to win at least 60% on average in the remaining contests.

Given that Sanders is going to lose a number of states going forward, his wins in other states will have to be bigger than that.

To get a majority of pledged delegates, he has to win big in big states, something he has not done so far.

Right now Clinton has won 2.5 million more votes than Sanders and has 58% of pledged delegates.

For a neat way of seeing how his average share of the vote changes the delegates he’d win and his possibility of winning a majority of pledged delegates, click here to go an interactive feature by the New York Times.

Fourth, the Sanders’ campaign shifting rhetoric shows they know they’re in delegate trouble.

Remember when the Sanders campaign was very critical of superdelegates as part of the Democratic party’s delegate selection (which, in truth, has nothing to do with why the Sanders campaign is losing now)?

Well, people in the Sanders campaign have started suggesting they might try to move superdelegates to support Sanders even if they were behind in pledged delegates.

This is a huge contradiction to the campaign’s earlier statements on superdelegates, as well as the position of key allies. In response, a spokesperson for MoveOn, a group which endorsed Sanders and has been critical of the superdelegate system said they “think the nominee should be the person who wins the primaries and caucuses.”

Then, in a call with press after the March 15 primaries, Sanders staff began to say the total number of delegates won just weren’t that important for winning the nomination.

Senior strategist Tad Devine said, “It is not a matter of delegate arithmetic.”

Laws tying delegates won by primaries and caucuses to particular candidates were questioned as well, as seen in the below tweet from a reporter.

Screenshot 2016-03-16 19.26.00It’s clearly “not an argument you want to have to make” because it suggests it’s fine to overturn the choices voters and caucus voters made and it also implies the campaign knows the delegate count isn’t going well.


*Note that pledged delegates are awarded based on the votes from caucuses and primaries and do not include any superdelegates. The pledged delegates are all awarded proportionately based on the votes received (with some additional complexities).

Click here to see the full list of primaries and caucuses, along with the number of delegates and the results for those completed thus far.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.