Delegate Math - or, Why It's Just About Over


(If not for Democratic Convention Watch, this post would be nonexistent. A HUGE hat tip to DCW!)

WARNING: The contents of this post may be VERY CONFUSING!

So why do most of the pundits, analysts, etc., agree that the race is over even as Hillary Clinton fights on? It's all in the numbers.

Anyway, here is the current total delegate count as of Thursday afternoon, not including Florida or Michigan delegates:


  • Needed for Majority: 2,025
  • Obama’s total: 1,982; 43 from majority (note a)
  • Clinton’s total: 1,781; 244 from majority
  • Edwards: 7 (a)
  • Pledged delegates in remaining contests: 86
  • Undetermined superdelegate votes: 195 (b)
  • Total undetermined delegate votes: 288 (b, c)
  • Percent of remaining total delegates Obama needs to clinch: 14.9% (d)
  • Percent of remaining pledged delegates Obama needs to clinch: 50% (e)
(a) Edwards has received 18 pledged delegates from the states in which he competed. Eleven have since said they will support Obama at the Convention; these are included in Obama's total. The other seven are still marked as being for Edwards.
(b) Includes 31 unpledged add-on delegate positions that have yet to be filled.
(c) Includes the 7 Edwards delegates who haven't endorsed Clinton or Obama; the 86 pledged delegate votes in yet-to-be-held contests; and the 195 undetermined superdelegate votes.
(d) This is the number Obama needs to clinch (43) divided by the number of undetermined delegate votes.
(e) Same as (d), excluding superdelegates.

Here's a way to look at it: Imagine it's Election Night, and you hear a network anchor state that "With 932% of the precincts reporting, Candidate A is leading 53% to 47%." By that point, they would probably call Candidate A the winner. Well, more than 93% of the delegates have been allocated to one candidate or the other, and guess what? Obama has won 53% of them. So, in a sense, with 93% reporting, he leads 53-47%.

So, without Florida and Michigan, Obama only needs to win about one in five of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination. In only three states has Obama won less than 1/3 of the pledged delegates. And superdelegate endorsements have overwhelmingly favored Obama in recent weeks.

The above list includes all pledged and unpledged delegates. The following list includes only pledged delegates. The pledged-delegate count is important since many people, including some superdelegates, have suggested that whoever gets the most pledged delegates ought to win the nomination.

  • Needed for majority: 1,627
  • Obama: 1,659.5; 32.5 more than needed for majority
  • Clinton: 1,500.5
  • Undetermined pledged delegates: 93 (a)
(a) Includes 86 delegates from remaining contests and the 7 Edwards delegates who haven't picked Clinton or Obama.

So, even if Hillary were to win every single one of those remaining 95 pledged delegates, she would still need 149 (or 76.4%) of the 195 unallocated superdelegates to go her way.

That is all but impossible. In order to get all of the remaining pledged delegates, by party rules she would need to take 85% of the vote in all of the remaining states. That's on top of getting Edwards's 9 remaining delegates to vote against the person their candidate endorsed.

Hillary must rely on seeing to it that Michigan's and Florida's delegates are seated at the Convention. Even if they are seated, the math still looks pretty rocky for her.

The proposal the Michigan Democratic Party is putting forward to seat our delegates would give Hillary 69 delegates and Obama 59. This splits the difference between the 73-55 split the Clinton camp wants (based on the results of the January 15 primary) and the 64-64 tie Obama wanted.

The proposal most often mentioned with regards to Florida's delegates would involve cutting that state’s pledged-delegate votes in half, so each delegate would get 1/2 of one vote. Clinton won 105 delegates in the January primary; Obama 69; and Edwards, 11. Cut in half, these figures come out to 52.5-34.5-5.5.

Both proposals call for full votes for superdelegates (i.e. their votes wouldn’t be cut in half). Hillary leads among Florida superdelegates 8-5 with 17 undeclared, and in Michigan she leads 7-5 with 13 undeclared.

These proposals, if approved, would add 220.5 pledged delegates and 55 superdelegates to the mix. The new numbers would be:

  • Needed for majority: 2,162.5
  • Obama: 2,085.5; 77 from clinching nomination
  • Clinton: 1,917.5; 245 from clinching nomination
  • Edwards: 12.5
  • Uncommitted superdelegates: 225
  • Total undetermined delegate votes: 323.5
  • Percent of remaining total delegates Obama needs to clinch: 23.8%
  • Needed for majority: 1,737
  • Obama: 1,753; 16 more than needed for majority
  • Clinton: 1,622
  • Unallocated pledged delegates: 98.5
Look! Even under this scenario, Obama has already locked up the pledged-delegate lead! So, winning all of the remaining 99.5 pledged delegates would leave Hillary 148.5 superdelegates (66% of the remaining delegates) from the nomination.

And again, it bears repeating that Obama will almost certainly get a good share of those remaining pledged delegates, thus padding his pledged-delegate majority and likely garnering even more superdelegate support while raising the bar even higher for Hillary.

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