The First Ballot Delegate Math

For those who just want the bottom-line, here it is: If Cruz wins Indiana and holds Trump under 100 delegates in California, he can hold Trump to 1190 delegates and win the nomination! But he needs every single delegate he can find, and there is no room for error on either side.

Data beats opinion when it comes to answering the question: What does it take to win the nomination? The answer to that question rests on another question: How many delegates will Trump have on the first ballot? There are 3 factors to win the nomination: The delegate count, the ‘momentum’, and sentiment among unbound delegates (to either ‘wrap it up’ or ‘#stopTrump’ or ‘#CruzToVictory’).  We will cover the delegate math here, with a conclusion that Trump will probably fall short of 1237, getting about 1190 bound delegates, and would almost certainly fall short of it – getting only 1140 bound delegates – if Kasich drops out before Indiana. Trump can still win the nomination though if he sweeps next week (which he probably will) AND wins at least 150 delegates  out of California and Indiana combined.

To understand where things really stand, and whether Trump is unstoppable (no he is not) or whether he is losing (no, he is not), we need to understand where Trump is now (at 846 bound delegates according to the Green Pages) and what he needs (he need 390 more delegates, either bound or unbound) to  win the nomination.

Delegate math has to factor in rules and the expected outcomes from polls. We start by assigned the ‘easy’ states to the likely winners:

  • Trump wins big in WV, DE, RI, CT, MD, NJ and PA.  We give him all of DE, PA and all but 3 delegates in MD and CT each and 13 out of 19 delegates (RI is very proportional).
  • Cruz wins NE, MT, SD. These are all winner-take-all. If Trump beats him there, well, it’s over. Trump won’t.
  • The other ‘easy’ states for delegate math is OR and WA and NM, because they are so proportional that whether Cruz or Trump are 45% or 35% it will shift only 1 delegate. Trump can at most get half those delegates, but he polls poorly and will get fewer delegates than that there. We assume a best-case 50% and worst case 30% allocation.

Of the remaining states, that leaves two states – Indiana and California – both are critical and both have CD-level ‘winner take all’, which means you can win on state level but also need to win CD by CD for all the delegates.  Polls show a slight lead for Trump, not dissimilar

The “Best Case” Trump will be to win Indiana AND California AND take a bite out of the northwest states AND sweep the northeast, it gets you to Trump at 1255 bound delegates.  Game over, Trump wins.

The more reasonable “losing case” for Trump would be to be at 35% or less in OR, WA, NM, lose Indiana (take only 9 delegates, ie he wins 3 CDs but loses elsewhere, similar to Wisconsin) and losing to Cruz in CA, winning about 20 districts (60 delegates) out of 53.  That takes you to 1137 bound Trump delegates. This is bound delegates, not including the 20-30 PA unbound delegates that may or may not be for him.

What if Cruz wins in Indiana but Trump still pulls out a win in Cali and grabs most CDs? Even giving Trump 120 delegates in California AND letting him sweep the Northeast, Trump gets only to 1197 bound delegates, if Cruz wins Indiana. Again, this doesn’t count the PA unbound delegates who may end up committed to Trump on the first ballot if they are delcaring to vote for the primary winner in their district. This underscores that Indiana is now ground zero in the primary fight, and if Cruz can just outperform in either PA, MD, WV or CA, Cruz can stop Trump.

By my calculation below, in the detailed chart, the EXPECTED number of delegates for Trump will be around 1186 bound delegates. How many unbound delegates? I assume Trump will get 25 from PA , and he is doing so poorly in the delegate contests he may be no more than 10-20 more, so 30-50. That takes us to 1216 to 1236!  That leaves us right on the edge. Every state counts, every delegate counts, every VOTE counts.

State name, CDs, statedelegates, Trump Allocation assumed
 Nebraska 3 36 0
 West Virginia 3 34 26
 Oregon 5 28 12
 New York 27 95 0
 Washington 10 44 18
 Connecticutt 5 28 25
 Delaware 1 16 16
 Maryland 8 38 35
 Pennsylvania 18 54 17
 Rhode Island 2 19 13
 Indiana 9 57 15
 California 53 173 100
 Montana 1 27 0
 New Jersey 12 51 51
 New Mexico 3 24 12
 South Dakota 1 29 0
 Trump NOW 846
 PA unbound 25
 Trump TOTAL 1211