In the Democratic Primary, Delegate Counts Start to Matter on Super Tuesday

We are a little over a month away from learning how this race will play out.

The big news in the Democratic primary this week came from a CNN poll showing Sanders leading Biden nationally by three points (27-24). That has led to a chorus of headlines about a Sanders surge. But as is always the case, a bit of caution is in order when looking at the results of one poll. Since that one was released, both YouGov and Monmouth have shown Biden maintaining a significant lead over Sanders.

We are also at the point in the primary when, rather than national polls, all eyes are focused on the four early states, especially Iowa. With relatively few delegates in play, Ella Nilsen referred to these as the momentum primary. They are all about “election night headlines and who over performed expectations. ” In that sense, it is almost impossible to predict who will gain or lose momentum during the month of February.

But keep in mind that three days after the South Carolina primary, the momentum primary will shift to an actual delegate count on Super Tuesday. On that day, 12 states will hold their primaries, with the big enchiladas being California and Texas. In addition to momentum, the four early states could affect these primaries based on who drops out of the race and where their supporters go.

With all of that in mind, it’s worth taking a look at where things stand in the Super Tuesday states. According to the poll aggregates at FiveThirtyEight, California is basically a tie between Biden and Sanders—with the former having a very slight edge. But in Texas, Biden leads by almost seven points. Biden also maintains a significant lead in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The race is close in both Minnesota and Colorado, with Biden holding a small lead. The only state where Sanders leads is in Utah. Massachusetts also holds its primary on Super Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, Warren maintains a small lead over Biden in her home state.

It would be fair to assume that, regardless of how she does in the four early states, Warren will want to stay in the race through Super Tuesday in order to give herself a chance to win in her home state. The other candidate with significant support is Buttigieg. He is obviously raising enough money to compete through Super Tuesday. But if he were to drop out before then, Morning Consult shows that, when it comes to a second choice, his support would be split between Warren and Biden.

If, at some point, Warren does drop out of the race, conventional wisdom assumes that her support would shift to Sanders, which could alter the race significantly. According to Morning Consult, 37 percent name Sanders as their second choice. That is mitigated a bit, however, by the fact that 20 percent of Warren’s supporters name Biden as their second choice.

The bottom line is that, by the time votes are counted on March 3rd, at least 41 percent of delegates will have been awarded in the Democratic primary. So hang on to your hats, because in a little over a month we’ll have a pretty good idea about how this race is playing out.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.