Joementum Kills Brokered Convention Dream

Nate Silver now gives Biden an 87% chance of winning the nomination outright.

While a brokered convention has been the fever dream of pundits since the launch of the modern primary system, it was a real possibility this cycle. Indeed, the combination of multiple well-financed candidates and changes to the delegate rules made it seem likely. The last several forecasts from Nate Silver and the FiveThirtyEight gang had it far more likely that no one would win a majority than that either Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden would—and no other candidate had so much as a 1% chance.

But the fact that Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar all dropped out before Super Tuesday and threw their support to Biden changed the landscape. He won some races, most notably Warren’s home state of Massachusetts and Klobuchar’s home state of Minnesota, that nobody thought he could. That not only catapulted him to the top of the delegate race but prompted Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren to throw in the towel.

Now, Silver and company have radically changed their forecast:

In an accompanying post, they explain:

We’d encourage you to approach the forecast with a bit of caution for the next few days until we have new polling and a better sense of what the post-Super Tuesday landscape looks like. There are several uncertainties to keep in mind:

Many states, especially California, are not yet done counting their votes. In California, the results could shift significantly based on late-returned mail ballots. Under the state’s rules, ballots only need to have been mailed out by election day, so millions of votes are literally still in the mail.

Two candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have just dropped out, and while the model makes some educated guesses about where their support will go, it may be wrong about that.

Super Tuesday itself could have a substantial effect on the polls — most likely in the form of a bounce for Biden. The model, again, makes educated guesses about the size of these bounces. But those guesses may not be right: Biden got a much bigger South Carolina bounce than is typical for that state, for example; while Sanders got little, if any, bounce after winning Nevada when the model expected him to get one.

Making matters trickier, it’s also not entirely clear what the race was like prior to Super Tuesday because Biden’s ascent in the polls was quite rapid and there were few national polls during this period.
With that said, even if there’s some uncertainty here — perhaps a bit more of it than the model lets on — things don’t look good for Sanders. He has several compounding problems:

First, he’s already behind by around 70 delegates, according to our estimates, based on returns in each state as currently reported. That deficit could get worse because there are some signs that late-returned mail ballots in California will help Biden — a reflection of the fact that Biden surged in the race in the final few days before Super Tuesday.

As mentioned, Biden will probably get a bounce in the polls as a result of his Super Tuesday wins. The model’s guess (accounting for its projected Super Tuesday bounce for Biden and the effects of Bloomberg and Warren dropping out) is that he’s currently ahead by the equivalent of 6 or 7 points in national polls. So although momentum could shift back toward Sanders later on, it may get worse for him in the short run.
Some of Sanders’s best states (California, Nevada) have already voted, and the upcoming states generally either aren’t good for him or have relatively few delegates. In fact, given how broadly Sanders lost on Super Tuesday — including in northern states such as Minnesota, Massachusetts and Maine — it’s hard to know where his strengths lie, other than among young progressives and Hispanics, who are not large enough groups to constitute a winning coalition in most states. Conversely, it’s easy to identify places where Sanders will likely lose badly to Biden. Our model has Biden winning a net of about 85 delegates over Sanders in Florida on March 17, where Sanders’s polling has been terrible, and a net of about 35 delegates in Georgia, which votes on March 24.

There aren’t that many delegates left after March. Some 38 percent of delegates have already been selected. And by the time Georgia votes in two-and-a-half weeks, 61 percent of delegates will already have been chosen. So even if Sanders did get a big, massive momentum swing late in the race, it might not be enough to allow him to come back, with only about a third of delegates still to be chosen.

Finally, even if Sanders does come back, it might merely be enough to win a plurality rather than a majority of delegates. We project that roughly 150 delegates — or about 4 percent of the total of 3,979 pledged delegates available — belong to candidates who have since dropped out or to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, even after accounting for the fact that statewide delegates are reallocated to other candidates once a candidate drops out.2 That creates an additional buffer that will make it harder for Sanders to win a majority.

So basically, Sanders has to come back quickly when the momentum is currently against him in a bunch of states that are not very good for him — or it will be too late. It’s not impossible. But the chances are low. The model gives Biden an 88 percent chance of winning a majority of pledged delegates, with most of the remaining outcomes being “no majority” rather than a Sanders majority. It also gives Biden a 94 percent chance of winning a plurality of pledged delegates, and Sanders a 6 percent chance.

And it doesn’t look like Sanders going to get any help from Elizabeth Warren.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    There’s what I call the lemming effect: when a candidate does really well in an election, particularly in drawn-our primaries, more people tend to shift their votes to that candidate.

    This is balanced by the contrarian lemming effect. Here people shirk from the most popular choice because it is popular.

    People being what they are, though, being part of the larger, more popular group is preferable most times under most circumstances. So the contrarian effect almost never overcomes the original lemming effect.

  2. EddieInCA says:

    As my recent posts have shown, I’ve been digging into the upcoming primaries, and I don’t see a path for Bernie going forward.

    1. He’s doing less well with white working class than 2016.
    2. He’s doing better with Latinos, but the loss of WWC has mitigated that gain with Latinos.
    3. His belief that young voters will turn out hasn’t borne out yet, and shows no sign of doing so going forward.
    4. The Bernie Bro routine is getting old to alot of people who just want to win. Even supporters are complaining about it.
    5. Warren’s interview last night on Maddow makes me think she’s NOT going to endorse Bernie. Polls have shown that her followers will mostly likely be split between Biden and Bernie. Bernie needs all her supporters, which ain’t gonna happen.

  3. KM says:

    @EddieInCA :

    5. Warren’s interview last night on Maddow makes me think she’s NOT going to endorse Bernie.

    I’m not sure why anyone thought she would. Other then have some similar ideas for more progressive actions, Warren talks details and Sanders talks concept. He’s never gotten anything accomplished during his years of Congress, something that was noted on his last run and he’s done nothing to address in the few years since. A Sanders Presidency would need all 3 branches to get anything meaningful done and even that isn’t a guarantee when you have no real plan.

    Warren’s a realist, even if an unusually optimistic one (M4A needs a miracle that not even a COVID-19 pandemic will provide). Biden offers more chance to win and enact the legislation she was aiming for then Sanders’ “Revolution Now!” fervor. He wasn’t getting her endorsement and the lackluster addressing of CultBernie bad behavior just sealed the deal.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Two events to look for:
    The Michigan Primary
    Warren’s endorsement
    If those two things go Biden’s way…Sanders is toast.
    If I’m Warren I will endorse before Michigan…If Biden wins Michigan her endorsement will be less valuable.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Well, that settles it: we’re going to have to front load the primary even more to get a brokered convention for 2024.

    And get rid of that 15% viability so minor candidates can have a better shot at slurping up delegates.

  6. mattbernius says:

    James, when have facts ever stopped idle speculation — especially when people are payed to (or just enjoy) spill speculative pixels? The reality is that even with Joementum, it’s going to take a while for him to officially clinch the nomination. And during that period people are going to use any forward progress from Sanders to keep the dream alive.

    Vox’s Andrew Prokop demonstrated how long this process will potentially take:

    If Biden wins 55% of pledged delegates going forward, he wouldn’t clinch a majority till June.

    If Biden wins 60% of pledged delegates going forward, he’d clinch around late May.

    If he wins 65%, he’d clinch around early May.

    Even if he wins most states, this could take a while

    I’m more interested in speculating how COVID-19 will impact political conventions. Code For America just cancelled it’s annual summit.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    it’s going to take a while for him to officially clinch the nomination

    I had that thought Tuesday night while watching the returns…almost 2,000 delegates??? And they are at ~600 after Super Tuesday??? This is taking too long.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    The Bernie balloon has been cut. He’s done. If he doesn’t realize that this Tuesday, he will on March 17.

    God help us, it’s Biden.

  9. Sleeping Dog says:


    3. His belief that young voters will turn out hasn’t borne out yet, and shows no sign of doing so going forward.

    It is a repeatedly learned lesson of politics that you need to secure the base, voters with a history of voting, before you can expand it through new voters. It is a lesson ignored at the candidates peril and Bernie, in revolutionary fervor, has.

  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Biden v. Tiny i.e. the Oval Office as a memory care unit. Ugh.

  11. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Biden vs Bernie reminds me of a choice between going to the dentist to have your wisdom teeth pulled, vs going for a root canal. Seriously, these are our choices? Ugh.

    Of course, the Trump equivalent is going to the dentist for a colonoscopy (seriously horrible even when performed by people who know what they are doing but definitely not something you want a dentist to do), so it doesn’t really matter to me which D gets the nomination.

  12. Lounsbury says:

    Oh stop your whinging the lot of you. There are far worse sets of choices than Biden if he comes through (like an actual Bolshevik by political habit). Get rid of Trump.

  13. Stormy Dragon says:


    Warren’s a realist, even if an unusually optimistic one (M4A needs a miracle that not even a COVID-19 pandemic will provide).

    I’m not so sure. We’re in the crisis phase of the Strauss-Howe cycle, where the previous social contract has broken down and various groups are struggling to establish the new contract that will dominate for the next cycle. A plague made significantly worse by all the social failures that precipitated the crisis could very well prove the catalyst that breaks the current stalemate.

  14. Mister Bluster says:

    wisdom teeth…root canal
    50 years ago I had a hellacious toothache. After x-rays my dentist told me I had 6 (six) wisdom teeth. He had never seen that before.
    They were removed over a period of several years generating serious pain.
    Last summer I had my first root canal.

  15. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The Bernie balloon has been cut. He’s done. If he doesn’t realize that this Tuesday, he will on March 17.

    Won’t matter, he will keep it up until mathematically eliminated (and perhaps beyond), he showed us his nature back in 2016. Think of the scorpion and the frog.