Well… looks like I’m finally going to write a second article. In August, I wrote an article about the basic process of the United States presidential election, including how each political party nominates its own candidate. For the last 6 months, the candidates have been debating and polls have been conducted, but no real elections have taken place. Until now.
Since I haven’t written in a long time, I guess I’ll re-iterate how the nomination process works. If you already know this stuff, you can skip this paragraph.
The outline of the way in which the Democratic Party nominates its candidate is that each state (out of 50) has an allotted number of delegates to the convention. More populous states have more delegates, and these states vote on different days throughout February to June of 2020.
Note that each state can have whatever rules it wants for voting, which leads to some strange results to say the least.
After almost a half of year of voting and campaigning, the remaining candidates assemble into a crowded room, also known as the Convention, and pick whoever has the majority of the total number of delegates. However, majority does not equal plurality. This means that in theory, a candidate can have the most delegates heading into the convention, but if they don’t have a majority, they can still lose the nomination.
This phenomena is called the contested convention. In the last three decades, there has not been a contested convention, since by the time the convention rolls around somebody has the majority and the others have dropped out of the race. However, this year is not like most.
For one, the Democrats started out with over 20 candidates running for the same nomination. This ensured that the frontrunner, former vice president Joe Biden, could poll at only 25%. Up to this point, Biden was always around 5 percentage points in front of second place, which added an element of order. The only issue is, that element of order was completely overturned three weeks ago.
The first contest of the year was held in Iowa, and it had the strange distinction of being a caucus. Caucuses are notoriously difficult to understand, even for Americans, but the main point is that they are inefficient and take forever to count. Drop an app failure on top of that, and what we get is delayed results and an undecided winner (the Iowa party is still in the process of deciding the winner, three weeks after the fact). But when those results did eventually come out, they had Biden in a whopping fifth place.
Fifth place in Iowa is miserable for anyone hoping to win, and is even worse for the frontrunner. So what was the effect? Biden nosedived in the polls, and the now leader is Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist who isn’t actually a member of the Democratic Party.
Sanders’ policies are shockingly audacious and probably impossible to implement, much to the horror of the rest of the Democratic establishment. But in the current state of the race, Sanders has a pretty solid grip on the nomination.
Firstly, his supporters are known as “sticky”, namely, they won’t leave Sanders unless he has some sort of political disaster. While only around 25% of the Democratic party actually has him as their first pick in polls, it is quite clear that those 25% of voters aren’t leaving Sanders any time soon.
The second main boost for Sanders is that out of the 75% of Democrats who don’t like him as much, that support is divided among 5 more moderate candidates. These candidates are, in no particular order, former mayor Pete Buttigieg, senator Elizabeth Warren (who is a progressive, but more to the center than Bernie), former mayor Michael Bloomberg, senator Amy Klobuchar, and Joe Biden, who we mentioned before. Since all these 5 candidates are going to keep dividing the moderate vote, and Sanders’ voters aren’t going anywhere, Sanders should clinch this thing, right?
Well, let’s go back a second. You see that part in the last paragraph where I mentioned majority and not plurality? That small distinction might be the only clear thing that can block Sanders’ path. Since Sanders does not have the support of the majority of Democrat voters, there is a sizeable chance that he will not win the majority of the delegates. And if he doesn’t win the majority, then probably nobody else will either. Then we get a contested convention and pure chaos, a.k.a. any journalist’s dream.
For fun, and partly to offer more insight into each candidate, I’ll now talk about what each candidate needs to do in order to win this thing.
Bernie Sanders. He needs to build a more diverse coalition of voters. Right now, Sanders has the overwhelming majority of young and/or Latino voters. If he can raise his support among African-Americans and older voters, there might not be anything on Heaven or Earth that can stop him.
Joe Biden. Biden is sort of a wild-card right now. On one hand, he enjoys the highest support from African-Americans and voters over 65, which are a result of his former position as vice president. On the other hand, he is on a really bad losing streak, and if he loses South Carolina next Saturday, a state in which he was the overwhelming favorite just over a month ago, he might drop out of the race then and there. If Biden finds a way to win South Carolina, survive Super Tuesday, and consolidate the moderate support of the party, he could be back in this. Unfortunately for Biden, this isn’t all that likely.
Michael Bloomberg. Here’s a statement that summarizes this billionare’s campaign: he has already spent over a $100 million of his personal wealth on advertising. His unprecedented spending is much more than all the other candidates combined, and as such he shot up to third place in the national polls (even though he entered the race nearly 6 months later than everyone else). Bloomberg’s issue is the fact that he is a former Republican, which gives his opponents numerous things to attack him on. His past sexist comments didn’t help either, and he was thoroughly buried by just about every other candidate in last Wednesday’s debate. So what’s Bloomberg’s strategy? For the short-term, it’s just to get back on his feet, since he was completely knocked down in his debate performance. In the long-term, he needs the other moderates to drop out, and then he needs to drown Bernie’s support with ads. If the media somehow ignores his numerous fallacies, then maybe, just maybe, Bloomberg might be the nominee.
Pete Buttigieg. Former mayor Pete Buttigieg has run an extraordinary campaign, vaulting himself from an unknown mayor into national recognition. As the only openly gay candidate in this year’s nomination process, Buttigieg has offered himself as a fresh young alternative to his significantly older rivals. He has run strong campaigns in the states so far, finishing 2nd in New Hampshire, 3rd in Nevada, and sort-of 1st in Iowa (He won the most delegates, but didn’t have the most votes. Like I said before, Caucuses are weird). His biggest weakness lies in what’s about to come: more racially diverse states. If Buttigieg is able to find a way and consolidate more non-white voters, he could have a real shot at winning more states, and grabbing more delegates. His chances at winning the nomination are a bit fuzzier. While he won’t be dropping out anytime soon, since his campaign has been the 2nd best at fundraising, there aren’t any immediate opportunities to build a more diverse coalitions. He needs to hope that Biden gets the knock-out punch in South Carolina, or else he might not get the diversity he needs to win.
Elizabeth Warren. Warren is sort in a similar situation as Biden. While at some point in the race she was second place and on the heels of Biden’s former frontrunner status, she has since fell back. She finished 3rd in Iowa, which was decent, but disappointing 4th place finishes in Nevada and especially New Hampshire were major letdowns for her. Warren had some strong moments in last week’s debate, maybe this could be the beginning of something good for her? Her main issue is that although her policies are very liberal, Bernie Sanders seems to have captured most of the left-wing sector of the party. Warren’s pivot towards presenting herself as a compromise candidate rather than a left-wing flagbearer may have been smart in this respect.
Amy Klobuchar. Like Pete Buttigieg, she has built a campaign that is lasting far longer than anyone anticipated. Klobuchar’s issue is just that, since until recently she did not have many staffers on the ground in Super Tuesday states. Since it now looks like Klobuchar will be going the distance, she needs to finish transitioning her campaign into a national platform with a broader coalition. Once she does this, she will need some very good debate moments (she’s had some already), and large doses of luck. Will she win the nomination? Probably not. But does she have a chance to outlast some of her moderate rivals and be a vice-presidential pick come July? Most certainly yes.