Quick Hit: Contests by Size (Democrats)

Last week, I mentioned Wikipedia’s cool sorting tool for the Democratic Primary’s contests. I used it to sort Sanders’s victory by strength, from his Vermont blowout to Michigan squeaker. Today’s quick hit will approach it from a slightly different angle — sorting by the size of the contest and analyzing its results.

There are 57 contests in the primary (50 states, 5 territories, 1 district, and Democrats Abroad), and below are the 33 largest by pledged delegation. Twenty-four of them have been held already, with nine still ahead.


Clinton has won three-quarters of those held already (18 of 24), including the five biggest. Sanders won only 6 of the 24, and of the eight biggest states, his sole victory was Michigan with less than 50 percent.

Now let’s take a look at the other 24 contests — those with the fewest pledged delegates. Fourteen of them have already happened.


Of the 14 already held, Sanders has won 11, including the eight states with the fewest delegates so far. Clinton has only won 3 of these 14, but two of them were territories and the other is the home state of Bill Clinton.

Five Takeaways
  1. If you were wondering why Clinton has such a big pledged delegate lead (now over 240) even though Sanders seems to keep winning, this trend pretty much sums it up for you. Sanders is dominant in small states, but that’s not nearly enough.
  2. Similarly, you can understand why Sanders supporters like to count number of states won. If every state was worth the same amount, it’d be a closer race (only 19 to 16 in favor of Clinton, since we’re removing the territories from Clinton and “Democrats Abroad” from Sanders). Then again, if every state was worth the same amount, we never would have ratified the Constitution.
  3. Today’s trend ignored the primary vs. caucus factor discussed on April 12, but it’s hard to totally separate that factor from these results. Most of the larger states hold primaries, most of the smaller contests hold caucuses. It’d be an interesting cause-effect study to determine whether the size of the state or the type of contest is more determinative of the success of these candidates. My money is on the size of the state, which usually stems from cities and their diversity.
  4. This population trend also further explains why it’s all but impossible for Sanders to catch up. The number of remaining delegates in larger contests dwarfs those in smaller ones. Consider next Tuesday: if Sanders wins Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island by 20 points each, he’d earn 60 delegates to Clinton’s 40, a net gain of 20. If Clinton then won Pennsylvania and Maryland by just six points each, she’d basically wipe that away (151-133).
  5. Sanders’s electability argument is hurt by this trend. His general election polling looks great, but the election is not a popular vote. It’s a series of 51 contests, and these days the winner needs to do well in the swing-states of Florida (29 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), and Virginia (13). Clinton dominated the four already held, while she leads the Pennsylvania polls by 15 points.

Boom — under 500 words. Successful quick hit!


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