Tying Up the Superdelegates

Earlier today, Ann Hulbert, one of our “XX Factor” colleagues, issued a call to arms : Could the nerds over at Trailhead predict what would happen if all superdelegates voted for the winner of their states?

Keep in mind this is a thought experiment. It’s unlikely that superdelegates would be swayed by their state’s vote rather than by pledged delegate totals, their districts’ results, or the national popular vote. So this exercise might require, as Hillary would say, “a willful suspension of disbelief.” But bear with us …  

So far, Obama has won 25 states and territories to Clinton’s 15, but her big-state victories yield more supers. From the states that have already voted, 289 superdelegates would vote for Clinton and 286 would vote for Obama. Incredibly, they still come out essentially tied. At this point, we should probably expect as much.

For the sake of argument, let’s extrapolate this method to the rest of the race. Based on our arbitrary, slightly informed predictions—we know it’s early, but again, bear with us—for the remaining states and territories, Clinton will win six (Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Puerto Rico, and Guam) and Obama seven (Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Wyoming). That would give Clinton another 63.5 superdelegates to Obama’s 61. (The half-super is because of arcane DNC rules toward territories’ delegations.) Again, no big disparity there. In concert with Slate ‘s delegate calculator , we get the final pledged and superdelegate tallies, assuming 10-point wins across the board. Obama: 2,020. Clinton: 1,888.5

That’s right, even with all of these stipulations, neither candidate will reach 2,025 delegates—the number needed for a majority. Impossible, right? No. Our state-by-state delegate breakdown doesn’t include about 50 20-30* nomadic superdelegates who aren’t tied down to a state. Nor does it include the 40-50 76* superdelegates who haven’t been named yet.

All of this means that the delegate system isn’t screwed up just because superdelegates are the ultimate free-agents, picking whomever they want. Even if they were forced to vote with their state, the two candidates would still be deadlocked heading into the next few months.

This insane scenario included a hell of a lot of confusing assumptions, so try your own hand at sorting out this mess. We’ll provide the whole tool kit. Here’s a spreadsheet with the state-by-state breakdowns of the superdelegations, and Slate ‘s delegate calculator is ready and waiting for your predictions. Combine the two together and let us know what you come up with. Also, forward along any other nutso thought experiments that can fill the time between now and April 22. It’s going to be a long ride.

*UPDATE Mar. 6, 10:49 p.m. : Some more clarification on these numbers. 76 superdelegates haven’t been named yet, according to NBC. The rest I was referring to are stateless.