President Donald Trump is continuing his role as commentator in chief of the Democratic presidential contest and was quick to react to word that Pete Buttigieg is dropping out of the race. As Trump sees it, all of the votes that Buttigieg was going to get on Super Tuesday are now going to go to former Vice President Joe Biden. “This is the REAL beginning of the Dems taking Bernie out of play,” Trump wrote. “NO NOMINATION, AGAIN!”
While the idea that Buttigieg’s exit from the race will directly benefit Biden seems like conventional wisdom, polls tell a more complicated story. A recent Morning Consult poll showed that Buttigieg’s supporters are pretty divided and their top second choice is none other than Sen. Bernie Sanders. Twenty-one percent of Buttigieg’s supporters described the senator from Vermont as their second choice. Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are tied for a close second place with 19 percent, and Michael Bloomberg isn’t far behind with 17 percent.
A Quinnipiac* national poll from last month also shows that there may not be such a clear straight line from Buttigieg to Biden, with the obvious caveat that lots has likely changed since Feb. 10. In that poll, the top second choice for Buttigieg’s supporters was divided between Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, each with 26 percent, followed by Biden with 19 percent, and Sanders, 11 percent.
According to FiveThirtyEight, though, Buttigieg’s decision to drop out hurts Sanders because it decreases his chances of winning a majority of pledged delegates, and there is now a greater chance that no candidate will get a majority. Sanders’ chances of getting more delegates than the other candidates decreased while Biden’s chances increased slightly. How does a candidate dropping out increase the chances that no candidate will get a majority of delegates? FiveThirtyEight explains:
The key is in how the Democrats’ delegate math works. The rules require candidates to receive at least 15 percent of the vote, typically, to win delegates statewide or at the district-level.
Buttigieg was projected to get under 15 percent in the vast majority of states and districts on Super Tuesday. Thus, his votes were essentially wasted. Redistributing his votes to other candidates will help them to meet the 15 percent threshold, however. In particular, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were both close to the 15 percent line in many states or districts. So even an extra percentage point or two would help them get over that line in more places. For instance, both Bloomberg and Warren were projected to finish with an average of 14 percent of the vote in California before Buttigieg’s dropout. Now, they’re forecasted for 16 percent instead.
Correction, March 2, 2020: This post originally misspelled Quinnipiac.