How people elect parliaments
The first primary event of the US presidential nomination season – the Iowa caucuses – are now in.
All the talk is of relative momentum between the candidates, and momentum is the lifeblood of the nomination season.
But 2016 looks different to past election seasons. Two very different contests are unfolding; on the Democratic side, a close match between two strong candidates; on the Republican side, a confusing free-for-all between first 12 – now down to 9 – diverse candidates.
In both cases, a single run-away leader is missing. The prospects are for one or both contests to be tight until the end.
This brings into play the largest subgroup of all on the scoreboard for winning nomination; the unpledged party delegates.
The two major party national conventions are the bodies that select the presidential nominees; the 2,767 Republicans meeting in Cleveland on July 18th, and then the 4,764 Democrats meeting in Philadelphia a week later.
Most of the convention delegates are elected in each state to represent the campaigns of the presidential nominees. State delegations are roughly proportional in numbers to the state populations.
But in numbers the unpledged group at each convention far exceeds in size the largest state of California. 18% of the Republican convention and 15% of the Democratic convention are made up of the national politicians and party officials.
These delegates are often overlooked. They are not obliged to support any of the presidential candidates (although a few states do bind a few of their state officials to a candidate). (Conversely, some Republican state delegates from Pennsylvania and West Virginia are also, in fact, unpledged.)
The whole momentum of the state-by-state primary race is therefore powerfully affected by what the members of this large group of delegates choose to do.
Since 2015, many of these delegates have been declaring a position. Over a third of the 713 Democratic unpledged delegates have made a clear public endorsement; almost entirely for Hillary Clinton. In advance of Iowa, there were estimates that nearly half – 311 – were supporting Clinton. In stark contrast Bernie Sanders has just 2 confirmed endorsements.
Fewer Republicans have made their views known, and their pattern is more scattered. Interesting, none of the 509 Republican unpledged delegates has endorsed the apparent public frontrunner Donald Trump.
About half these delegates are each party’s national congressmen and senators and state governors. Public endorsements of candidates by these figures are highly visible, and are relatively easy to keep track of. The well-regarded website 538.com is maintaining an up-tp-date tracking page for these endorsements.
Precise information about many of the less well known state officials is more difficult to assemble.
All these endorsements can essentially be counted as delegates won by each candidate, and should be included into progressive tallies.
These unpledged delegates can change their mind at any time, although politically they must do so with care. As candidates drop out of the race, delegates supporting the withdrawn candidates are freed up to consider a new endorsement.
Also, if one candidate should come to finish the state races with a substantial public lead, there could be strong public pressure for politicians and officials to shift to support to the public’s favourite. The imagery of the convention overturning the lead of the candidate most supported by the voters would need to be handled with care.
Thus, the Democratic party establishment’s predominate preference for Hillary Clinton might look undemocratic if Bernie Sanders has achieved a significant lead in the elections.
Similarly, the Republicans’ establishment’s general distaste for Donald Trump might manifest in very few unpledged delegates supporting him at their convention. But if he wins the most elected delegates, and the convention still rejects him as nominee, there could be consequences.
There will be an up-to-date UPDATE on the state of the nomination race high on this website’s front page during the period up to July 2016. It will include the endorsements tracked by 538.com as well as any other reliable information that becomes available.