It may seem like the end of the 2016 primary race is in sight. Iowa and New Hampshire have already voted; South Carolina and Nevada are right around the corner. But we’re still a long way from the finish line.
Every state holds a presidential primary or caucus, but caucus-goers and primary voters don’t elect the presidential candidates directly. Instead, they elect delegates who will pick the nominees at the parties’ conventions in July.
Some states allocate delegates to candidates based on the percentage of the vote they receive. Other states use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who finishes first gets all of that state’s delegates.
Here’s the bottom line: Even after Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary and Nevada Democratic caucus, 96 percent of the Republican delegates and 88 percent of the Democratic delegates will still be up for grabs. It’s anybody’s race.
The State Of The Democratic Delegate Race
Democrats have 4,763 delegates up for grabs. The first candidate to get 2,382 delegates wins the nomination.
A total of 4,051 of all Democratic delegates are determined by the state primaries and caucuses, and 712 are determined by superdelegates -- party elites who are allowed to commit to any candidate of their choosing.
Some Democrats are concerned that superdelegates could compromise the democratic process and stack the race in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, even if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has more delegates. But superdelegates can only determine the outcome of a race if it's really close. They can also change their votes during the primary season, though most stick with their initial decision.
Democrats allocate all other delegates proportionally by state. For example, if a candidate receives 40 percent of the votes in a state, he or she gets 40 percent of the state's delegates. Candidates must win at least 15 percent of the vote in a state to qualify for delegates.
So far, 538 of the 4,763 Democratic delegates -- about 11 percent of the total -- have been accounted for. The vast majority of those -- 470 -- are superdelegates.
Clinton has just 483 delegates, 451 of them superdelagates. Sanders has just 55 delegates, 19 of them superdelegates.
The key states of Nevada and South Carolina won't bring the race much closer to the finish. Nevada has just 35 delegates up for grabs on Saturday. South Carolina, where Democrats will vote on Feb. 27, has 50 delegates. Even March 1, or "Super Tuesday" -- when the greatest number of states vote -- will not bring an end to the Democratic primary. At that point, only 31 percent of the available delegates will be accounted for.
The State Of The Republican Delegate Race
Republicans have a total of 2,472 delegates. The first candidate to secure 1,237 delegates will win.
The top three Republican officials in each state serve as superdelegates. Ninety-five percent of these superdelegates must vote for the winner in their state, while the remaining 5 percent are free to choose a candidate.
Republicans allocate delegates in a number of ways, depending on each state's rules. Some states award delegates proportionally, others have a winner-takes-all system, and some have a mixed system. Some states require candidates to win a certain percentage of the vote to be awarded all the delegates; others do not. In general, the rules tend to be more fluid than the Democrats' rules, depending on circumstances.
So far, only 50 delegates have been distributed among six Republican candidates and an additional three have been allocated to candidates that have dropped out. That's just 2 percent of the total delegates available. Business mogul Donald Trump has 17 delegates -- the most so far -- followed by Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), who has 11, and Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida), who has 10.
The South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday will give one candidate a boost, since it's a winner-take-all state, but it won't bring the race much closer to an end. Nevada, where Republicans will vote on Feb. 23, awards delegates proportionally and won't help the race move forward much, either.
Super Tuesday includes many winner-take-all states -- and a leader could emerge as a result, but it still won't be enough to catapult anyone to the finish line.
Unless and until the Republican field narrows, the race has a long way to go.
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