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Donald Trump Is Just Barely On Track To Win The GOP Nomination

Donald Trump’s Super Tuesday delegate haul was no blowout. He won 254 delegates, Ted Cruz won 217, and Marco Rubio took in 97. But Trump beat FiveThirtyEight’s delegate targets, which estimate the number of delegates each candidate needs to win in each contest to be on track to win the nomination. If Trump continues to meet or exceed those targets through the remainder of the primaries, he’ll end up with just enough delegates to secure the Republican nomination.


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It’s true, as The Associated Press reported, that Trump hasn’t won a majority of the delegates awarded so far; he’s won about 46 percent of them. But when you look at the states that have voted, that’s about 5 percentage points better than he should have done, based on polling data, demographics and social media data, which factor into our delegate targets.

How do they work? We know, for example, that Trump pulls a disproportionate share of his support from voters without a college degree, so he tends to do better in contests with less-educated electorates. Our targets take these kinds of demographic dynamics into account. Looking forward, Trump should win more delegates in states with fewer college-educated voters. If Trump hits his targets in the remaining contests, he’ll end up with 1,276 delegates out of 2,472 — 52 percent.

The table below shows what percentage of delegates the top three Republican candidates currently have, and what percentage they’ll end up with if they hit all their remaining targets. Note that with three candidates in the race, only one will be able to hit his targets.

Trump 46% 52%
Cruz 32% 44%
Rubio 16% 45%

Being on track for a 2 percentage point majority of delegates doesn’t give Trump much room for error. Slip-ups in the winner-take-all states of Florida or Ohio on March 15 would knock him off track, as would even a slight underperformance in states that allocate their delegates proportionally.

And Trump could fall short on March 15. Those winner-take-all states are the homes of two of his rivals: John Kasich (Ohio) and Marco Rubio (Florida). Although FiveThirtyEight’s polls-plus forecast gives Trump a 68 percent chance of winning Florida and its 99 delegates, Rubio is expected to focus his efforts there in the next two weeks. Expect a barrage of anti-Trump ads on Florida television sets. In Ohio, which will award 66 delegates to the winner of its primary, our polls-plus forecast gives Kasich a 41 percent chance and Trump a 39 percent chance of winning.

Trump’s Super Tuesday performance was impressive, and no GOP candidate can claim he has nearly as plausible a path to 1,237 delegates as Trump. However, Super Tuesday’s results suggest a strategic shift: The effort to stop Trump may no longer call for consolidation around one alternative; it’s now a multifront war led by multiple candidates and disparate factions of the party with the singular aim of preventing Trump from winning 1,237 delegates.

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Aaron Bycoffe is a computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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