You ever feel like you don’t know exactly how to interpret an election night? That’s how I feel about the Republican side of the aisle after Tuesday. Donald Trump won at least three of the five states that voted on Tuesday, including Florida. (We’re still waiting on a call in Missouri, but Trump leads.) Marco Rubio ended his campaign. John Kasich stayed alive by winning Ohio. Given that Trump likely won every state except for the home state of another candidate, it has to be considered a good night for him. And yet, the main question — are we going to a contested convention? — remains unanswered.
The good news for Trump is that he won the most delegates on Tuesday, and was able to make up for the 66 delegates he lost in Ohio by winning Illinois and likely Missouri, which could bring as many as 95 delegates, depending on how the district allocation shakes out.
Moreover, Trump performed strongly in all the states that voted Tuesday. He won 36 percent of the vote in Ohio, 39 percent in Illinois, 40 percent in North Carolina, 41 percent in Missouri and 46 percent in Florida. His average performance was 40.3 percent. That’s far above his average 34.6 percent that he had on March 1. Granted, the states that voted tonight were different than the states that voted two weeks ago, but there isn’t any sign that Trump’s support is falling. If anything, these results suggest it may be somewhat rising.
The bad news for Trump is pretty clear: even with a Missouri win, he would still have won only a little more than 47 percent of the delegates allocated so far. Moreover, he’ll need to win a little more than 54 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. That’s certainly possible given there are several winner-take-all states to come, and Trump may do well in big East Coast states such as New York and New Jersey. Trump is also in a good position in Arizona, a winner-take-all state that votes next Tuesday.
Still, there are plenty of ways the delegate math can go haywire for him. My own delegate estimate has Trump falling short of the 1,237 delegates he needs because he has done poorly in the west so far, and many of those states haven’t voted yet. It’s also possible that Kasich plays better than we might think among moderate voters in the remaining states to vote in New England and Mid-Atlantic.
Moreover, there are plenty of signs that Trump would have lost a majority of states that voted on Tuesday had Rubio not been in the race. I’m talking about Missouri and North Carolina, where Ted Cruz beat Trump in a one-on-one race in the exit polls. Trump may be rising, though he is still not getting close to a majority of the vote in most states. If the anti-Trump voters can find a better way to coordinate behind one candidate, they probably can beat Trump in a lot of upcoming contests.
When you put it all together, I think the result on Tuesday can best be defined as messy. Trump is likely to have a plurality of delegates after all the contests have finished up on June 7. But a majority? We still don’t know.
Listen to the latest episode of the FiveThirtyEight elections podcast.