We’ve known for some time that Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. But when will she clinch the nomination? If you look at the few remaining contests on the Democratic primary calendar, the major news outlets — barring something devastating happening to the Clinton campaign in the next few weeks — are likely to declare Clinton the nominee on June 7. More specifically, New Jersey will likely push Clinton across the finish line, and she may clinch the nomination even before the polls close in California.
If major news outlets declare Clinton the nominee on June 7, they will be counting superdelegates, as they did in 2008 when they declared Barack Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee on June 3. Now, you might ask “why include superdelegates?” It’s a fair question; superdelegates can change their minds, after all. For that reason, we haven’t included them in our delegate tracker — there was a chance that superdelegates backing Clinton might switch sides, particularly if Bernie Sanders was able to win a majority of elected delegates.
But that seems virtually impossible now. Sanders would need to win 68 percent of the remaining elected delegates to take a pledged delegate lead, and both the polls and demographics point to his defeat in the two largest delegate prizes remaining, California and New Jersey. Which is all to say there’s now a good argument for counting superdelegates.
If we do include superdelegates, Clinton is currently 85 delegates short of the 2,383 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination, according to NBC News.1 So let’s walk through the rest of the Democratic calendar.
Before June 7, there are two contests: the Virgin Islands on June 4 with seven elected delegates and Puerto Rico on June 5 with 60 elected delegates. No polling has been conducted in the Virgin Islands, but 76 percent of the population identified as black in the 2010 Census, and Clinton has dominated with black voters. (Obama, who was supported by a vast majority of black voters eight years ago, carried the Virgin Islands with 90 percent of the vote in 2008.) Still, let’s be cautious and award Clinton four of the seven delegates at stake.
We also don’t have any traditional2 polling from Puerto Rico, but there are good reasons to think Clinton will win there fairly easily. She won it by 37 percentage points in 2008, thanks in large part to her strength among Hispanic voters. And this year Clinton has run away with the Hispanic vote in the two states on the U.S. mainland with the largest Puerto Rican populations: Florida and New York. She won the non-Cuban Hispanic vote in Florida by 41 percentage points and the Hispanic vote in New York by 28 percentage points. A model that predicts the Democratic primary vote based on demographics that we’ve played around with on occasion — it came within 3 percentage points of getting the margin correct in Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia — projects Clinton to win Puerto Rico by about a 2-to-1 margin. Let’s be cautious again, though, and award Clinton 30 of the 60 delegates.
If Clinton wins no other superdelegates between now and June 7, my conservative projections in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands still leave her only 51 delegates short of a delegate majority heading into June 7.
The first state to completely close its polls on June 7 is New Jersey at 8 p.m. EDT. Clinton needs to win just 40.5 percent of the 126 pledged delegates available in the Garden State3 to get 51 delegates. She has led in every single poll conducted in New Jersey, including two in May, which had her ahead by 28 percentage points and 14 percentage points. The demographics-based model has her winning by somewhere in the mid-teens. Unless something crazy happens — and crazy things have found a way of happening in 2016 — Clinton will likely reach 2,383 delegates in New Jersey.
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Does this mean that the major news outlets will declare Clinton the nominee at exactly 8 p.m. on June 7? Not necessarily. There aren’t likely to be exit polls in New Jersey, and the news outlets will probably wait for returns — exit polls are expensive — from the state to determine whether Clinton has clinched. Still, it’ll probably be pretty clear after some votes are counted that Clinton has hit the minimum delegate threshold to win the nomination.
Of course, none of this means that Sanders has to or will stop campaigning. June 7 is the last major date on the Democratic calendar, but Washington, D.C., will hold a primary on June 14. And Sanders has also said there will be a “contested convention” because Clinton has no realistic shot of reaching 2,383 delegates without superdelegates. That’s true. But whether we like it or not, superdelegates count.