Former Vice President Joe Biden may currently be favored in our forecast to win a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic primary, but the March 10 elections will help determine just how big a favorite Biden really is — and whether Sen. Bernie Sanders can recover and remain competitive.
In Mississippi and Missouri, two of the six contests1 happening on Tuesday, Biden is a strong favorite to win statewide, and we want to take a look at what FiveThirtyEight’s forecast says at the district level. But a warning before we move ahead: We have limited post-Super Tuesday polling in these states — just one poll from Mississippi, in fact — and recent primary polling has been pretty volatile, so the margin between the two candidates may be quite different from what the model thinks right now.
Let’s start with Missouri, which is worth 68 pledged delegates. Our forecast gives Biden an 11 in 12 (92 percent) chance of victory, with an average forecasted vote share of 58 percent statewide. Sanders has just a 1 in 12 (8 percent) shot, winning 39 percent of the vote, on average.
The statewide vote will determine how 24 of Missouri’s pledged delegates are allocated, while the remaining 44 pledged delegates will be allocated based on how Missouri’s eight congressional districts vote. Both Biden and Sanders are on track to clear the 15 percent threshold necessary to win delegates in each district, but Biden is on track to outpace Sanders in every single district — at times by more than a 30-point margin.
Just like in other states, Biden’s strongest districts in Missouri are ones with a large share of African American voters. As such, his top district is the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses the St. Louis area and is nearly 50 percent black. The 1st is also the most delegate-rich district in Missouri, with eight up for grabs. (No other district has more than six.) Biden’s second-best seat is the only other district in Missouri with a large black population: the 5th Congressional District based in Kansas City, which is about 20 percent black.
Sanders’s best districts, on the other hand, are ones that have few black voters and more white voters — which Missouri has plenty of. But one reason he isn’t projected to do better in some of Missouri’s whiter districts is because he hasn’t performed as well among white voters without a college degree in this year’s contests as he did in 2016. Biden has also cut into some of Sanders’s advantages among these voters, performing fairly well so far among whites in the South.
The 2nd Congressional District in suburban St. Louis looks to be Sanders’s strongest district, as his support has held up best in areas with a highly educated, mostly white electorate. And that very much describes the 2nd, which is almost 90 percent white and is easily the most well-educated district in the state — about half of its adult population has a college degree. Even still, Sanders trails by 8 points there.
Things aren’t any better for Sanders in Mississippi. Our forecast suggests that Biden is a near-lock to win the Magnolia State, giving him a 99 in 100 shot at victory. That means Sanders has just a 1 in 100 shot of winning. In terms of projected vote share, Biden wins an average of 65 percent of the vote statewide and Sanders 25 percent.
Thirteen of Mississippi’s 36 pledged delegates to the national convention in July are allocated via the statewide total, while the remaining 23 delegates are allocated via its four congressional districts. And according to our average forecasted vote share in each district, Biden leads Sanders by at least 30 points everywhere, so he stands to collect a large share of the state’s district-level delegates, too.
Biden’s strength here is in part a product of the state’s huge share of African American voters — 71 percent of the 2016 Democratic primary electorate was black, according to the exit poll. This advantage is most evident in Mississippi’s sole Democratic-leaning seat, the 2nd Congressional District, which is nearly two-thirds black and has nine delegates up for grabs. (All the other districts are worth five or fewer delegates.)
As such, there’s little good news for Sanders in Mississippi. But if he can do well elsewhere on March 10 — particularly in Michigan and Washington — he could still have a fighting chance for the nomination, which means any delegates he can squeeze out of Mississippi could still be important down the road. Sanders won only about 17 percent of the vote in Mississippi during the 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton, so if he meets (or exceeds) his forecasted average of 25 percent of the vote statewide, that would mark a sizable improvement.
Missouri and Mississippi look likely to be good states for Biden on Tuesday, but the margins will matter for the delegate race. Because we don’t have much polling to go on in these states, we’re relying a fair amount on demographic patterns to get a read on the race. It’s worth remembering that Sanders fought Clinton to basically a draw in Missouri in 2016, so we shouldn’t completely write him off. These states may not be pivotal in a Sanders comeback narrative, but if he overperforms here and elsewhere on Tuesday, they could matter in the race for delegates.