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Election Update: Biden’s Delegate Lead Is Now Nearly Insurmountable

With Tuesday’s elections now in the rearview mirror, we’ve turned the FiveThirtyEight forecast back on. It now accounts for the results in Florida and Illinois, plus partial results in Arizona. But overall, very little has changed. Biden entered the March 17 primaries as an overwhelming favorite to win the nomination, and he remains in the same position today.

Our updated forecast shows Biden’s average pledged delegate count just shy of 2,400 delegates — about the same as before. A candidate needs 1,991 pledged delegates to clinch the majority, so Biden looks set to easily clear that bar even though it might now be a while before the next primary. Sanders did gain very slightly in our average delegate forecast — and some of that is because of how bullish the model has been on Biden — but his chances of winning a majority essentially did not change.

Biden is still an overwhelming favorite to win

Change in our forecast for the top two candidates after the March 17 primaries, as of 10 a.m. Eastern on March 18

Candidate Avg. projected delegates Change Chance of majority Change
Joe Biden 2,393 -47 99.1% -0.6
Bernie Sanders 1,365 +40 0.1 +0.1
No majority 0.9 +0.5

Arizona has only partially reported results.

The chances that no candidate wins a majority also inched up, but again, we’re talking about tiny shifts that aren’t all that meaningful in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of the pledged delegates that have been awarded so far, Biden has won about 300 more than Sanders, which is a nearly insurmountable lead. To claim the nomination, Sanders would need not only to win a bunch of states, but to do so by very large margins. And after yesterday’s races, there’s no reason to think that’s going to start happening.



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Still, there’s some uncertainty about the upcoming calendar thanks to the spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S. While the model was frozen on Tuesday, for instance, Maryland announced it’s moving its primary from April 28 to June 2, making it the fifth state to postpone its primary in response to the COVID-19 crisis. And Maryland might not be the last to do so. For instance, Rhode Island’s board of elections has already asked Gov. Gina Raimondo to shift the state’s primary date from April 28 to June 2.

The next scheduled primary is Puerto Rico on March 29, but that will likely be postponed until April 26. Assuming that delay is confirmed, there would then be an almost three-week break until the next round of contests on April 4. Three states — Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming — will hold party-run primaries that day, and they could be favorable for Sanders. He won a similar type of contest in North Dakota on March 10, but together the trio of states is only worth 53 delegates, which is about 1 percent of all pledged delegates.

And after that — if it isn’t postponed — there is the Wisconsin primary on April 7, which could also be good for Sanders. He won the state by about 14 percentage points in the 2016 primary, but as we saw in Michigan, Sanders’s performance this year hasn’t necessarily follow the same patterns as 2016. Our polling average currently has Biden up by about 11 points in Wisconsin, with the model giving Biden about a 5 in 6 (82 percent) chance of finishing first there.

At this point, there’s little sign that the overall trajectory of the Democratic race is going to change. Our updated forecast shows Biden is still a huge favorite, and — as some pundits and media outlets started doing last night — it may be time to start calling him the “presumptive” nominee.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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