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Election Update: Klobuchar’s Exit Boosts The Odds No One Will Win A Delegate Majority

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Amy Klobuchar suspended her campaign for president, and she will now endorse former Vice President Joe Biden at a rally tonight. It’s hard to miss that this came on the heels of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropping out. (Buttigieg, too, is planning to endorse Biden.) It sure seems like the establishment wing of the Democratic Party is trying to consolidate its vote and stop Sen. Bernie Sanders from winning the nomination.

And according to the latest FiveThirtyEight forecast, Klobuchar’s decision makes a small amount of progress toward that goal — with a big asterisk. Sanders now has a 1 in 6 (17 percent) chance of winning a majority of pledged delegates in our forecast; that’s a tad lower than the 1 in 5 (20 percent) chance he had immediately before Klobuchar dropped out. But Biden’s chances didn’t go up; he was at 1 in 7 (15 percent) before and is at 1 in 7 (14 percent) now.

Instead, the scenario in which no candidate receives a majority is only getting more and more likely: It’s up to a 7 in 10 (69 percent) chance after being at 2 in 3 (65 percent) at midday. And Sanders is still — barely — the candidate most likely to have a plurality of delegates when voting is over, which could be important in the event no one wins a majority. (There are lots of scenarios where the plurality winner is nominated without a contested convention.) Sanders has just over a 1 in 2 chance (54 percent) of a delegate plurality, while Biden has just under a 1 in 2 chance (45 percent).

The near-term impact of Klobuchar’s withdrawal could be small as well. She wasn’t polling high enough in most Super Tuesday states for her former voters to meaningfully affect Sanders’s or Biden’s chances of winning them. However, her exit does make it slightly more likely that candidates like Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren or former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg exceed 15 percent (the threshold needed to win delegates) in some states and districts. Their average forecasted national delegate hauls edged up accordingly; Biden’s went up by 29, Bloomberg’s by 26 and Warren’s by 21. (Sanders’s went down by 29.)

But Klobuchar’s withdrawal does change the shape of the race in one Super Tuesday locale: her home state of Minnesota, where she was previously a slight favorite to beat Sanders. Now, however, our forecast gives Sanders a 2 in 3 (66 percent) chance of carrying the Gopher State. Funnily enough, Klobuchar retains a 1 in 4 (23 percent) chance of winning the state; she is still on the ballot, after all, and early voting has been taking place there for weeks. But Klobuchar’s departure doesn’t hand as many delegates to Sanders in Minnesota as you might think. Before she dropped out, our model expected Sanders to win an average of 27 delegates in Minnesota; now, we are forecasting him to win an average of 30. In terms of Minnesota delegates, Biden and Warren appear to be the bigger beneficiaries of Klobuchar’s exit; Biden gained an average of 6.5 delegates and Warren gained an average of 4.8. What happens in Minnesota tomorrow now will certainly be worth watching.

Indeed, Klobuchar’s endorsement of Biden doesn’t mean all of her voters will flock to the former vice president en masse. According to two polls conducted last week (by Morning Consult and SurveyUSA), Biden was the second choice of only about 16 or 17 percent of Klobuchar supporters — about the same number who had Warren or Bloomberg as their backup. (Buttigieg was actually their top second choice in both polls.) Our model reassigns a dropout’s supporters to other candidates based on which remaining candidates have the closest proximity scores to the dropout along axes measuring factors such as ideology, outsider-insider status and highbrow-middlebrow positioning. The model thinks Biden and Bloomberg are the closest fits for Klobuchar supporters, followed by Warren and finally Sanders.

On the other hand, earlier polls and our model might be underestimating the amount of Klobuchar’s support that will go to Biden. Klobuchar’s endorsement probably will mean something to some of her former supporters. For that matter, Buttigieg’s endorsement could also move his former supporters to Biden in ways we aren’t yet factoring in. And both of their dropouts come at a time when anti-Sanders factions are sending pretty clear signals that like-minded voters should coalesce around Biden. Klobuchar and Buttigieg aren’t the only major Democratic figures to endorse Biden in the last few days; multiple party bigwigs, such as former Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have done so as well. The cumulative effects of these endorsements could form an aura of inevitability around Biden.

It’s not hard to see how our model might be underestimating Biden’s chances on Super Tuesday and beyond. In fact, the race is moving so fast that the entire forecast is pretty uncertain. Not only do we not have a lot of polls measuring what kind of bounce Biden got from winning South Carolina (which somehow was only two days ago), but we literally have zero polls of a Buttigieg- and Klobuchar-less race. We can make (and are making) educated guesses about what will happen, but we could be in for some big surprises tomorrow night.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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