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Hillary Clinton Is The Most Establishment-Approved Candidate On Record

It’s become a running joke that I’m in the tank for Hillary Clinton. Whenever I’ve written anything that suggests Clinton has a very good chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, fans of the other Democratic candidates have let me hear it on email, Twitter and Reddit. I’ve written these pieces not because I’m rooting for Clinton or am in the pocket of “the corporations,”1 but because Clinton is in a strong position to win — a historically strong position.

On the eve of the second Democratic debate, taking place Saturday, here’s the latest evidence for that fact: Clinton has amassed a higher share of intra-party support before the Iowa caucuses than any presidential candidate2 since 1980, as far back as our data goes.

FiveThirtyEight tracks the endorsements of members of Congress and governors because they are highly correlated with the outcome of the primary. In the book “The Party Decides” — where the strong correlation between endorsements and primary outcome was clearly demonstrated — the authors point out that there are basically two types of primaries: Ones in which a single candidate wins the party over before Iowa (like in 2000 on both the Democratic and Republican sides) and ones in which most party actors stay on the sidelines until voting begins (like in 2008 on both sides). The former is very predictable; the latter is far more unpredictable and can produce a number of possible winners.

The 2016 Democratic contest is clearly in the more predictable camp (this year’s GOP race, of course, is not). Clinton already has 71 percent of all possible endorsement points3 on the Democratic side.

1980 Republican 13% 60%
1984 Democratic 24 38
1988 Democratic 7 42
1988 Republican 31 68
1992 Democratic 21 52
1996 Republican 56 59
2000 Democratic 61 75
2000 Republican 68 60
2004 Democratic 8 61
2008 Republican 16 47
2008 Democratic 27 48
2012 Republican 19 52
2016 Democratic 71

That’s more than the 68 percent of possible endorsement points that George W. Bush had on the day of the Iowa caucuses in 2000. It’s nearly three times as much support as Clinton had on the day of the Iowa caucuses in 2008, when her closest comparison was Walter Mondale, who barely won the 1984 Democratic primary.

Of course, the amazing thing about Clinton’s current run is that the Iowa caucuses are 79 days away. She still has time to pick up more endorsements. Indeed, Clinton has been endorsed by more governors and members of Congress in the past three weeks than all the other Democratic and Republican presidential candidates combined.

And those endorsements have come from across the party. Clinton’s been endorsed by two African-American members of Congress (Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Gwen Moore of Wisconsin) and one Latino representative (Tony Cárdenas of California). Endorsements like these may influence voters. Or perhaps the cause-and-effect relationship is the reverse, and the endorsements reflect voter sentiment. Either way, Clinton is doing very well among non-white voters in the primary.

Clinton’s other two recent endorsement came from Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. Coons previously backed Joe Biden for president. In this case, Coons and Moulton (who also flirted with backing Biden) are signaling to other party elites that it’s time to rally behind the leader, even if they had doubts before. It’s just like the polls showed: Most people who were favorably disposed to Biden prefer Clinton over Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley.

Now, Clinton’s dominance in the endorsement primary doesn’t mean that she won’t lose some primaries and/or caucuses. Bush lost seven contests in 2000, and Bob Dole lost six in 1996. Clinton could lose New Hampshire to Sanders, for instance.

But barring something unforeseen, Clinton’s going to be the Democratic nominee.

Check out our live coverage of the second Democratic debate


  1. Though I guess I’d say that even if I were a corporate hack, huh? You’ll just have to trust me.

  2. Excluding incumbent presidents.

  3. We use a weighted system that gives 10 points for endorsements from governors, 5 points for endorsements from U.S. senators and 1 point for endorsements from U.S. representatives.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.