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It’s Almost Over: A Guide To The Final Primaries

The primary season started in cold, snowy Iowa and New Hampshire, and it essentially ends in sunny California.1 Today, six caucuses and primaries take place — the final super Tuesday of the year before the general election.

Although The Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee Monday night, based on her winning a majority of pledged delegates and superdelegates combined, Clinton will almost certainly clinch a majority of pledged delegates tonight. That’s important because it will indicate that she wasn’t just the choice of superdelegates; she also won millions more votes than Bernie Sanders. Clinton has 1,811 pledged delegates,2 just 215 short of the 2,026 necessary to reach a majority. She needs to win only 31 percent of the delegates up for grabs today to cross that threshold. Here’s a state-by-state look at Clinton’s and Sanders’s prospects.

New Jersey primary

Polls close: 8 p.m. EDT
126 delegates at stake
Open to independent3 voters

Surprisingly little ink has been spilled over the state with the ninth-largest delegate prize of all the caucuses and primaries in the nomination process. That’s because California is hogging much of the spotlight, but also because New Jersey just hasn’t been that competitive. Clinton has won the states surrounding New Jersey by no less than 12 percentage points. She leads the FiveThirtyEight polling average in New Jersey by 27 percentage points.

New Jersey’s Democratic electorate is diverse, and its white population is wealthy, and Clinton has done exceedingly well among black voters and wealthy white voters in the primary so far. African-Americans made up 23 percent of New Jersey primary voters in 2008, compared with 19 percent nationwide. Whites making more than $100,000 made up about 40 percent of white voters in 2008, while they were just 28 percent of white voters nationwide.4

Overall, my colleague Nate Silver’s demographic model5 has Clinton winning the race by 11.1 percentage points. If that holds, she’ll win about 70 delegates to Sanders’s 56 in the state.

New Mexico primary

Polls close: 9 p.m. EDT
34 delegates at stake
Closed to independent voters

If Clinton does well with Latinos (as we expect her to), then she’s going to do very well in New Mexico, though few delegates are at stake. Thirty-five percent of Democratic primary voters in the state were Latino in 2008, which was higher than in any other contest outside Puerto Rico. Indeed, the only state that came close was neighboring Texas, at 32 percent. Clinton cruised in Texas this year in part because she won Latino voters by 42 percentage points. She’s also likely to benefit from New Mexico’s closed primary, which does not allow independents to participate.

Nate’s demographic model has Clinton winning the state by 19.5 percentage points.6 That’s slightly less than her margin in a recent BWD Global poll, which had her ahead by 26 percentage points. A 19.5 percentage point victory would allow Clinton to earn about 20 delegates to Sanders’s 14 in New Mexico.

North Dakota caucuses

Doors close: 9 p.m. EDT
18 delegates at stake
Open to independent voters

You can’t draw up a better state for Sanders than this one. Just 5 percent of the state’s population is black or Latino; it’s not a primary but a caucus, where Sanders does quite well; and to top it off, independent voters are allowed to participate. The only real question is the margin of Sanders’s victory.

Nate’s demographic model has Sanders winning the caucus by 38.6 percentage points, which would be his largest margin in any contest since late March.

The bad news for Sanders is that so few delegates are at stake. Just eight other caucuses and primaries, out of 57, have fewer elected delegates than North Dakota. Even if Sanders beats Clinton by 38.6 points, he’ll probably win only about 12 delegates to Clinton’s six.

South Dakota primary

Polls close: 9 p.m. EDT
20 delegates at stake
Open to independent voters

Another state with few black and Latino voters that allows independents to participate in the contest? Check. The only big demographic difference between the Dakotas is that South Dakota is 9 percent American Indian, compared with 5 percent in North Dakota. These states could give us some insight into which candidate American Indians prefer in the Democratic primary.

Aside from that, the ethnic and racial makeups are mostly similar, and the Dakotas generally vote very similarly in presidential elections. Therefore, the states give us a test of the impact of having a caucus versus a primary this year. Eight years ago, when the then-closed7 South Dakota primary was held four months after the North Dakota open caucuses, the difference between the two was remarkable. Clinton won South Dakota by 11 percentage points and lost North Dakota by 25 percentage points.

Nate’s demographic model doesn’t expect a margin that wide this year. It predicts that Sanders will take South Dakota by 18.8 percentage points, which would get him 12 delegates to Clinton’s eight. I should note that a Targeted Persuasion survey taken at the end of May had Clinton up 50 percent to 47 percent, so maybe she’ll outperform demographic expectations.

Montana primary

Polls close: 10 p.m. EDT
21 delegates
Open to independent voters

Nate’s demographic model has Sanders winning Montana by 19 percentage points, nearly the same margin as in South Dakota. Sanders has won all the states around Montana by at least 10 percentage points. Eight years ago, Clinton, who generally has performed at or around her 2008 levels in the interior West into the Great Plains, lost the state by 16 percentage points.

But Sanders’s victories in those states (he averaged 66 percent of the vote among Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming) have netted him only 68 more delegates than Clinton. Compare that with the highly populated state of Florida, where Clinton won 64 percent of the vote and picked up an identical 68 more delegates than Sanders.

In Montana, Sanders will encounter the same issue, probably taking only about 12 delegates to Clinton’s nine.

Listen to the latest episode of the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast.


California primary

Polls close: 11 p.m. EDT
475 delegates at stake
Open to independent voters

For all the attention lavished on California, Clinton can clinch a majority of pledged delegates even with a poor performance in the state. If these predicted delegate allocations for the other five states are correct, Clinton will require only 102 of California’s 475 delegates to win an overall majority. Because delegates are allocated proportionally in Democratic primaries, Clinton will likely hit this number if she gets at least 21.5 percent of the California vote. That shouldn’t be a problem. Clinton has led in every poll in the state, and she leads by 5 percentage points in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. And Nate’s demographic model has Clinton favored by 9.4 percentage points in California. In other words, Clinton is going to get her pledged delegate majority in California, unless something truly unforeseen happens.

Still, there are a couple of things to watch in California, as Nate has pointed out. The first is how Clinton does among Latino voters. The polls suggest that Clinton and Sanders are splitting the Latino vote, even though Clinton has won almost every heavily Latino area so far. California provides a chance for Sanders to prove that demographics aren’t always destiny and that he can move the numbers by campaigning.

The second thing to watch is how Clinton and Sanders fare among Asians, who make up a larger portion of the population of California than of any other state outside Hawaii (which Sanders won).

Keep in mind that if the race is as close as 2 percentage points, as some polls indicate, a winner may not be called in California until Wednesday at the earliest. That’s because many voters cast a ballot by mail, and ballots received through June 10 will be counted.


  1. Technically, Democrats will hold one more contest: a primary June 14 in Washington, D.C.

  2. As of Monday evening.

  3. Technically, we mean voters unaffiliated with a political party.

  4. These figures are based on white voters for whom income information was available.

  5. This model takes into account the percentage of black and Hispanic voters, whether an election is open or closed to independent voters, whether it’s a primary or a caucus, and where national polls stand at the time of the election. I will be referring to the model throughout this article.

  6. She wins by less if Latinos don’t vote in overwhelming numbers for her, as the model expects them to.

  7. This year the primary is open to independent voters.

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