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State-by-State Analysis: Romney Could Win Majority of Super Tuesday Delegates

Although the Super Tuesday states are a mix of favorable and unfavorable terrain for Mitt Romney, his situation has improved enough that he could be on track to win an outright majority of the delegates on the night.

Indeed, Mr. Romney could secure the delegate majority even if he wins as few as 4 or 5 states, based on an analysis of the current polling in each state and the complex series of rules that are used to govern delegate allocation. This path involves Mr. Romney winning all or nearly all of the delegates in his strongest states, while getting a decent minority of them in the states that he does not win; many of which tend to have more proportional delegate allocation rules.

The only way to do this correctly is to go through the states one at a time, as I have done here. States are listed in order of their total number of delegates. Combined, the 10 states that will vote on Super Tuesday have 437 delegates, although only 422 delegates are up for grabs since 15 of them are super delegates who are unbound to the results in each state. Therefore, a majority would require either 212 or 219 delegates, depending on whether you include these super delegates in the denominator.

Georgia — 76 delegates
The delegate math
: In Georgia, 42 delegates are awarded by Congressional district; a candidate wins all 3 delegates in a district if he gets a majority there, otherwise they are split 2-to-1 between the top two finishers. Another 31 delegates are awarded proportionately among candidates winning at least 20 percent of the vote. Finally, Georgia is among the states that binds its 3 super delegates; they awarded winner-take-all to the statewide victor.
The polling: Newt Gingrich has had some favorable momentum in recent polls and looks as though he will win his home state. The FiveThirtyEight model projects him to get 43 percent of the vote, versus 27 percent for Mr. Romney and 21 percent for Mr. Santorum.
The projection: Mr. Gingrich may earn a majority of the vote in his stronger Congressional districts, allowing him to earn 3 rather than 2 delegates from them. But Mr. Romney may also win a couple of districts, especially some of the wealthier ones in suburban Atlanta. Mr. Santorum, projected to take 21 percent of the vote statewide, is in some danger of failing to meet the 20 percent qualifying threshold that would make him eligible for statewide delegates. On the plus side for Mr. Santorum, he’s not that far behind Mr. Romney in the polls and should take second place in some of the more rural Congressional districts. I project 43 delegates for Mr. Gingrich, 24 for Mr. Romney, and 9 for Mr. Santorum.

Ohio — 66 delegates
The delegate math
: In Ohio, most of the delegates (48) are awarded winner-take-all by Congressional district. Note, however, that Rick Santorum does not have not have full delegate slates in some districts and will not be eligible to win them there. Another 15 delegates will be awarded proportionately among candidates winning at least 20 percent of the vote statewide — unless one candidate gets an outright majority, in which case he wins all 15. Finally, Ohio’s 3 super delegates are unbound by the results of the primary.
The polling: The polls still show Mr. Santorum with the tiniest of advantages in Ohio. The conventional wisdom holds that Mr. Romney is closing strongly, which may be the case — but our forecasts are supposed to account for a candidate’s momentum, and when I look at some of the nonpolling factors in the state, they don’t seem tremendously favorable to Mr. Romney. It’s fine to think of the state as a tossup, but I don’t yet see the case to think of Mr. Santorum as the underdog.
The projection: Whether or not Mr. Romney is a favorite to win the popular vote in Ohio, however, he is probably the favorite to take the plurality of delegates there because of Mr. Santorum’s delegate problems. Indeed, up to 18 delegates could potentially be affected by this and some are in areas that Mr. Santorum would otherwise be favored to win. Therefore, I am taking half of these delegates and placing them into the unbound category (candidates can later petition the state to lay a claim to them), along with Ohio’s 3 super delegates. I project the remaining delegates 28 for Mr. Romney and 26 for Mr. Santorum. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul currently project below 20 percent of the vote, which would leave them ineligible for statewide delegates, although Mr. Gingrich has some chance of hitting that threshold.

Tennessee — 58 delegates
The delegate math
: Here, 27 delegates are awarded by Congressional district; but the rules are slightly complicated. A candidate wins all 3 delegates in a district if he gets two-thirds of the vote there — not a mere majority, as in most other states. Otherwise, they are split 2-to-1 between the top two finishers in most circumstances. Another 28 delegates are awarded proportionately among candidates winning at least 20 percent of the vote unless one candidate wins two-thirds of the vote statewide (again, not just a majority), in which case he takes all of them. Tennessee’s 3 super delegates are unbound.
The polling: Mr. Romney has reduced much of his deficit against Mr. Santorum in the Tennessee polls and now trails by about 4 points. The delegate math aside, a win for Mr. Romney here — in a Southern state that did not figure to be favorable for him — would remove much of the doubt about whether Super Tuesday had been a “good” day for him.
The projection: Because Tennessee requires candidates to win two-thirds of the vote before winner-take-all rules apply, its delegates should be split in a relatively proportional way, both at the state level and in the congressional districts. The 20 percent threshold that determines whether a candidate is eligible for statewide delegates could come into play, however, since Mr. Gingrich projects to almost exactly that level. I am giving Mr. Gingrich the benefit of the doubt and assigning him 6 delegates, but 26 go to Mr. Santorum and 22 to Mr. Romney. My best guess is that Mr. Romney might be favored to win the 2nd, 5th and 7th Congressional districts if he loses the vote by just a few points statewide, so some of his delegates come from these areas.

Virginia — 46 delegates
The delegate math
: Like Georgia, Virginia awards many of its delegates, 33, on a winner-take-all basis by Congressional district. The other 13 are de facto winner-take-all based on the statewide vote given that there are only two candidates, Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul, on the ballot and that one of them is guaranteed to achieve a majority. Virginia’s 3 super delegates are unbound.
The polling: Some of the polls have shown high numbers of undecided voters — perhaps those who are confused or disappointed that they cannot vote for Mr. Santorum or Mr. Gingrich — and it is unclear how such voters will behave at the ballot booth. Still, there does not seem to be any concerted effort to focus around Mr. Paul as an “anybody but Romney” default and Mr. Romney should win big here. Our forecast model thinks he’ll get somewhere between 60 and 78 percent of the vote, with totals in the low 70’s being the most likely figure.
The projection: Mr. Romney will win the 13 statewide delegates unless there is an incredible surprise. The size of his margin against Mr. Paul could be more pertinent at the Congressional district level, however. Something like the 5th Congressional district, which is rural and poor and contains the college town of Charlottesville, could give Mr. Paul a chance to get on the board. I am giving Mr. Paul credit for one Congressional district win and therefore 3 delegates, with Mr. Romney getting 43 delegates total between the state and the districts.

Oklahoma — 43 delegates
The delegate math
: Each of Oklahoma’s 5 congressional districts awards 3 delegates, or 15 total. As in Georgia, a candidate takes all 3 if he wins a majority in the district. Otherwise, they are split either 2-to-1 or 1-1-1 depending on how many candidates get at least 15 percent of the vote there. Another 25 delegates are determined by the statewide vote and are allocated proportionately among candidates hitting a 15 percent qualifying threshold — but a candidate can circumvent this and take all 25 delegates if he takes a majority in the state. Oklahoma also has 3 super delegates, who are unbound by the primary result.
The polling: This is Mr. Santorum’s strongest state, although he has slipped some — he now projects to 39 percent of the vote, whereas he had been on track for a percentage in the 40’s before. Mr. Romney is in second at 28 percent — the model lays about 10-to-1 odds against his pulling off a huge upset and winning the state — with Mr. Gingrich at 23 percent.
The projection: Taking the FiveThirtyEight forecast and assuming that Mr. Santorum will win 4 of the 5 Congressional districts (but by varying margins and triggering different delegate rules) works out to about 22 delegates for him, with Mr. Romney getting 11 and Mr. Gingrich 7. Back when Mr. Santorum’s numbers were a little stronger, the 50 percent majority threshold had seemed to be within reach, in which case he could have won all 39 elected delegates. But that looks unlikely now; the high end of his forecast range runs to 48 percent instead.

Massachusetts — 41 delegates
The delegate math
: Massachusetts’ rules are relatively simple: 38 are awarded proportionately among candidates getting at least 15 percent of the vote statewide. Its 3 super delegates are unbound.
The polling: Mr. Romney projects to 64 percent of the vote in his home state, with Mr. Santorum at 21 percent and Mr. Paul at 9 percent.
The projection: The question is whether Mr. Santorum and perhaps Mr. Paul will hit the 15 percent threshold required to be eligible for statewide delegates. I’m just taking the results from our forecasts verbatim, which project that Mr. Santorum will and Mr. Paul will not, although neither outcome is certain. That yields a projection of 29 delegates for Mr. Romney and 9 for Mr. Santorum.

Idaho — 32 delegates
The delegate math
: Idaho’s delegate allocation rules are perhaps the most complex in the country. Initially, they are awarded winner-take-all by county after a series of votes in which candidates are successively eliminated from the ballot, somewhat like the viability threshold that Democrats use in their caucuses in Iowa. Then, if a candidate receives 50 percent or more of the county delegates once these results are tallied, he receives all 32 delegates to the national convention; otherwise they are split proportionately in accordance with the number of county delegates.
The polling: There has been no polling at all in Idaho.
The projection: Idaho has the nation’s second-highest concentration of Mormon voters after Utah — they represent 27 percent of the population there, according to one estimate. Back before Mr. Romney won caucuses in Maine and Washington, it seemed like his problems in caucus states were significant enough that one of the other candidates might have a chance here. Mr. Santorum campaigned some in the state, and Mr. Paul performed fairly strongly in some of the Washington counties that border Idaho. However, with Mr. Romney having stabilized himself in caucuses, his advantage with the Mormon vote should be enough to carry the day. Idaho is also the rare Republican state where second-choice preferences matter since candidates are sequentially eliminated from the ballot if they do not have enough votes, something which could harm Mr. Paul since his support tends to be all-or-nothing. I am guessing that Mr. Romney’s advantages will be clear enough that he will win all 32 of Idaho’s delegates once the various criteria are applied to calculate them.

North Dakota — 28 delegates
The delegate math
: North Dakota’s caucus rules are more straightforward than in most other states: there is just one vote taken in each precinct, with delegate allocation tied directly, and roughly proportionately, to presidential preference.
The polling: Nobody was compelled to poll North Dakota.
The projection: Before Washington and Maine, I would have considered Mr. Santorum the favorite here, since he won the neighboring state of Minnesota by a wide margin and since Mr. Romney has struggled in rural areas in the middle part of the country. But Mr. Santorum has performed disappointingly in caucuses since then, and Mr. Romney made a recent visit to Fargo; meanwhile, the state has a lot of new-found wealth because of its oil boom .Therefore, although it will receive less attention than something like Tennessee, North Dakota could present another opportunity for Mr. Romney to demonstrate the breadth of his coalition. Since the delegate allocation is roughly proportional, I am simply dividing it about evenly for now: 9 delegates to Mr. Santorum, 9 to Mr. Romney, 8 to Mr. Paul, and 2 for Mr. Gingrich.

Alaska — 27 delegates
The delegate math
: Of Alaska’s 27 delegates, 24 are awarded approximately proportionately based on the statewide caucus vote. As in North Dakota, there is just one vote taken in each precinct with with delegate allocation directly tied to presidential preference. Furthermore, as in Nevada (but unlike North Dakota) these delegates are formally bound at the convention. However, Alaska’s 3 super delegates are unbound and not determined in any way by the caucus outcome.
The polling: Like the other caucus states, Alaska has received no polling.
The projection: Alaska is a famously unpredictable state, but Mr. Romney won the caucuses there in 2008. Mr. Paul, however, has raised more money than Mr. Romney in Alaska this year, one of the few states in which this is true, and the state can have fairly strong libertarian leanings. Meanwhile, although Alaska is less socially conservative than fiscally conservative, it has its fair share of evangelical voters. I see the state as a Romney-Paul tossup with Mr. Santorum having some outside chances, and allocate the delegates 8 to Mr. Romney, 8 to Mr. Paul, 6 to Mr. Santorum, and 2 to Mr. Gingrich.

Vermont — 17 delegates
The delegate math
:Vermont’s 3 super delegates are bound by the results of the primary and awarded on a winner-take-all basis. The remaining 14 are awarded proportionately with a 20 percent qualifying threshold, although they convert to winner-take-all if one candidate achieves a majority.
The polling: We have not run a projection here, but there was one poll of Vermont, although it is somewhat dated and was conducted at a time when Mr. Santorum’s national standing was stronger. That poll, from Castelton College, gave Mr. Romney 34 percent of the vote, Mr. Santorum 27 percent, and Mr. Paul 14 percent.
The projection: I’m very reluctant to lean on a single poll of a state. Still, the results are enough to suggest that Mr. Romney may not be a favorite to hit the majority threshold he would need to take all of the state’s delegates. Vermont’s demographics are not all that favorable to Mr. Romney: although it is in New England, it is very rural and has relatively low incomes and something of an anti-establishment streak. However, Vermont is certainly not socially conservative, and the state’s primary is open to all voters — so I somewhat doubt the poll’s finding that Mr. Santorum is competitive there. Indeed, Mr. Santorum could have trouble getting enough votes to hit the 20 percent threshold required to be dealt in to delegate allocation. Vermont may, however, be a decent state for Mr. Paul, who ran quite evenly with Mr. Romney in the western New Hampshire towns that border Vermont. Given the uncertainty here, it is not totally out of the question that Mr. Romney could lose Vermont, although it is also not out of the question that he could perform much better than the Castelton poll and hit the winner-take-all threshold. My best guess is that Mr. Paul will get 6 delegates, with Mr. Romney taking the other 11.

Adding up the projections from the ten states, I show Mr. Romney getting 217 delegates, or almost exactly half of the total available. Mr. Santorum would get 107 delegates by these projections — about a quarter of the total — with Mr. Gingrich getting 61 and Mr. Paul 25.

There is, obviously, a lot of uncertainty in these numbers — especially since the delegate math is somewhat non-linear as when candidates fall just above or below a qualifying or majority threshold. But Mr. Romney has the makings of a strong evening, and one that could put some further distance between himself and his rivals.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.