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How Our Presidential Endorsement Tracker Works

The Details

We consider an endorsement to be a public display or pronouncement of support that articulates or strongly implies that a candidate is the endorser’s current No. 1 choice for president. That’s a wordy description, but it makes a few important points:

  • The endorsement must be made publicly. A New York Times article saying that Senator Y is quietly backing Candidate X would not count, unless Senator Y has said or done something on behalf of the candidate publicly.
  • The endorsement need not be as explicit as a statement saying “I endorse Candidate X.” Introducing a candidate at a rally would usually count as an endorsement, for instance, depending on the context and tenor of the remarks.
  • Endorsers can’t cheat by endorsing multiple candidates at once; an endorsement only counts if it indicates a first choice. Endorsers may switch candidates at any time, however.
  • That first choice need not be someone who has officially entered the race. Hillary Clinton lined up dozens of endorsements before officially announcing her 2016 candidacy, for instance.
  • When it’s unclear whether someone intended to endorse a candidate, we’ll check with the offices of the candidate and the endorser about the context. We would also encourage candidates and endorsers to contact us directly to let us know about any new endorsements or any that we’ve missed. If the candidate and the endorser disagree about whether an endorsement has occurred, the endorser’s view will prevail.

Often, if you see someone listed as having endorsed a candidate and their public statements seem ambiguous, we’ve done additional reporting to confirm the endorsement. These were the same rules we used in 2016, and they didn’t cause too many problems, but there are always going to be issues we didn’t anticipate. But again, we would encourage both endorsers and candidates, as well as third parties, to contact us about any missing endorsements or any that seem to be in error.

The universe of potential endorsers we’re tracking in the 2020 cycle is larger than what we tracked in 2016, when we included only current governors and members of Congress. Different endorsers are worth different numbers of “endorsement points” to reflect the relative value of various endorsers, although the scale is flatter than the one we used in 2016. Specifically, it includes the following:

  1. Current and former presidents and vice presidents (10 points).
  2. Current party leaders: Nancy Pelosi (House speaker), Steny Hoyer (House majority leader), James Clyburn (House majority whip), Chuck Schumer (Senate minority leader), Dick Durbin (Senate minority whip) and Tom Perez (Democratic National Committee chair) (10 points).
  3. Current governors, including governor equivalents from the U.S. territories and Washington, D.C.1 (8 points).
  4. Current U.S. Senators (6 points).
  5. Past presidential and vice presidential nominees (5 points).
  6. Former party leaders2 (5 points).
  7. Former 2020 presidential candidates who appeared in at least one debate and have since dropped out (5 points).
  8. Current U.S. representatives, including non-voting delegates from U.S. territories (3 points).
  9. Mayors of cities with at least 300,000 people (3 points).
  10. Officials holding statewide or territory-wide elected office, excluding positions (e.g. commissioners) that are held by multiple people at once (2 points).
  11. State and territorial legislatures’ majority and minority leaders (2 points).3
  12. DNC members not otherwise covered by this list (1 point).

No set of categories and point values is going to be perfect; it doesn’t necessarily seem right that Hillary Clinton’s endorsement is worth less than that of Delaware Gov. John Carney, for instance. But 12 categories is already quite a few, and we don’t want to make too many one-off exceptions. Endorsers’ point values cannot be increased by qualifying for multiple categories; instead, endorsers are associated with the highest-ranking category they fit into on the list above. For instance, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine is treated as a senator (6 points) rather than a former VP nominee (5 points) because being a senator is worth more points.

Below is the number of current potential endorsers in each category, including both Democratic and independent (e.g. Maine Sen. Angus King) potential endorsers, except independents who are de facto Republicans. Republican endorsers will appear on the list if and when any of them endorse Democratic candidates for president.4 Note that the list can grow and shrink over time as, for example, vacant DNC positions are filled and offices change hands, since many of these categories assign values only to the whoever currently holds the position in question. If a senator resigns from office, for instance, their endorsement is no longer worth any endorsement points unless they fit into one of our other categories. (An exception: The candidate keeps the points if the endorser dies while holding the position.) Candidates cannot endorse themselves, so people who are currently running for president are removed from the endorsement pool until they drop out.

Who are the potential Democratic endorsers?

As of Feb. 27, 2019

Category No. of potential endorsers Points per endorser Total points
Past presidents and vice presidents 5 10 50
Current party leaders 6 10 60
Governors 25 8 200
U.S. senators 39 6 234
Past presidential and VP nominees 5 5 25
Former party leaders 21 5 105
Former 2020 presidential candidates 0 5 0
U.S. representatives 234 3 702
Mayors of large cities 48 3 144
People in statewide office 100 2 200
State legislative leaders 102 2 204
Democratic National Committee members 332 1 332
Total 917 2,256

Model Creator

Aaron Bycoffe A computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight. | @bycoffe

Nate Silver Editor in chief. | @NateSilver538


Version History

1.1 2020 endorsement tracker.Feb. 28, 2019

1.0 2016 endorsement tracker.July 14, 2015


Footnotes

  1. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is treated as a governor, in other words.

  2. This heavily overlaps with the DNC term “distinguished party leaders,” but the categories are not exactly the same.

  3. In Washington, D.C., the chair of the city council, Phil Mendelson, is treated as a legislative leader. In Nebraska, which has an officially unicameral and nonpartisan legislature, the two members of the Executive Board who affiliate with the Democrats, Tony Vargas and Kate Bolz, are treated as legislative leaders.

  4. Republican endorsers are rated using the same scoring system as for Democrats but with parallel categories where needed, e.g. an RNC member counts the same as a DNC member. Endorsements from current or former members of Trump’s Cabinet — not a category we originally included on the list of potential Democratic endorsers because we wouldn’t expect them to endorse Democrats — are worth five endorsement points.

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

Aaron Bycoffe is a computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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