Second Tuesday, and the future of the Republican Primaries

Delegate estimate as of March 12, 2016. Source: The Green Papers
Five states and one territory vote on Second Tuesday. Polling data from Real Clear Politics.

Tuesday is the second biggest day on the GOP primary calendar (after Super Tuesday two weeks ago). 367 delegates to the RNC Convention are up for grabs, and for the first time since South Carolina’s primary, states are no longer required to divide their delegates proportionally among the Presidential contenders. Accordingly, nearly all of the states voting on Tuesday are either winner-take-all or winner-take-most contents, including the large states of Florida and Ohio, with 158 delegates between them.

So what happens in the aftermath of Second Tuesday? Will the lead that Donald Trump is expected to develop become insurmountable, or can he still be stopped?

Remaining Primary Contests

According to an average of opinion polls compiled by Real Clear Politics, Mr. Trump is leading in all five states voting on Tuesday. If this materialises, he can expect to pick up approximately 310 further delegates. When combined with the delegates he’s expected to pick up tonight, he would finish Tuesday around the 800 delegate mark, bringing him to nearly 2/3 of what he needs to win the nomination. In this scenario, it becomes mathematically impossible for both Marco Rubio and John Kasich to reach the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination, while Ted Cruz would find himself with less than half of Mr. Trump’s total.

Mathematically, it is possible to pick up those delegates by the end of April. If Mr. Cruz is able to get all of Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich’s supporters, though, then Mr. Trump may finish just short of the winning post by the time the last primary comes along in June.

Approximately delegate forecasts for future contests

Under this forecast, Mr. Trump finishes just 53 delegates short of the nomination. However, some of the delegates not going his way are on the assumption that the non-Trump vote all rallies behind Mr. Cruz. This forecast also uses polling data that is considerably out of date, and uses data from nearby states if no data is available. So there are several ways that this margin of error could push Mr. Trump over the winning line. This will mean California, usually the last state to vote (and consequently one to which nobody normally pays any interest), could decide the nomination.

What if nobody reaches 1,237 delegates?

Candidates who don’t do well may decide to release their delegates, allowing them to vote for whomever they wish. If Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich can convince their delegates to vote for Mr. Cruz, that might be enough to stop Mr. Trump. It will only take a small fraction of these released delegates to switch to Mr. Trump in order for him to win. However, with current head-to-head polls saying that Mr. Cruz has a better chance of winning the general election than Mr. Trump, it’s unlikely that these delegates will support Mr. Trump in a brokered convention.

Overall, while it is possible for Republicans to stop Donald Trump from winning their party’s nomination, the odds of them doing this successfully are getting longer and longer every day. A coordinated effort on the part of the establishment, much unlike anything they’ve managed to pull off so far, will be needed. The question is whether the voter base will allow them to.

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