Why you should care
Fans of chaos, rejoice — this one is a doozy.
Flip a coin. Heads, America gets a break from election chaos. Tails, and, come July, Democrats are facing the first contested convention in modern history — at exactly the worst time, considering already record-high levels of distrust with their electoral system. So given everything else that’s happened, are you feeling lucky?
“Democrat voters want their candidate to be chosen by public demand, and you would have a situation where a brokered convention has to choose that?” says Mark Rom, a public policy professor at Georgetown University. “There will be a lot of unhappy Democrats.”
Yet that’s very much a possibility in OZY’s latest run of The Forecast, our exclusive election model with partners 0ptimus and Decision Desk HQ that looks at the polls, demographics, fundraising numbers, media hits and historical trends to determine the likelihood of each candidate winning the nomination … or, in this case, none of them doing enough to secure the top spot come July’s big shindig in Milwaukee. Because this week, for the first time in this 2020 Democratic primary …
With a 51% chance, it is more likely than not that no candidate wins a majority of the delegates in time for the 2020 Democratic Convention.
That may seem like a slap in the face to Bernie Sanders supporters, after the Vermont senator rocketed to become the national front-runner with close (popular vote) victories in the first two states. Sanders still has a strong chance of being the nominee, at 23 percent, and he’s overtaken former Vice President Joe Biden for the best opportunity to win Nevada (slated to take 28 percent of the vote). His national number will likely only increase as polls start taking into account Biden’s slip-and-slide routine in both Iowa and New Hampshire, where he finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
But, like the departed Andrew Yang, the model is simply doing the math: While Sanders has a one-in-four chance of winning outright, The Forecast is slating a contested convention at closer to one-in-two odds. That’s up from the one-in-three odds the model had back in late January before the Iowa caucus.
The lack of clarity comes most from the moderate wing of the party. Former mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and even Biden are all still in some form of contention (not even mentioning billionaire former mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose cash looms over the field, lying in wait for the Super Tuesday states on March 3). “For the last year, we’ve been told progressives need to pick a candidate. But right now it’s the centrists who are having a really hard time,” quips Rebecca Katz, founder of progressive communications firm New Deal Strategies.
Whether or not Democrats see an uncertain convention will depend on how many candidates continue to earn delegates through Super Tuesday by staying above the 15-percent mark in key states. If there are only two viable candidates going into those March 3 elections, there is only a 4 percent chance of nobody getting the 1,991 delegates needed for a majority, according to The Forecast. But if there are more candidates divvying up the delegates and staying in the race for the long haul? Then it becomes a virtual certainty.
Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Bloomberg all could be viable in Super Tuesday states. Sen. Elizabeth Warren could keep pace with a surprise finish in Nevada, and even Biden could push through negative press by winning in South Carolina. “I’m not counting him out just yet,” says Moe Vela, a former senior advisor to Biden who hasn’t backed any 2020 candidate as a board member for the tech company TransparentBusiness. “The answer to whether there will be four or five viable candidates going into Super Tuesday? Unequivocally, yes.”
To be clear, the model is simply predicting a situation where a candidate doesn’t get a majority of delegates. Sanders could still come in just a few hundred short, far ahead of the remaining field, and giving him the nomination could become a formality. Or, as 0ptimus CEO Scott Tranter suggests, there could be a situation where Buttigieg and Klobuchar combined have enough to seal the deal — and agree to run together as a unity ticket.
If there’s no clear resolution by summertime, the biggest wild card would be Bloomberg, who could dangle not just his own candidacy, but also his massive wallet … even if his dollars come with drawbacks. “He might be in a position to be kingmaker, or he might be in a position where nobody wants to deal with him,” says Tranter, who is a Republican. “It’s crazy. Somebody is going to have to swallow their pride after five months of campaigning in the primaries,” he says, adding, “If it gets to a convention in our 50/50 scenario, it’s going to make Survivor look boring.”