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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Biden, African Americans, and Proportional Allocation

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under way.

Before South Carolina and Super Tuesday, it was plausible to foresee Sanders doing well in South Carolina and then locking up the nomination on Super Tuesday.  In a splintered field where the other candidates barely fell short of the 15% threshold, Sanders might have won a wildly disproportionate share of delegates.

Instead, Biden romped in South Carolina and in most of the Super Tuesday states.

There are two big reasons why Biden is now a favorite to win the nomination.

First, he has the support of African American voters -- who have been the nominating wing of the Democratic Party since 1992.

  In July, Steve Kornacki wrote at NBC:

Who won the black vote in the Democratic presidential primary?

Since 1992, no candidate has won the Democratic nomination for president without winning a majority of black vote. Black voters are likely to account for one of every four primary ballots cast in 2020.
YearCandidateEventual nominee
2016Hillary Clinton (won 77 percent of the black vote)Hillary Clinton
2008Barack Obama (82 percent)Barack Obama
2004John Kerry (56 percent)John Kerry
2000Al Gore (86 percent)Al Gore
1992Bill Clinton (70 percent)Bill Clinton
1988Jesse Jackson (92 percent)Michael Dukakis
1984Jesse Jackson (77 percent)Walter Mondale
1980Ted Kennedy (45 percent)Jimmy Carter

Second, Biden has turned 2020 into a two-person race and built an early advantage in the delegate count.   As we pointed out in Epic Journey (p. 94) and Defying the Odds (p. 57), is a Democratic nomination candidate is hard put to catch up after lagging in the delegate count.  With winner-take-all primaries, such a candidate might be able to leapfrog the leader with a big win in a big state, but Democratic rules effectively bar such an approach.  As we explained in the 2016 book:
Under Democratic rules, each candidate's share of a state's convention delegates is roughly proportional to his or her vote share.  Even if one candidate wins a plurality of the vote in a state, another candidate can still take a substantial number of delegates.  So once one candidate builds up a sizable lead in delegates, it is hard for rivals to erase it.