Six Things That Make a Brokered Democratic Convention More Likely


The odds of a brokered convention are greater than most think.

Five Significant Changes

  1. The superdelegates do not get to vote in the first round this year unless a candidate has a majority. Unlike 2016 when they all went to Hillary, this year they don’t vote until round 2 unless it is already decided.
  2. California is now part of Super Tuesday. In 2016, the California primary was held on June 7. This year, the survivor bias bandwagon effect will be significantly reduced and possibly eliminated.
  3. Following NH there will be two debates, and likely 4 candidates minimum at each. Currently there are six.
  4. This will likely not be a two-way races headed into Super-Tuesday. Elizabeth Warren may have little overall chance, but she does have a chance of getting 15% in many states.
  5. Progressive Split: Bernie Sanders are battling each other for the Progressives. Bernie will get most of this vote, but Warren will likely have have enough money to stay in until the end if she wants.
  6. Bloomberg and Steyer may target a couple of states hard: Texas, Colorado perhaps? They may each pull 15% in a couple of them.

1: Superdelegates

One of the rule changes since 2016 is that superdelegates (uncommitted) cannot vote in the first round unless there is already a clear majority.Specifically

  • If a single candidate wins at least 2,268 pledged delegates: Superdelegates will be allowed to vote at first ballot, as their influence can not overturn the majority of pledged delegates.
  • If a single candidate wins 1,886–2,267 pledged delegates: Superdelegates will be barred from voting at first ballot, which solely will be decided by the will of pledged delegates.
  • If no candidate wins more than 1,885 pledged delegates: This will result in a contested convention, where superdelegates are barred from voting at the first formal ballot, but regain their right to vote for their preferred presidential nominee for all subsequent ballots needed until the delegates reach a majority.

In 2016 Sanders supporters howled, and correctly so, about superdelegate bias for Hillary.

This change alone increases the chances of a brokered convention.

2: Super Tuesday Changes

Compared to 2016, California adds 495 delegates. North Carolina adds 122 delegates. Maine adds 32. And Georgia subtracts 120.

That is a net new 528 delegates that will have at least some survivor bandwagon bias removed.

By survivor bias, I mean increasing the tendency of people to vote for winners as the campaign progresses.

As noted above, the California primary in 2016 was held on June 7. This is a very significant change.

3: Debate Schedule

Six are qualified for the next set of debates.

Billionaire Tom Steyer just qualified. He joins Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar.

There will be two Democratic debates following the New Hampshire primary. The rules will change then, but we do not yet know how.

Those 4-way to 6-way debates can easily take momentum from whoever wins Iowa and New Hampshire.

4: Not a 2-Way Race

The DNC was hoping to narrow the field to two or three. Nope. This will not be a 2016 repeat of Hillary vs Bernie.

Warren is likely to get 15% in many states and might even win Massachusetts.

5: Progressive Split

Bernie is a very strong favorite to beat Warren in the battle for the progressives.

But she has a dedicated following and might easily take 15% of the vote in many states.

Also Warren is good at fundraising. She will likely last to the end.

6: Billionaires

Please note Tom Steyer's Surprise Surge in SC and NV.

Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg are both billionaires. They can self-finance to the end if so desired.

Steyer is highly unlikely to win any states let alone the nomination, but he could easily disrupt South Carolina enough so there is not much momentum for any candidate headed into Super Tuesday.

Bloomberg could conceivably win New York and do very well in Texas on Super Tuesday. By very well I mean 15% or better.

Importance of 15% Threshold

Note that 15% keeps popping up in my analysis.

I discussed why in What Are the Odds of No Winner in the Democratic Primaries?

Let's recap.

Proportional Voting

Republicans have winner-take-all rules in some states but the Democrats generally have some sort of proportional allocation, typically with a 15% threshold.

In California, 35% of the votes are statewide, the rest by district.

California Example

According to the California Democratic Party 2020 Delegate Selection Overview, the California Delegation will send a total of 495 delegates the Democratic National Convention comprised of 416 Pledged Delegates and 79 Unpledged Delegates.

Of the pledged delegates, 90 are at-large (statewide) delegates. Another 54 are pledged party leaders (mayors, legislators, state officials, etc.) committed to candidates who get at least 15% of the vote.

(90+54)/416 = 35%

Of the pledged delegates, 326 are allocated by district. The 15% rule comes into play, but at the district level.

Let's run the above math based on a hypothetical California poll that has Bernie at 24%, Warren at 21%, and Biden at 20%.

I am told the poll is real, but there is no reporting on it that I can find.

California Statewide Math

  • 24 + 21 + 20 = 65
  • Sanders would get 24/65ths of the statewide delegates (37%)
  • Warren would get 21/65ths of the statewide delegates (32%)
  • Biden would get 20/65ths of the statewide delegates (31%)
  • Sanders would get 33 statewide delegates.
  • Warren would get 29 statewide delegates.
  • Biden would get 28 statewide delegates.

Those are the statewide allocations.

Pledged Delegate District Math

Sanders would get 24% minimum of 326 district delegates.

Warren would get 21% minimum of 326 district delegates.

Biden would get 20% minimum of 326 district delegates.

Those are approximations for two reasons.

Although there is a 15% minimum, that also applies at the district level. It's possible that Sanders, Warren, or Biden would not get 15% in every district.

It is also possible some candidates get 15% in some districts without hitting the 15% statewide threshold.

Consider the possibility Buttigieg got 15% in half the districts but only 11% statewide. In that case he would get about 7.5% of the 326 or 24 delegates.

Super Tuesday

Someone is going to "win" but that someone may only have 35-45% of the delegates.

Would that be enough to cause winner bias to kick in?

I don't know. Nor does anyone else. But I doubt it.


Project similar three-way splits across Texas, Illinois, Florida, and New York.

Guess what?

You have no overall winner and thus a "Brokered Convention" even if Bloomberg does not win New York or Warren win Massachusetts.

How Likely?

A brokered convention may seem unlikely, and probably is, but unlikely does not mean zero.

Should it come to a brokered convention, Warren's delegates would likely go to Bernie.

And expect massive howls if Bernie were to have more delegates in round one but lost to Biden when the superdelegates kicked in.

Some say it is too early to be discussing such things, but I would rather discuss this now and throw it away than be in a mad rush to figure everything out at the last minute on Super Tuesday.

Low odds does not mean no odds. I suspect the odds right now are at least 15% and perhaps way higher.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (33)
No. 1-18

Pointless, expensive circus.


The Democrats, especially the socialists and the progressives told the Electors of the Electoral College to not vote for Trump in 2016. Maybe we can have faithless delegates at the conventions?


Depressing list of front runners. Think I’ll take a nap until they decide which Democratic Socialist (communist incognito) wins the nomination. Hmm, maybe Hillary will get another bite at the apple, perhaps more palatable? ... puke


Politics - Let's break that down: Poly - Meaning 'Many'. Ticks - Parasitical Blood Suckers That pretty much describes all the candidates.


the longer it takes to choose a winner the weaker the democrats become is my view. the opportunity for hurt feelings grows along with the risk that a losing nominee hones on useful opposition research for Donald Trump.


Biden will win iowa and it will be over quickly

Pelosi all but guaranteed it by holding the articles until now. The dnc beat bernie again


You also can't rule out with both parties having absolutely abysmal candidates,will the DoD military junta step in like they do in all 3rd world bankrupt banana republics and seize power,cancel elections and invoke martial law,dusk to dawn nationwide curfew.


Let's go beyond the conventions. What are the odds the general is a race with more than two candidates? I put 'em as "high".

Biden is still in the race because people who answer polls recognize his name. Bernie and Warren are this year's George McGovern / Barry Goldwater candidates. Buttigieg? Small town mayor with an truly unfortunate name.

And there are two, maybe three, Ross Perot / George Wallaces.

I'd not be surprised if this year - or maybe 2024 - there is a major realignment of who is on which party's team.


@Mish Is "California adds 494 delegates" right?


Trump would beat Biden, Sanders or Warren, easily.

In fact, Trump is most likely going to win.

The 2016 election, especially when coupled with the Brexit referendum, represented a much bigger change than an election since 1994. It's a world-wide rejection of globalism in general, manifesting itself as anti-immigration in the US.

This year's election cannot be predicted by looking at the state-by-state returns from 2016. Expect the unexpected.



495 CA delegates is correct. 79 of them are superdelegates unpledged and cannot vote in first round


Sanders volunteer says Milwaukee (site of the 2020 Democratic convention) will “burn” if Sanders isn’t the nominee...

Good luck!


Politics. Yawn. Nothing ever changes. A lifetime of voting stops this cycle. It's delusional to believe your vote makes a difference, particularly at the national level. Local judges are another matter. I'm going to stop pretending. I suggest all thinking adults do the same.


My sense is that Warren is falling apart and getting desperate(she's now playing the gender card and no longer being issue based and high brow). Booker just pulled out. Bloomberg is only at 6% now and Sanders can't grow beyond the most progressive part of the party and unlike 2016 majority of Democrats really do get this is about beating Trump. Right now a lot of the noise isn't coming from voters but from surrogates looking to push an agenda. I still believe the most likely outcome is a Biden win


hillary should step up and save the party


If sanders were to become president, would he stay in the democratic party or move back to being an independent?


It will be a brokered convention and this time when Sanders is not the nominee it will split the party. I say good riddance, let the communists form their own party. Just as the GOP needs to come back to reality and force their own far right to form a Nazi party (nationalist white party).

Centrists, reasonable people with some differences, as well as the ability to be rational and compromise, make up 80% of the overall electorate and it is time we take our parties back from the radicals. I am a lifelong democrat that has always sought to work with republicans in the past, even voted for McCain and Reagan (once) and while I am overall a democrat that does not mean I accept everything in their platform every election cycle, some of my values are solid GOP territory, but, I absolutely cannot abide the so called moral majority, a self appointed group of people that work to kill individual rights in the name of liberty. They are in fact great propagandists in that there is nothing moral about them and they would not know liberty if it bit them on the ass. What they mean is let's keep the elite status quo based on individual net worth.

So, I like the 2020 campaign slogan; Make Orwell Fiction Again!

Just that some so called democrats would be worse than even the lunatic far right is. I am looking at you Sanders and your crazy hate filled borg.

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