Days out from Super Tuesday, when voters in 14 states will cast ballots in the Democratic primary, a professor who predicted the past nine elections says that the United States may well be staring down its first brokered convention in nearly 70 years.
It’s a prospect that has stirred considerable consternation among Democratic Party officials and voters, many of whom have said their primary concern is beating Donald Trump in November — even as an enthusiastic debate over the future of democratic politics has raged on the campaign trail.
“I think the most likely outcomes are [Bernie] Sanders wins or nobody wins, and for the first time in over 50 years we actually have a convention nominating the candidate,” Allan Lichtman, a political science professor at American University who has predicted elections dating back to 1984, told The Independent.
Mr Lichtman noted that his prediction model doesn’t make forecasts for primaries, but that there are plenty of signs that a brokered convention could happen: “And that would be very interesting, who knows what might come out of that.”
A brokered convention would occur if none of the candidates in the race win more than half of the pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, a figure that amounts to 1,990 delegates in the race.
So far, after three states have voted, Mr Sanders leads the field with 45 pledged delegates, ahead of Pete Buttigieg with 25, Joe Biden with 15, Elizabeth Warren with eight and Amy Klobuchar with seven.
Those tallies will all change in the next week, after voters in South Carolina — where Mr Biden has been banking on strong support from African Americans to lend some weight to his campaign — and then voters on Super Tuesday cast their ballots.
South Carolina will award 54 pledged delegates. Super Tuesday, meanwhile, marks the largest number of delegates available on a single day with more than 1,300 delegates at stake nationwide.
A contested convention would mean that no candidate had reached that half-way threshold, and that multiple rounds of voting would take place to determine the winner. After each round of voting, a certain portion of delegates are freed up to vote for whomever they want. Campaigns at that point try to convince free delegates to come over to support their candidate.
According to prediction models by FiveThirtyEight, 2020 is shaping up to be such a year. That website gives Mr Sanders the best chance at winning more than half of the pledged delegates by the end of the primary season — but just a 32 per cent chance of doing so. The chance that nobody receives that majority of delegates is pegged at 51 per cent, and the only other candidate with a significant chance of doing so being Mr Biden, at 15 per cent.
Mr Lichtman, for his part, isn’t as worried about the damaging impacts of a brokered convention, nor the damage of a long and bitter Democratic primary that it would necessarily follow after.
“Internal party fights only count when it is in the party holding the White House,” Mr Lichtman, whose prediction model indicates that it is generally speaking the incumbent’s election to lose, said. “The challenging party can fight all they want and it has no impact . Look at the bitter battle by the Republicans in 2016 — it was much worse than what is happening with the Democrats this time. They were saying terrible things about each other and they still won.”