We are less than a week away from Super Tuesday, when North Carolina and a host of other states hold nomination contests, and the race here could not be closer. A poll sponsored by Civitas released yesterday found essentially a three-way tie at 20% each between Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Mike Bloomberg (see table 1).
North Carolina will send 110 pledged delegates to this year’s Democratic National Convention (along with 12 unpledged members formerly known as super-delegates). So, if one of those leading candidates receives 33 percent of the vote in the NC Democratic primary on March 3, he will get a third of those 110 delegates, right?
There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that both parties have set up systems that reward more delegates to their national conventions (where the presidential nominees are actually selected) to those who win in state primaries and caucuses. Republicans do it by having primary winners in some states receive all of those states’ delegates. Democrats do so by having a “viability” threshold of 15 percent. If a candidate falls short of that level, he or she receives no delegates and the delegates that candidate would have received are instead distributed among the candidates who earn 15 percent or more of the vote.
For example, consider a plausible scenario in which Biden gets a boost after two relatively strong debate performances and a win the South Carolina primary and Bloomberg fades to 14 percent. Biden gets 33 percent of the vote in the NC primary, Sanders gets 25 percent, and no other candidates earn more than 15 percent, then Biden would get 63 of North Carolina’s 110 pledged delegates since he would have gotten a majority of the vote among the two viable candidates.
But, in another twist, 72 of North Carolina’s 110 Democratic delegates are not awarded by the statewide total, but by congressional district and those delegates are not distributed among the districts equally (see table 2).
Biden will likely do better in districts in the eastern half of the state, along with the 12th District in Charlotte, that have a higher proportion of black voters in the Democratic primary electorate. Sanders will likely do better in districts with higher concentrations of white progressives, such as the 4th and the 11th. Candidates who fail to make the 15 percent viability threshold statewide could also pick up a delegate or two if they make the cut in individual districts. All of those factors could affect North Carolina’s final delegate count.
In short, the exact formula gets complicated, but whoever wins in North Carolina next Tuesday will get a disproportionate share of the delegates.
UPDATE: Biden ended up getting 60 percent of North Carolina’s delegates on 43 percent of the primary vote.