Predicting the 2020 Democratic Primary is Stupid | Pt 1. The Basics

Fred Chong Rutherford
5 min readFeb 20, 2020

This is not a political article. This is an article about civics. They sometimes sound like the same thing, but they aren’t. The focus here is on two central elements of civics …

  1. How Democratic and Republican Primaries Work
  2. Making A Bad Prediction About the Future Nominee

How Democratic and Republican Primaries Work

I sometimes wonder if U.S. citizens could pass the civics tests naturalized citizens take, given that I don’t know if most U.S. citizens know what naturalized means. |

The person who gets the most votes in Republican or Democratic Presidential Primaries does not necessarily become the nominee. Presidential primaries for both parties are built on the same idea; the person with the most delegates at the nominating convention becomes the nominee. In theory, someone could end up with a plurality (i.e. the most votes but not a majority) of votes in the country, but end up with fewer delegates based on where those votes originated. It’s all confusing, and having watched these since I was 5, all I’ve seen is our political media do a worse and worse job of explaining what’s going on to everyone else.

What does that mean? In each contest, whether it’s a primary or a caucus, a certain number of delegates to the national party convention are distributed based on total votes received (in the case of primaries) or total caucus headcount for a candidate after 1-n rounds of counting. In either case, the person who gets the most votes may not secure enough delegates to win the nomination, based on the number of candidates in the contest.

To put this another way, the national nominating primaries combine all the worst elements of a caucus, with the worst elements of a primary, combined with the worst elements of the electoral college. Like the electoral college, people attending the primary are pledged to vote for their candidate and no other. They theoretically can break that rule, but this breaks the rules of the convention; in practice, this rarely happens, and if you do it, this is almost a guarantee that you won’t be back for a future convention. Like a caucus, once people meet, conversations, deals, and discussions can change who the pledged delegates will stand with. And like a primary, theoretically the person with the most delegates in the end wins. But, if people have secondary, third, or fourth choices, none of…