Now that the primaries are underway, votes and delegates matter more than polls. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would need to win 2,382 of Democrats' 4,763 delegates to the Philadelphia convention to clinch the nomination. To help you keep track of who's ahead, the Cook Political Report has devised a delegate scorecard estimating how many delegates Clinton and Sanders would need to win in each primary, caucus, and convention to become the nominee.
In the aftermath of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are technically tied at 51 pledged delegates apiece. But that vastly understates the magnitude of Sanders's challenge between now and June. In fact, if Clinton performs as well on Super Tuesday (March 1) as her polling and results thus far suggest she will do, she could effectively clinch the Democratic nomination race in a week's time.
Unlike on the Republican side, about 15 percent of DNC delegates are unpledged "superdelegates" - a total of 712 elected officials and party leaders - who can support whomever they want at the convention. According to the Associated Press, Clinton currently leads Sanders 449 to 19 among this group, for an overall delegate lead of 500 to 70.
That's a huge head start for Clinton, and it means Sanders would need to win roughly 55 percent of the 4,295 remaining pledged delegates and uncommitted superdelegates to reach a bare majority, while Clinton would only need to win 45 percent. That's an extremely tall order, and so far Sanders hasn't kept pace.
Who's Ahead? Pledged Delegates vs. Cook Targets
It will only get tougher for Sanders from here. Demographically and ideologically, Iowa and New Hampshire are two of Sanders's best-suited states, and they've already voted. More importantly, many southern states with large African-American populations are coming up on the calendar. Next up, on February 27: South Carolina, where we estimate Clinton needs 27 delegates to "keep pace" while Sanders needs 26.
Clinton's strong performance in Latino and African-American precincts in Nevada corroborates the findings of a February NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll that shows Clinton leading Sanders 73 percent to 23 percent among African-Americans and 56 percent to 39 percent among Latinos. If those margins were to translate into votes in South Carolina and elsewhere, we estimate Clinton would win 496 pledged delegates between now and March 1, to just 422 for Sanders.
And, if Clinton were to claim a delegate lead of 996 to 492 out of Super Tuesday, that would mean Sanders would need to win 58 percent of the remaining delegates available just to break even. That would be nearly impossible, because unlike on the Republican side, there are no "winner-take-all" Democratic primaries at any point on the calendar. Moreover, demographically and ideologically, two of Sanders's best states - Iowa and New Hampshire - have already voted.
In short, it could very quickly become mathematically implausible for Sanders to come back from a large delegate deficit, and barring any major unexpected events, all signs point to Clinton being well "on pace" to secure the Democratic nomination.
2016 Democratic Delegate Scorecard: Updated for Feb. 23, 2016
How this works: The scorecard below is not a prediction or forecast. Rather, it's a tool to gauge Clinton's and Sanders's true progress towards the nomination. At any given point in the primaries, the candidate who exceeds his or her cumulative delegate target should be regarded as the frontrunner. Click here for a larger version of the table.
A Note on Methodology
How did we arrive at these targets? In each state, we have based them on Clinton and Sanders' demographic patterns of support, gleaned from both the January NBC/Wall Street Journal national survey and entrance/exit polls conducted in Iowa and New Hampshire by Edison Research. Our model assumes that Clinton will perform best in states with many older voters, African-Americans, Latinos and high-income whites, while Sanders will do best in states with many young voters, liberals and low-income whites.
Because there is extremely limited demographic and exit poll data to model territorial delegates (99 delegates will be awarded in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas, Virgin Islands, and Democrats Abroad) as well as the 244 superdelegates who have not yet stated their preferences, we assume that Sanders will need to win 55 percent of them to "keep pace." We also assume a modest five percent "home state" boost for Clinton in New York and Sanders in Vermont.