The Pulse: It comes down to Ohio and Florida

William JordanUS Elections Editor
March 15, 2016, 12:28 PM GMT+0

Hello, I'm Will Jordan and welcome to The Pulse.

Republicans and Democrats head to the polls again today, and it looks like Florida and Ohio have an outsize role to play. How about that? Here are some things you should know:

  1. Who votes today?

    For Republicans: Florida (99 delegates), Illinois (69), Missouri (52), North Carolina (72), and Ohio (66). There’s also the Northern Mariana Islands Caucus (9). Donald Trump leads the Republican field with 460 delegates. Ted Cruz has 370, Marco Rubio 163 and John Kasich 63.

    For Democrats: Florida (246), Illinois (182), Missouri (84), North Carolina (121), and Ohio (159). Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 767 to 553, not counting superdelegates (who are overwhelmingly aligned with Clinton, but can switch their votes).
  2. How are the delegates given out?

    On March 15, the rules begin to change for GOP delegate allocation. Florida and Ohio become true “winner take all” states – whoever wins the most votes gets 100% of the delegates, making them a real opportunity for Donald Trump to benefit from a divided anti-Trump vote. In Missouri, most delegates are awarded on a winner-take-all basis, but on a congressional district level, so they will probably be split between the candidates. Illinois is similar. North Carolina is pure proportional, with no minimum threshold, so all candidates can gain delegates there based on their percentage of the vote. Oh, and the Northern Mariana Islands is winner take all.

    For Democrats, each state is proportional.
  3. What does Donald Trump need for a good night?

    Currently, Donald Trump leads in Florida – where Marco Rubio is a US Senator – by more than 18 points. Ohio – where John Kasich is governor – is basically tied. Were he to win both, he would be on a path to win the 1,237 delegates necessary for the nomination before the convention in July. But if he lost either, it would become more likely that he will fall short and the GOP will face a contested convention.

    There has been little polling in Illinois and Missouri, but what there has been (including a YouGov poll in Illinois) suggests a close race with a slight advantage for Trump, and Cruz most likely second. Cruz is making a final hour push everywhere but Florida, seeking to become the party's only Trump alternative. YouGov found him only 6 points behind Kasich and Trump in Ohio.
  4. Can Bernie Sanders pull off another Michigan surprise?

    Bernie Sanders unexpectedly won Michigan last week, raising speculation that he might pull off similar upsets in two nearby states this week, Illinois and Ohio. But Sanders doesn't really need a big upset now – because both races have already tightened. YouGov has Bernie 2 points ahead in Illinois, where Clinton had long been the favorite. A recent PPP poll also found Sanders with a 1-point lead in Missouri. Clinton is ahead by around 11 points in Ohio.

    Technically, Clinton could win by large enough margins in North Carolina and Florida (where polls show her further ahead) that she could leave the night with having gained more delegates despite losing the other three races, including Missouri. But it’s hard to imagine the Clinton campaign being very happy about such a result.
  5. What’s next?

    As described above, Trump is near the point where his nomination begins to look either inevitable or impossible without an undoubtedly messy convention fight. And if the GOP race ends tonight in limbo, there will be little to resolve it until April – only Arizona and Utah vote between March 15 and April 5.

    As for Clinton and Sanders, the Michigan result suggests a long slog; Clinton may have missed her chance to effectively “end” the primary early. But her delegate lead (driven by huge margins in the South) make it very difficult for Bernie Sanders to come back, even with Michigan-style upsets in the Midwest and Mountain West, or closer-than-expected showings in later, larger states like California and New York.
  6. Something else: most Republicans want Trump

    YouGov’s first national poll with Ben Carson out of the race has Donald Trump at 53%, the first time he's been over 50% in a national poll. Carson endorsed Trump last Friday, while the survey was still in the field. The poll also finds Rubio collapsing to 10% support, 1 point behind John Kasich. Three-quarters of GOP voters want the party establishment to back Trump if he wins the nomination.

Follow me for constant updates on the race, and other good stuff too.

The Pulse is a weekly newsletter YouGov has launched ahead of the 2016 primaries and general election to give readers a one-stop-shop for the latest polling-related news from the campaign. In addition to YouGov’s own extensive coverage of the election, The Pulse gives you the five things you need to know about the state of the campaign each week (and one you don't need to know but we think is worth knowing anyway!).

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