In previous election cycles, a frontrunner had emerged by this point in the primary campaign just before the summer convention.
However, when Republicans from around the country gather in Cleveland on July 18, the 2016 convention could be less of a celebration and more of a battle between multiple factions within the party, leading to a contested convention.
A contested convention occurs if a candidate fails to receive at least 1,237 delegates on the first ballot, when 95 percent of the delegates are bound by their state’s primary results, according to a New York Times analysis. On the resulting second ballot, 39 percent are bound and 61 percent are unbound and free to choose whomever they want. If a candidate again fails to garner a majority on the third try — 18 percent bound, 82 unbound — the party will continue to vote until a nominee is chosen.
“It appears to me that there’s a very good chance that [Donald] Trump will be nominated on the first ballot, but it’s not a lock,” government professor David Prindle said. “Part of the fact that it’s not a lock depends on the effectiveness of the propaganda from the people saying it’s not a lock.”
While Trump has led most of the national polls since last summer, he is currently locked in a struggle to win as many delegates as possible before the summer with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH). Trump sits at 744 delegates, while Cruz and Kasich have 559 and 144 in their corners, respectively.
“We’ve realized more and more how likely it is that Trump will get the nomination,” College Republicans President Madison Yandell said. “But at the same time, everyone’s really unsure about what’s going to happen [at the convention].”
While securing the nomination outright before the convention seems out of Cruz’s reach, Prindle said that the Cruz campaign is hoping to only secure enough delegates to block a Trump nomination on the first ballot, leaving many of the newly unbound delegates free to select Cruz instead.
“You might think that somebody who was committed to Trump on the first ballot would be committed to Trump on the eighth ballot,” Prindle said. “But it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that, which is something the Cruz people realize.”
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton currently leads Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) 1,289 to 1,045, respectively, in pledged delegates. While Sanders could narrow Clinton’s lead before the convention, Prindle said it is highly unlikely given Clinton’s massive lead in superdelegates. These delegates — party leaders who are unbound — are unique to the Democratic primary, where Clinton currently leads Sanders 469 to 31.
The dynamics of that race could drastically change tomorrow, when New York voters will cast their ballots between Clinton, a former New York senator, and Sanders, who was raised in Brooklyn.
“By the time the Democratic National Convention happens, we’ll have our nominee, we won’t decide it then,” said Maliha Mazhar, University Democrats communications director and government and international business senior. “But I think New York will be a very exciting race to watch this Tuesday.”