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There are 2,472 delegates to the Republican Convention, and almost double that for Democrats: 4,762. A candidate becomes the party’s nominee when he or she secures a majority of delegates.
The parties allocate to each state a number of delegates based on population and a variety of other factors that vary state by state. In most states, candidates win delegates based on the votes they receive in primaries and caucuses. The Democratic Party calls these pledged delegates; Republicans call them bound delegates. These delegates are mainly split between at-large delegates, awarded based on the outcome of the statewide vote, and district-level delegates, determined by vote totals in each of the state’s congressional districts.
The tally also includes Democratic unpledged delegates, also known as superdelegates, and Republican unbound delegates from each state. These are party leaders and elected officials who are free to back any candidate they choose. They are shown on the graphic when they make their preference public and will change if they switch allegiance to another candidate.
Broadly speaking, Democrats award their pledged delegates proportionally in each state. At-large delegates are awarded based on the percentage of the statewide vote a candidate receives; district-level delegates are likewise awarded proportionally based on the vote in each congressional district.
In many states, Republicans award their delegates proportionally, just as Democrats do. But states have more leeway in setting their own rules on the Republican side. For instance, some states only award delegates to candidates that receive a certain percentage of the vote. Others have triggers that would award all at-large or district-level delegates to a candidate that surpasses 50 percent of the vote.
A Republican Party rule lets states that hold their election after March 14 award all delegates to the winner of the statewide vote. Eight states and a territory hold winner-take-all elections according to the Republican National Committee: Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Delaware, Nebraska, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
With a few exceptions, states vote for a nominee for president by holding either a primary or a caucus. The process for voting in a primary is similar to the way you vote in a general election. Voters fill out a secret ballot, and those ballots are tallied to determine a winner.
A caucus is a public meeting, held at a specified time, in which voters assemble to express support for a candidate. The parties and states set their own rules in regard to how each caucus operates. Sometimes a person votes privately, but often people vote by either a show of hands or by breaking into groups. In some cases, supporters or representatives of a candidate can give a speech in an effort to sway voters at the caucus.
On the Republican side, three states and two territories will not award delegates based on a primary or caucus vote: Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, American Samoa, and Guam. Instead, all of their delegates are unbound—that is, free to ignore the popular vote and support any candidate they like.