Will Bernie Sanders Win The California Primary? There's A Catch, Even If He Clinches Those Delegates

The California primary is right around the corner, and Hillary has good reason to be optimistic: FiveThirtyEight gives her an 86 percent chance of winning based on polling in the state. But polls have been wrong before, and they’ll surely be wrong again. What if Bernie Sanders wins the California primary?

In theory, that would depend on a few things: His margin of victory, which congressional districts he won, and what the vote total looks like in the other states that hold primaries on Tuesday. All of those factors would play a role in determining how many delegates Clinton and Sanders have after the primary, and that — at least in theory — would affect both of the candidates’ reactions to a Sanders victory in the Golden State.

In actuality, a Sanders victory in California probably wouldn’t have much of an effect on the course of the race. For one, the Vermont Senator has indicated that he’s going to stay in the race until the convention no matter what happens in California, or anywhere else. More importantly, Clinton will most likely clinch the nomination on Tuesday even if she loses California, thanks to New Jersey. The Garden State also votes on Tuesday, and Clinton has a 20 point lead over Sanders there. The state is worth 142 delegates, and if Clinton wins, it will most likely offset any potential loss in California.

All of this is a long way of saying that neither Clinton and Sanders are exiting this race anytime soon, regardless of what happens in California.

The one exception here would be if Sanders won in an absolute blowout — not just in California, but in New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota, too. Those are all of the states that vote on Tuesday, and if Sanders somehow managed to win around 68 percent of the pledged delegates at stake in all of them, he would overtake Clinton in pledged delegates. This would give him a very strong argument that Clinton, not he, should drop out of the race.

But that’s extraordinarily unlikely. Sure, it’s possible that the polls are catastrophically wrong, and the 20 point lead Clinton appears to have in New Jersey is actually a 30 point lead for Sanders. And maybe Sanders, despite being 10 points behind Clinton in California poll averages, is actually on track to defeat her by double digits. But we have to be realistic, and there’s no good reason to think that either of those premises are true, let alone both of them.

In short, a Sanders in victory in California won’t have much of an effect on the primary unless he wins by a really, really, really, really big margin, both there and in every other state that votes Tuesday. And there’s no evidence that Sanders is on track to do this.