Democratic and Republican delegate rules: Demystifying the presidential nominee selection process

The 2020 Democratic and Republican presidential nominees will be selected by delegates at each party’s national convention in the summer of 2020. Delegates are individuals chosen by various means to represent their state or territory at the conventions. Each party has a different number of delegates and different methods by which they are allocated to presidential primary candidates.
In 2020, the Democratic Party will have an estimated 4,532 delegates: 3,768 pledged delegates and 764 automatic delegates—more commonly known as superdelegates (who make up 16.9 percent of total delegates).
Pledged Democratic delegates are allocated proportionally based on the outcome of each state’s primary contest.
A rule change following the 2016 presidential election prohibits Democratic automatic delegates, who are not bound to vote based on states’ primary contests, from voting on the first ballot at the national convention, meaning they will only play a role in selecting the 2020 Democratic nominee if no candidate receives a majority of pledged delegates in the first round of voting.
The Republican Party will have an estimated 2,550 delegates: 2,440 pledged delegates and 110 unbound delegates (4.3 percent of total delegates). Republican pledged delegate allocation rules are largely set by state parties and state laws. States use a variety of methods to allocate Republican delegates, including winner-take-all, proportional, and hybrid methods.
A candidate from each party must win a majority of that party’s delegates to be named the nominee. Based on current estimates, a Democratic candidate must receive at least 1,885 delegates (or 2,267 if past the first convention ballot) and a Republican candidate must receive at least 1,276 delegates to become the parties’ presidential nominees.
For more information on delegate rules by party, including maps of delegate counts and allocation methods by state, charts showing percentages of pledged delegates awarded over time, and descriptions of different types of delegates, see our coverage below.
Additional reading: