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What Are SDEs? What You Should Know As The Results Come In

Clay Masters
IPR File
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd at a campaign event at the Ingersoll Tap in Des Moines.

For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party is going to be releasing three separate results at the same time at the end of the night.

  1. The preference vote after the first round.
  2. The preference vote after recaucusing.
  3. The number and percentage of “state delegate equivalents,” or SDEs, that the candidates are awarded out of each of the caucus locations.

The percentage of the SDEs won is traditionally how a “winner” is determined. NPR relies on the Associated Press to call elections. AP will project a winner of the Iowa caucuses based on the SDE calculation. One reason for this is not just tradition but because this is the contest the campaigns play for; it is the truer measure of the campaigns’ organizational strength.

Simply put, SDEs are not delegates. But with some math, SDEs are converted to the proportional amount of delegates a candidate gets in each precinct.

There are 2,107 total SDEs up for grabs on caucus night in Iowa. Here’s the formula: Take the number of people in a candidate’s corner at the end of the second (and final) round, multiply that by the number of delegates assigned to the precinct and then divide that by the total number of caucusgoers at the site.

So if Biden hypothetically gets 20% in a precinct that awards 40 delegates, and 100 people showed up, the math looks like this:

  1. 20 x 40 = 800 (the number of people in a candidate’s corner multiplied by the number of delegates)
  2. 800/100 = 8 (Divide that number by the total number of caucusgoers)

Eight is the number of SDEs Biden would win out of this particular caucus site. Add that to his other SDEs from the other 1,677 caucus locations for an eventual statewide total.

Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.