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Bernie wins big, but does it mean anything?

The American voter is being offered a much more informed choice than if Mr. Sanders had simply gone back to Vermont after 'Super Tuesday'.

Fernando Betancor
31 March 2016
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Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders Campaigns In Wisconsin. Darren Hauck/Getty Images. All rights reserved.Full disclosure: Bernie Sanders was not my original choice for the Democratic nominee, but I have supported his candidacy since it became a two person contest.

Over the weekend, Bernie Sanders won landslide victories in three primaries: Alaska, Washington and Hawaii. Far from crumbling, the Sanders campaign continued to '#FeeltheBern', winning by 82%, 73% and 70% respectively in the contest. This impressive achievement netted the Green Mountain State senator an additional 95 delegates and dispelled the possibility of his conceding the nomination to Hillary Clinton. But are these victories anything more than proud defiance? Do they really indicate a shift in momentum and the possibility of a second primary defeat for Mrs. Clinton?

The 28 March victories have helped Mr. Sanders narrow his rival’s lead somewhat, but Mrs. Clinton enjoyed an advantage of over 300 pledged delegates after the Arizona, Idaho and Utah primaries last week. The weekend victories were important, but their impact was not as great as it might have been. The three states in question had a total of 142 pledged delegates in play, which would have cut Mrs. Clinton’s lead by half if these had been 'winner-takes-all' states, but the Democratic Party’s primaries are all proportional allocation systems. Bernie’s big wins translated into a net gain of only 56 delegates, which still leaves Mrs. Clinton with an advantage of 239 pledged delegates [1].

That makes the road to the nomination far more difficult for Mr. Sanders. There are 1,747 unpledged delegates [2] in those states that have not yet celebrated their primaries. Bernie Sanders would need to win every single remaining primary by a 58% to 42% margin in order to take the lead in pledged delegates, including Mrs. Clinton’s home state of New York. That is within the realm of mathematical possibility, but not that of probability. Mr. Sanders has yet to prove that he can win over the Hispanic or African American vote that will be critical in places like California, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Mr. Sanders has yet to prove that he can win over the Hispanic or African American vote that will be critical in places like California, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

In fact, the situation is even worse for Mr. Sanders, because of Mrs. Clinton’s lead in 'super delegates'. The former secretary of state has 469 of these self-appointed supporters on her ledger, which means that Mr. Sanders must win by an even bigger margin in the next few primaries to prevent Mrs. Clinton from clearing the 2,383 delegate threshold required to win the nomination. In other words, the 16% spread is not enough to compensate for the 440 super delegate lead currently enjoyed by Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Sanders needs to win big in Wisconsin (5 April) and Wyoming (9 April) and not do too badly in New York (19 April); this would set up a huge showdown on our third 'Super Tuesday', 26 April, when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island go to the polls.

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Image credit: Fernando Betancor. All rights reserved.A plausible scenario would be the following:

  1. Bernie wins big in Wyoming and moderately in Wisconsin. Let’s assume 70% for the former and the required 58% in the latter; 
  2. Hillary wins New York, but not a blowout – 55%/45%;
  3. These outcomes would still see Hillary Clinton increase her lead by 4 delegates.
  4. With only 1,400 uncommitted delegates after New York, Mr. Sanders would need to win the remaining states by a 65% to 35% margin to prevent Mrs. Clinton from securing enough delegates to win the nomination before the Democratic Convention.

That 30% point spread would be lower if some of Mrs. Clinton’s super delegates began to defect; but neither event is at all likely. These are the same dynamics I described in a previous article when I declared a Trump v. Clinton face-off in November as almost certain; and unfortunately for Sanders supporters, the dynamics have not change significantly.

The American voter is being offered a much more informed choice than if Mr. Sanders had simply gone back to Vermont after 'Super Tuesday'.

This doesn’t imply that Mr. Sanders should end his campaign and concede. His challenge to party orthodoxy, his mobilization of young voters and his clear identification of relevant issues are all positive contributions. They oblige Mrs. Clinton to address difficult problems, some of which she might have preferred to avoid during the campaign, to refine her positions and to propose alternatives. The American voter is being offered a much more informed choice than if Mr. Sanders had simply gone back to Vermont after 'Super Tuesday'.

The concern that the most fervent Sanders supporters will stay home in disappointment in November should their candidate not be the nominee is only partially justified. I have yet to hear an argument as to why these people would have decided to support Hillary even if she had become nominee back in February or March. On the contrary – by demonstrating how high the stakes are and how important the issues are, it is more likely that some percentage of disengaged voters will remain committed to vote in November. A fast 'coronation' would have had the contrary effect: underlining to these segments the lack of influence they have and how unimportant their vote is. Of course it behooves Mr. Sanders to support Mrs. Clinton if (and when) he finally admits defeat; and I make no doubt that she will receive the full endorsement of her rival in the run up to the election. It is to be hoped that the successful #FeeltheBern organization will continue to mobilize its base for a major Democratic victory: not only in the presidential contest, but for the all-important House races as well.

This piece is reposted from the Common Sense blog, with permission.


[1] Only pledged delegates really matter at this point, since 'super delegates' – who are mostly Democratic Party officers or elected officials – can switch their support at any time prior to the Convention.

[2] This does not include super delegates.

 

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