February 19, 2016
Two contests tomorrow. The vote and the spin. With Hillary’s huge super delegate lead, Bernie needs every regular delegate too, but perceptions are more important than whether he picks up an extra couple convention delegates on the ground.
In Iowa, Clinton seized the initiative and declared provisional victory before the count was done. Bernie got credit for coming close, but she was successful in claiming the disappointment of 2008 was erased.
New Hampshire was too much of a landslide to spin. Her only out was to claim it didn’t matter because it was too close to Vermont and the voters were too white, but losing a state you won in 2008 by 22 points is a big loss.
Despite the Clinton campaign’s attempts to lower expectations, a Sanders win in Nevada is an earthquake. Just in case things go badly, Hillary announced the endorsement of the one U.S. Representative from South Carolina, and highest-ranking African American in the House, Jim Clyburn.
It’s a further sandbag for her firewall. If a couple Nevada African Americans decide to support Hillary because of the endorsement, all the better, but it’s not likely to make a huge difference in the Silver State. The type of voters influenced by this were likely already with her.
Remember, like in Iowa, we won’t find out how many voters each candidate won over. State delegate equivalents are won, based on the voting support in each caucus precinct. That’s the number the Nevada Democrats will release to the public.
We have reason to believe Sanders would have triumphed in Iowa in a straight count, once the Martin O’Malley voters were forced to re-assign themselves when he fell short of viability in most locations.
In that case, the distribution of voters, with Bernie’s supporters clustered in particular counties with high student populations, allowed us to see ahead of time that Hillary would likely benefit from any disparity.
It could happen again, but it’s harder to project which candidate would benefit. Iowa was perceived as more Sanders-friendly, so a mixed or confused result would help Bernie more in Nevada than it did there.
Nate Silver spent considerable time crunching numbers to calculate how Bernie would do in each state based on being net even overall with Hillary. There’s another calculation based on Clinton holding a 12 point national advantage.
He doesn’t pretend this is perfect, but as a balance of polling, fundraising, demographics and Facebook data, the results pass basic plausibility. We took a look at what states Bernie would need to win several weeks ago, and the list is similar if not identical. Nate was far more rigorous in his methodology.
His calculations show Bernie should have done 23 to 24 points better in New Hampshire than Iowa. That’s almost exactly what happened. The results in both states were halfway between the 12 point Hillary national lead and national tie scenarios.
The same result in Nevada would give us a 9 point Hillary victory. If the limited polling is accurate, Bernie will outperform this number. Silver believes even if the overall race is dead even, Hillary should win Nevada by 3.
The media narrative is not based around his algorithms and regression analysis, but it gives you an idea of where the true median might lie. If Bernie wins, or loses by less than three points, it would count as a victory.
With Hillary leading the super delegate race by hundreds, Sanders needs to exceed Nate’s line in order to actually acquire enough delegates to win, either by overpowering her edge with insiders, or building up enough momentum that they abandon her as they did in 2008.
Combining equations and spin is dangerous, but if you figure the super delegate edge is worth 3 to 5 points (in line with a different calculation Silver did a couple days ago), we wind up with a win being a win. A dead tie or muddle is probably a dead tie or muddle.
If they wind up essentially tied, the expectations game moves to South Carolina, where a single digit loss for Sanders counts as a victory. In Iowa, Hillary set the narrative. There just wasn’t enough other information to overpower her spin.
People are going to draw their own conclusions this time, regardless of what either campaign attempts to say. A Bernie win is huge. A narrow loss means this is a real fight, but he is still at an important structural disadvantage.
A 5 to 10 point loss means he’s made progress with non-white voters but needs more progress quickly in order to have any chance of winning. Losing by more than 10, combined with current South Carolina polls means this isn’t a true fight.
If I’m wrong, and a candidate succeeds in building a narrative that doesn’t square with the above, it means they did an excellent job. If it’s Bernie, his campaign is making huge strides in media manipulation and may have a chance even if he missed his number.
If Hillary does it again and gets credit for a tie a second time, Bernie is going to need to overcome a significant communications disadvantage. At least an overt disadvantage. A virtual tie would indicate his massive social media edge is overcoming the narrative on CNN and MSNBC.
The social media edge helps him on voting day, but the media echo chamber still influences super delegates. Bernie will need to master both unless he can run away with an earned delegate advantage.