February 21, 2016
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton shifted the burden back on to her challenger. I can’t emphasize enough how different the campaign would feel if he won by any margin instead of losing by 5%.
Bernie Sanders did well enough to keep people talking about the race, but he’s facing three elimination points. I don’t mean he’d exit the race, but it would become mathematically impossible for him to get nominated.The first is March 1. He needs to win somewhere outside of New England, preferably more than one place. Colorado, Oklahoma, and Minnesota are among his better opportunities, depending on whether you care more about polling or demographics.
The second in March 8. That’s Michigan. Bernie really needs to win it. Failing at that, he can possibly get by with an Iowa-like tie, especially if the delegates are fairly evenly split. Right now, Hillary has a significant polling advantage.
The third and final hurdle is March 15, when five large states go to the polls. Between Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Illinois, Bernie needs at least 2 victories.
Get through all of that and a run of caucus states in mostly white states gives Bernie a chance to gain a few delegates and get his bearings before making a push in places like New York in the second half of April.
After Iowa and New Hampshire, we knew Bernie was very strong with younger white voters. After Nevada we know Bernie is very strong with younger white and Latino voters.
Hillary remains more than solid with seniors and African Americans. Middle aged whites and Latinos are seemingly kind of in the middle, with other factors like gender, income and ideology playing a role.
We now know Bernie has made enough progress that his current coalition is only slightly smaller than Hillary’s. However, if you’re behind in earned delegates, way behind in (temporarily) pledged super delegates, and about to spend most of the next month in places your coalition is under-represented, that won’t do.
The easy way to look at this is to say Bernie is potentially trailing by 50+ points among African Americans. The majority of primaries held between now and March 15 have a higher than average percentage of African American voters. If Bernie doesn’t close the gap, he’s screwed.
But his deficit with seniors isn’t much different. Entrance polls indicate Nevada voters over 65 opted for Hillary over Bernie by more than a 3 to 1 margin, perhaps closer to 4 to 1.
NOTE: Entrance polls are awful. They don’t sample that many voters and people can change their mind inside a caucus. Primaries are exit polled, and while not perfect, it’s at least closer to reality. Having said that, incomplete info is better than none, and he got clobbered with the AARP set.
Seniors vote. Even if Bernie inspires voters under 30 to turn out more than they ever did for Barack Obama (which is actually possible), voters over 65 will always outnumber them. In many states, more seniors will vote than 18 to 39-year-olds.
Expecting Bernie to start appealing to African Americans in full is unreasonable when he’s not popular with white or Hispanic voters over a certain age. There’s a gender gap too once you get north of 40 or 45.
Hillary can get away with maximizing her appeal to women, seniors, and African Americans. If Bernie tries to go all in for men or white voters, it will play very, very, very badly, and harm his chances of trying to win over super delegates and forcing the DNC and Obama Administration to play closer to fair.
His only real choice is to continue to spend less time playing identity politics than Hillary. What she’s doing is effective and is normally the way to build a winning Democratic nominating coalition. However, he will never beat her at her game.
Bernie can get his majority coalition by fully integrating black voters under 40 into his group. It’s not going to happen with 70-year-old African American women. His team is very aware of this.
He needs to make progress with women between 40 and 50 and men between 50 and 60 of all ethnicities. Anything beyond that is a bridge way too far. South Carolina votes on Saturday (2/27). Super Tuesday is immediately afterward.
Bernie knows this and is planning on spending some of the next week in March 1 states. Hillary is sending the First Surrogate to key Super Tuesday locations to maximize her time in the Palmetto State.
This means South Carolina serves two purposes. An early warning system to show us what we might expect on March 1. The exit polls will have more value, and we can estimate what many of the SEC states will look like a couple days later. Bernie needs to stay within 20 points or so in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas to avoid a massive delegate gap.
It’s also huge for narrative. A Hillary win of over 20 points may cause a snowball effect that discourages Berners from turning out in places like Colorado and Oklahoma. A narrower than expected loss would have the reverse effect.
Any single digit loss for Bernie is a win. It would justify a Marco Rubio-style victory even though I just lost by a noticeable margin speech. Nate Silver estimates an 11% loss is the equivalent of being tied nationally. Math and narrative match here.
A deficit of 10 to 15 points is equivalent to what just happened in Nevada. Improvement from previous polls, a sign Bernie has a viable coalition, but also a signal that coalition isn’t quite large enough to win.
He can keep the believers fired up, but would have lost another important week to make progress before the triple elimination tests.
A 16 to 20 point loss is a disappointment. It’s approximately equal to his result in Iowa and New Hampshire. Better than anyone would have expected 9 months ago, not good enough to dethrone a competitor effectively running as an incumbent.
Bernie would need some change in the political climate to get himself back in contention.
Anything much over 20 points is effectively terminal to his chances. If he had a bunch of caucuses on March 1 instead of primaries in unfriendly territory, he could steady himself as Hillary wound up doing in Nevada. No such luck.
This is how the inevitability snowball gets him before massive scaling of his open source volunteer group can give him an eventual edge in April and beyond.
You can say this isn’t fair, but it’s reality. Insurgents normally operate at a disadvantage. For every successful revolution, many are stamped out before the fire gets too strong.
If America is going to feel the Bern in November, Team Sanders has some serious work to do in the next week.