February 29, 2016
It seems like the Bern is being extinguished at every turn. Nine days ago, Nevada entrance polls were indicating an Iowa-like close finish. The possible win/tie became a loss. Then South Carolina. When the candidate says he was decimated, you know it was bad.
Last week, we wondered where Bernie’s voters were hiding. National polls had him relatively close to Hillary Clinton, but state polls matched a bigger overall margin. With Bernie-friendly pollsters like Qunnipiac and CNN/ORC staying away from many states, we speculated the state view might shortchange him.
Then he lost South Carolina by almost 50 points. With all but one poll at least 15 to 20 points too optimistic, the state poll argument took a hit. Today we have an alternative explanation. The national polls were off and/or outdated.
CNN/ORC and Rasmussen both have new national surveys out. They are the first taken entirely after Nevada. The Rasmussen survey (2/25-2/28) includes one post-South Carolina day.
CNN has Hillary +17, Rasmussen +22. No more conflict. In a world where Hillary leads by 20 points nationwide, a 48 point South Carolina victory is very plausible. So is an 8 to 11 point lead in Massachusetts, somewhere seemingly in the Sanders column a few days ago.
In case you were curious, CNN normally has Bernie-friendly results. He polls better on a national basis with them than most, and CNN overshot his final result in each of the first four states. The two polls indicate serious erosion in the past week or so.
This is bad for the Bern. Before we can go back to worrying about Hillary monopolizing super delegates, if Super Tuesday gives her an insurmountable lead among earned delegates, or anything of the sort, we’d need to think he’d otherwise have a shot.
You can’t trail by 20 points and make it up by allocating your support efficiently. When I took a look at Bernie’s path in early January, I assumed a Nevada victory was a prerequisite to having a real chance.
He needed to get progressively closer in national polls between February 20 and March 1, not further. The Super Tuesday map meant Bernie would need a national edge to break even on a day that spends more time voting in areas of her strength.
Without giving too much away, I’m not expecting Sanders to win all 5 of the states he was recently targeting. Vermont is safe, Massachusetts looks like it’s now out of reach. Oklahoma, Colorado, and Minnesota are maybe at best. He’s screwed.
Bernie will wake up Wednesday morning trailing in every conceivable measure but one. Polls, earned delegates, super delegates, endorsements, narrative, and momentum are all going the wrong way. The only bright spot is money.
It appears Bernie will raise approximately $40 million for February. With no mega donor PAC money, and very few contributors giving over $200, that’s a huge number. Though the majority of the money was collected pre-Nevada, he’s still raking it in.
So Bernie isn’t going away. Furthermore, though the odds are tremendously against him, the national polls aren’t quite as bad as they appear based only on the gap. Hillary is at 55% in the CNN poll, 53% with Rasmussen.
Sanders has lost some supporters to undecided, but not that many to Clinton. If you have to trail by 22, 53/31 is way better than 61/39. As he’s appeared less viable over the past week, some voters have drifted away from him, but they aren’t permanently lost.
After March 8, he’s done in the Deep South. If Bernie can get close by March 15, the distribution begins to favor him. Minus 3 to -5 nationally starts turning into wins. Then he reaches a group of mostly pale caucus states.
How can he get from trailing by 20 to trailing by a couple in two weeks? Not by making himself suddenly viable. As good as his pseudo matchup numbers still are against Trump and the other GOP candidates, you can’t make an electability case when you’re trailing in the nomination race.
He faces the Catch-22 of needing wins to make undecided/wavering/leaning voters buy in, but can’t get the wins if they don’t support him. Enter Donald J. Trump.
This worked once before. At the end of 2015, Sanders was staring down an even larger national deficit and trailing by double-digits in most Iowa polls, with increasingly limited time to catch up.
Then Hillary called The Donald sexist. Trump spent a couple of days talking about Hillary protecting her husband by attacking his accusers. After a few days, the Clintons stopped talking about Trump.
The movement in the polls was noticeable. Iowa became immediately competitive. Trump hasn’t returned to Hillary bashing since. Bernie’s progress stalled, picked up after his New Hampshire win, and then he regressed after Nevada.
Trump is likely to have a very big Super Tuesday, one that will make him a very clear favorite, regardless of any path Marco Rubio might have. Hillary has begun regularly attacking him again.
With both front runners increasingly looking like fall combatants, Trump will have reason to begin engaging Hillary in combat again. At the moment, he’s busy with “Little Marco Rubio” and “Liar Ted,” but eventually he won’t be able to resist.
If Trump can draw blood again, and do so enough ahead of March 15, Sanders has a chance to win in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, if not likely in North Carolina and almost certainly not in Florida.
He could then go on a caucus and favorable primary win streak, and enter the April 19 New York primary on a roll and almost even in states won, if not in delegates. Bernie has the money and volunteer effort to hang in until he could embarrass Hillary in her adopted home state.
Clinton would remain the nomination favorite, but the road to California would get very interesting again. Democrats actually like Bernie a little better. The CNN poll shows 65% would look very/somewhat forward to voting for her in November, 33% not so much.
With Bernie, 74% would embrace him, 18% not. I doubt 33% of Democrats would really abandon Hillary at the polls, but Bernie’s support is actually more broad-based within the party. It’s just accompanied by skepticism about his viability. He’s stuck.
Absent a Trump-induced shock to the system, this isn’t going to correct itself. Clinton will win most Super Tuesday states, everywhere except Maine on March 5, just about everywhere on March 8, and effectively clinch the nomination on March 15.
I’m assuming Trump knows this and am figuring he would prefer to have Hillary tied up for another couple months and continuing to move herself leftward, rather than getting to re-orient early for the general election.
Just because The Donald moved the needle on the Democratic side once, doesn’t mean he can a second time, but if he fails, it will be the first time this cycle he couldn’t drive the news or the contest in the direction he chose.
At this point, he’s Bernie’s last, best hope.