May 5, 2016
You may wonder if I’ve had too many margaritas in preparation for Cinco de Mayo. Why would anyone care what happens in the Democratic primary contest. Doesn’t Hillary have this locked up? When Donald Trump won Indiana, the general election was set. Barring FBI intervention, Hillary is set for a fall duel with The Donald.
Bernie Sanders can not catch up. In order to square the earned delegates by the end of primary voting, he’d need to win approximately 70% the remaining popular votes. Impossible. Beyond that, he’d need to grab every uncommitted super delegate and flip a third of those who are already publicly for Hillary.
Nyet. There’s slightly more chance Trump names Vladimir Putin as his running mate. So why are we about to discuss West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon? Because presumptive nominees aren’t supposed to go 6 weeks without winning. Sure Hillary will get to choreograph most of the festivities in Philadelphia in late July. Her team is busily vetting possible veeps.
The first series of anti-Trump attack ads are out and well produced. Team Clinton will remind you she won a few contests late in the 2008 race, even as Barack Obama was on his way to Presumptive Nomineeland. However, the current president didn’t go 6 weeks without winning while John McCain began bludgeoning him in an attempt to pull the GOP together.
Indiana is done. Sanders beat his poll numbers as he often does in open/semi-open primary states. Predicted to lose by several to a few, he won by several. Based on demographic calculations, FiveThirtyEight determined he wound up about where he was supposed to. Rumors of depressed Berners staying home were greatly exaggerated.
There’s no such thing as momentum in the Democratic contest. Any evidentiary fragments tell us momentum traces are negative if they exist at all. Knowing whether the next state up is a primary or caucus, open or closed, mostly caucasian or not will tell you the winner far more accurately than knowing what recently happened elsewhere.
West Virginia is up next on May 10. We have two surveys, an old one from just before Valentine’s Day, and a new poll from a few days ago. Bernie leads both. He was ahead by 28 points in February, only 8 now. If the pollsters were the same, this would really mean something.
We should probably pay more attention to the more recent version from PPP. Sanders leads 45/37, with 79% of Hillary’s voters saying they are very sure, while only 65% of Team Bernie is positive. PPP’s commentary points out the opportunity for Clinton to flip a few voters and win the state.
That’s technically possible, but unlikely. It’s a semi-open primary state. Republicans can’t vote on the Democratic side, keeping voters who have no influence on a contest down to a single Trump from crossing over to create mischief. Unaffiliated voters are welcome to play, and as usual, Bernie leads with them, while Hillary is ahead among registered Dems.
Almost 20% of likely voters are undecided. We’ve seen this pattern elsewhere. Each time, the majority of late deciders go to Sanders. The February survey had Clinton at 29%. Even now she’s at 37%. Unless West Virginia voters immediately decide they want to spare Hillary from embarrassment, Bernie will pick many of them up.
Given this is a state where Trump leads Hillary 57/30 in a general election matchup, that’s super doubtful. Most importantly, while Clinton voters view Sanders narrowly favorably by a 46/43 margin, Berners do not like Hillary. She’s upside down 16/70 with voters who think they’ll support him on election day.
This leads me to believe the less certain Sanders voters are weighing him or Trump not him or Hillary. With Trump having clinched the nomination, Independents have less incentive to vote for him. Unless we see a survey showing Hillary with a clear lead, we should assume Bernie is very safe here.
What about Kentucky and Oregon on May 17? No data on either. Given the consensus that the nominations are settled, and complete lack of drama on the GOP side, it’s possible nobody will bother to poll.
Both are closed primaries. That’s bad for Bernie. Even when he wins a primary, he almost always loses among registered Democrats. Oregon is probably safe. It was one of the 6 or 8 states that just have his name on them. Think places where pot is legal and Subarus are plentiful. It’s liberal and it’s pale. Washington and Idaho share borders and he crushed it in both (though those were caucuses.)
Kentucky is more tricky. I’d really like to see a survey. Demographically, it’s similar to West Virginia, with a majority white population (86%.) That’s good for Bernie. However, the southern Indiana and southern Ohio counties that border it were won by Clinton. So were the western counties in Virginia. She won the northern Tennessee counties on Kentucky’s southern border.
A few southern Illinois counties border western Kentucky. Bernie got his share of those. Normally the border game works. In this case, even if Sanders gets the West Virginia border counties, Hillary has the edge. Combine that with the closed primary, and Kentucky is far and away her best chance to win again before June 7.
A Sanders sweep in May won’t change the nomination, but will create a tricky narrative. Until we have some actual numbers from Kentucky, figure he’s less than 50/50 to pull that off. If he does, it’s an indication many Democrats are hoping he sticks around to hold her accountable.