May 17, 2016
Good morning and welcome to one of the final primary days of the 2016 presidential season. Depending on how things go for Bernie Sanders, it might be the final time we do forecasts.
Without at least some assistance from the FBI, Bernie won’t be the nominee. He can’t catch up in earned delegates and isn’t going to flip a bunch of super delegates. Today he fights for the right to run strong to the finish line and make Hillary Clinton fight for California.
That’s of no small value. He still has a platform, even if he lacks adequate remaining media interest. Ted Cruz has quickly vaporized over the last couple weeks. He’ll need to execute any rules or platform committee strategies at the convention without much clout.
Unless his handpicked delegates are extra determined, Cruz won’t get much further than he did in getting nominated. Bernie wants to avoid this fate, particularly as most Clinton delegates actually do prefer her. There’s no Cruz-style Trojan delegate operation.
While Cruz will try to push the GOP to more closed primaries in 2020, Sanders wants to reform the Democrats’ process by doing away with them completely. Each have a reasonable argument.
On the one hand, open primaries allow voters who are not registered with the party to have a large influence on who they choose. Without closed primaries, there’s even less reason for voters to register with a party. Shouldn’t loyal party members pick the nominee?
On the other hand, parties exist to get candidates elected. Normally the candidate doing better with crossover and unaffiliated voters would have a better chance of building a winning coalition. It’s a matter of personal preference/belief in what political parties are for.
Ironically, Bernie’s ability to push for more open contests is dependent on how he does in closed primaries in Kentucky and Oregon. He’d stand as a clear favorite in both if they were open. But they’re not and as a result he’s at risk of losing both along with much of his remaining influence.
We have zero polling to guide my prediction. Instead, I’ll have to look at neighboring states and adjust for whether their contests were open or closed. Bernie won West Virginia by enough that he has a real shot here, but not by enough to make him a clear favorite.
So far the contest hasn’t exhibited much momentum. Hillary going a few weeks without a win won’t hurt her, if anything it will help. Any semi-visible pattern indicates voters don’t want Bernie out, but don’t want to put Hillary’s nomination at risk.
With Trump being extra Trumpy of late, if there is a momentum lean, it should help Hillary. You’ve probably heard about her infamous comments about putting coal companies and miners out of business. Clearly not helpful in Kentucky. But in West Virginia, if anything a more coal-dependent state, Hillary held her own among registered Democrats.
With all this in mind, who wins?
Hillary Clinton 48.8%
Kentucky has fewer non-white voters than neighboring Virginia and Tennessee where Hillary won easily, but more than West Virginia. Higher concentrations of minority voters hurt Bernie in places like Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, all open primaries won by Clinton.
Most of Hillary’s strongest counties in Indiana were along the Kentucky border. Bernie won the state, but was helped by a semi-open system. If you take Bernie’s winning margins in Indiana and West Virginia, adjust for the closed primary and Kentucky’s ethnic balance looking more like Indiana, you get a very narrow Clinton win.
Bernie Sanders 47.6%
I’m not sure how much the relative effort of each candidate in a given state matters. There must be at least some benefit to showing up, or candidates would avoid campaigning in person and stick to doing media interviews.
Sanders was very busy in West Virginia while Hillary stayed mostly away, knowing she was likely to lose. He pushed harder in Indiana too. In both cases, he had one contest to think about. This week, Oregon is a key stop too.
Clinton has made more of an effort in Kentucky, going back on the air with ads and coming closer to matching Bernie’s presence. She began campaigning there sooner than him.
If Bernie wins, you’ll hear it wasn’t a big deal, just West Virginia 2.0. Hillary shouldn’t have talked about closing mines. Not true. It would qualify as at least a mild rebuke from a Democratic Party she needs completely on board.
Someone who votes for her in the primary is far less likely to vote Trump in November. Kentucky isn’t exactly a swing state, but it borders Ohio. Today’s primary numbers will give us a clue of how accurate last week’s Quinnipiac poll was there. The better the result for Bernie, the more Buckeye State trouble she’s looking at.