May 17, 2016
For months I’d assumed Bernie had Oregon in the bag. It’s a Sanders state. It’s liberal, people drive Subarus, pot is accessible. He’s won anywhere similar. Usually only one or two of those three factors are necessary.
He won New Hampshire, Vermont, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, and Wisconsin. Oregon belongs in this group. Bernie has drawn huge crowds in Portland and around college campuses statewide. When he was building momentum last fall, Oregon was an important stop.
Fully aware Oregon is a closed primary (Bernie’s Kryptonite), I still figured he’d win. Until recently, we had no data one way or the other. Absence of polling didn’t prevent good predictions in several of those similar states.
And then we got numbers. The Portland-area Fox affiliate weighted in with a shocker of sorts.
Even for a registered Democrat-only sampling, it was surprising. We have a couple possibilities. Either the poll is off, or my assumptions were. Let’s start by questioning the assumptions.
So far, Bernie has exactly one closed primary. Oklahoma on March 1. After trailing in most of the polling, he won by 10. However, he did lead once and Hillary never reached the 48% level she has here.
Sanders was competitive in Connecticut but fell short, while winning next door, semi-open Rhode Island on the same day (4/26). Though he won decisively in Washington, that was a semi-open caucus.
The most similar Bernie victory was Wisconsin, but that was open and he won by 13. If you convert to a closed primary, that would put them on fairly even footing. So why are we seeing Bernie with a 15 point deficit?
Vote by mail.
Oregon mails ballots to voters who were required to register by April 26. That’s roughly when the state begins sending them out. They arrive 2 to 3 weeks before primary day. Voters check the boxes and send back in a certified envelope.
If they didn’t get this done by Friday, they can drop their envelope off today at their precinct. Only those stragglers need to exert themselves. This favors Hillary. Any Sanders edge in getting voters fired up and out to the polls is blunted.
The mail system forces college students to have planned far enough ahead to get registered and have their official address at school instead of at home (for those who don’t commute to class.)
Combine the unique to Oregon system with a closed primary and a Hillary lead starts looking more plausible. Progressive Oregonians who chose Candidate Obama by 18 points over Hillary in 2008 and gave him easy general election wins in ’08 and 2012 are not similar to the Oklahomans who voted against her in March as she was overtly targeting African American voters.
So I’m buying the poll. No, Hillary isn’t likely to win by 15, but she may just end any remaining drama with a victory. If you figure he gets a good amount of the undecideds, it leaves us with a result like this:
Hillary Clinton 50.6%
Bernie Sanders 47.5%
Moral of the story: The rules matter. Should Clinton lose in November, expect a renewed push for more open contests. Chastened party leaders would figure they need to pay more attention to picking someone who appeals to Independents.
If she wins, an opposite lesson is learned. Perhaps we’ll see more closed primaries. Particularly if Ted Cruz and other conservatives are successful in pushing Republicans in the same direction. Most states have the same rules on both sides.
We have a GOP contest too. It doesn’t merit the same degree of scrutiny, but is a good test of Trump’s floor among Republicans. Last week, he exceeded the arbitrary targets I set for him in Nebraska and West Virginia.
He’s got the same issue as Bernie. Open primaries are better and demoralized #NeverTrump voters only need to seal an envelope. That same Fox poll (taken after his competitors quit the race) had Trump ahead of his combined opponents 45/28.
Oregon isn’t a super Trumpy state, but it isn’t terrible for him either. His social moderation and America First foreign policy play well there. Just because someone doesn’t pick him now doesn’t mean they’ll vote for Hillary or Gary Johnson later.
But it’s easier when they choose him now. Oregon hasn’t voted Republican since 1984, but the margin is often single digits. If Trump is going to break the map to win, he needs to compete in a place like this which favors less rigidly conservative GOP candidates.
A 60/40 split or better is fine for The Donald. Below that is a possible sign his most recent batch of antics aren’t going over very well.
Donald Trump 61.6%
Not Trump 37.6%
Until the voters say otherwise, I’m assuming he’s on track.