2016-Mar-14, Monday

cos: (frff-profile)
Since my post concluding that Clinton will get the Democratic nomination, people keep asking me if I think anything changed after Bernie Sanders' surprise upset win in Michigan.

First of all, I'm overjoyed that he won! I'd love to see him continue to do well in future primaries, and I think it will be a very good thing for the Democratic party and for the country if he does.

Second, this makes me feel like I should not have looked at the polls, and just written based on what I said was doing: Looking at the states that already voted, and extrapolating the same voting patterns. Polls shortly before an election are usually pretty good at predicting the results, but actual voting in primaries has long seemed to be a much more solid predictor of subsequent primaries. And based on that, Michigan's result was not at all surprising. Industrial midwestern states' Democratic primaries are similar to Massachusetts but a bit better for Bernie, while mid-Atlantic and southern New England states are a little worse for him. Based on Super Tuesday, I would've predicted he'd probably lose the mid-Atlantic and southern New England states, but win most of the industrial midwest by small margins (with a bigger margin in Wisconsin, and PA being the one he's most likely to lose).

However... I actually did most of my analysis for the last post before looking at the Michigan polls. Sure, I knew that Clinton led him by a lot in the midwest in polls earlier in the season, but I assumed that lead would disappear like it had in plenty of other states where she started with a big lead. Early polls very often favor the bigger name in the race. In other words, that post reflected my conclusions based on a belief that Sanders would probably win Michigan narrowly. Then I looked at the polls, and to my surprise Clinton's lead was still very large on three polls released just in the past week (as of the day before the Michigan primary). So I changed my wording a little bit to reflect that.

For me, it wasn't so much Sanders' narrow win in Michigan that was a surprise, it was the polls! Michigan's actual result was very much what I expected until the last couple of days, when I looked at those polls before finishing my post.

That said, let's look at the numbers a bit more specifically...

Since Super Tuesday:
Kansas: Sanders 23, Clinton 10
Nebraska: Sanders 15, Clinton 10
Maine: Sanders 16, Clinton 9
Louisiana: Sanders 14, Clinton 37
Michigan: Sanders 67, Clinton 63
Mississippi: Sanders 4, Clinton 32
Total: Sanders 139, Clinton 161

On the same day Sanders' remarkable upset win in Michigan netted him 4 more delegates than Clinton, her long-expected small-news overwhelming win in Mississippi netter her 28 more delegates than him. In total that day, 166 more delegates were determined. Since Super Tuesday, 300 pledged delegates were determined, leaving only 2724 to go. Clinton's lead is now 221.

(Note: I'm using numbers from thegreenpapers.com, who I've found have better calculations of how primary and caucus results will translate into state delegates than much of the press. But the differences are slight, so it doesn't make a big difference.)

What the above numbers highlight is what really stood out when I looked at Super Tuesday: It's not just that Clinton was winning all the southern states, it's the scale of her wins. Sanders' huge 22-point win in New Hampshire made big news, and he went on to score very solid wins in caucus states - 19 points in Colorado, 22 points in Minnesota, 14 points in Nebraska 29 points in Maine. While this was happening, Clinton scored astounding blowout wins in the much more populated southern states: 59 points in Alabama, 66 points in Mississippi, 48 points in Louisiana, 43 points in Georgia, 47 points in South Carolina, and a mere 36 points in Arkansas. Clinton literally beat him more than 4-to-1 in several states, and even 5-to-1 in a couple. The only place Sanders got a comparable win was his home state of Vermont.

These wins didn't make as big a splash in the news as New Hampshire and Michigan, because Clinton was expected to win these states all along. The news is much too focused on who "wins" each state, and it's misleading. Democratic primaries award delegates proportionally. The difference between winning 51-49 vs. losing 49-51 is a huge deal for the press, but it may be nothing in terms of delegates (as in Massachusetts, where Clinton "won" but Sanders and Clinton will get 45 and 46 delegates each; often a 51-49 win results in an even split). The difference between winning 55-45 vs. 59-41 may actually be bigger in terms of delegates, but won't have much effect on how the press talks about it.

If I'd looked at the numbers after Super Tuesday and seen Clinton ahead by about 100 delegates, I would've written a very different post. I could clearly see a path for Sanders to make up a 100 delegate difference, and that path did indeed lie through winning the midwestern states like Michigan, not necessarily by a lot. Let's look at that path in more depth... )

If Sanders were at a 100 delegate deficit, and he performed really well after Super Tuesday, he might cut that deficit down to as little as 40 delegates (but more realistically 60-something). Could he make up the difference by winning 475-delegate California? Sure, maybe. California votes June 7th, and if Sanders were that close to Clinton that far out, which would be astonishing, people might feel the momentum is with him, and California might really turn out for him.

But Clinton is leading by 220, not 100. She didn't just win the south, she won a series of overwhelming blowouts, and her lead in delegates already elected is just too large. Barring some huge shift in the dynamic of the campaign, Sanders isn't going to be able to cut that lead down to even 100 before California, let alone 60. He'd need to win by almost 80% in California to gain over 100 delegates, and chances are he'll be well over 100 behind.

Will Sanders win more states than Clinton for the rest of the campaign? Perhaps he will. Is he going to gain more delegates than Clinton from now on? He very well may - and in fact, I think it's quite likely. I expect him to cut down on her lead, and I very much want him to.

Sanders has already surprised the political world by showing he's a real and credible candidate who had a chance to win. With each win from now on, and with each gain in delegates cutting into Clinton's lead, he'll continue giving people the perception of an even race. Clinton will have to keep trying, really trying, in order to keep earning the delegates she needs. She cannot relax, and the campaign remains real. At the end, Sanders will have accomplished a lot, and helped bring about a major shift in the Democratic party, one that we can keep building on.

But Clinton doesn't need a big lead to get the nomination. If she goes to the convention with even one more pledged delegate than Sanders, she will be the Democratic nominee. Will Sanders cut Clinton's lead down all the way from over 200 now, to 0 at the end? Unless some big unexpected surprise (bigger than beating the polls in Michigan) shakes up the race, then no, he will not.

Edit: Republican primary
Today (March 15th), we find out whether Trump wins both Florida and Ohio, giving him a good shot at winning a majority of delegates and the nomination, or whether he loses one of them (or maybe both), making it much more likely that he won't get a straight majority, and the Republican convention will be contested.

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