We still aren’t sure what the 2016 presidential primaries indicate for the future of American politics. It is likely that both national parties will take action post-election to prevent the future rise of populist ‘outsider’ candidates from ‘hijacking’ (also known as participating) in the primary process. Consistency has not had a strong presence in this cycle, nonetheless some consistent themes have developed within the Democratic primary race.
1: Sanders wins big in little states
Of the 35 contests so far, Sanders has won 15, not bad for a candidate the mainstream media all but wrote off when he first announced his challenge. Overwhelmingly, Sanders’ victories (especially the commanding ones) have been in states that do not have large delegate rewards. These small-state victories allow Clinton to maintain a healthy lead (over 250 delegates at time of writing) with less and less time to make up the difference. Sanders’ victory in the three weekend contests (Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington) were good for his campaign, but all three states held caucuses. Sanders has strongly outperformed Clinton in caucus states so far this campaign, however, there are only two caucuses left in this cycle (Wyoming, North Dakota), and a Sanders victory in these states will not be enough to crack Clinton’s delegate lead.
2: Clinton cushes Sanders in the minority vote
Sanders’ upset win in Michigan gave him some much needed cover regarding his noted failure to make inroads into the ethnic and racial minorities that comprise a significant portion of the Democratic vote. However, Clinton’s victory in the next five contests largely proved that Michigan, while headline grabbing, was an outlier, not the new norm. Additionally, Sanders’ strength in caucus states has largely occurred as a result of demographics. As FiveThirtyEight notes
Every state that has held or will hold a Democratic caucus this year has a black population at or below 10 percent of the state’s total population, and black voters have been among Clinton’s strongest demographic groups. Without those black voters, Clinton just can’t match the enthusiasm of Sanders’s backers. (In Southern states, where Clinton romped, her voters were far more enthusiastic than Sanders’s supporters were.)
Further to this, Sanders also underperformed badly in Arizona, highlighting his weakness with Hispanic voters.
3: Sanders is raising but also spending more money than Clinton
Sanders is setting new records for primary fundraising. Vowing to not accept money from Super-PACs, Sanders’ fundraising from small-donors has been prolific, easily outpacing Clinton, but he also spends much more, leaving Clinton with more cash-on-hand. Part of this is due to his propensity for staging rallies in huge venues, part is due to his need to up his ground game in upcoming delegate-rich states like New York and Pennsylvania, and part is due to his desire to push Clinton all the way to Philadelphia for the nomination. Being flush with cash allows Sanders to spend more, relative to Clinton.
4: Delegate math doesn’t favour Sanders
Sanders’ surrogates have repeatedly insisted that the Senator has a lean, but viable path to the nomination in July. The issue is that, contrary to popular opinion, Sanders has vastly underperformed in winning delegates. In fact, the states where Sanders has overachieved in terms of his delegate share (Washington, Utah, Illinois, Kansas, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont, Oklahoma, and Maine) are erased by his big losses in just three states, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee. This raises a point that I mentioned in a previous blog, there is a world of difference between running a campaign to become the Democratic (or Republican) nominee, and running a campaign to influence the likely nominee. Arguably, Sanders campaign has pulled Clinton to the left on several issues, but it is unlikely to have any more of an impact on Clinton’s campaign than that.
Sanders’ late surge is enough to excite his base and to pull in large amounts of money from donors, but in terms of the delegates, the ‘only numbers that matter’, he struggles to make up the deficit.
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