On Saturday night, Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump won with 33% of the votes, well ahead of Rubio and Cruz who were virtually tied at 22%. Meanwhile, on the Democrat Camp, Hillary Clinton’s strong organization and attention to local details staved off Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” in Nevada.
Trump has now won the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries against a fractured GOP field, while Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are battling for second place while Clinton’s victory that stops Sanders’ momentum and puts her campaign on solid footing heading into South Carolina. This article examines Sanders’ chances going into South Carolina and beyond.
Why low turnout is such a problem for Sanders’s candidacy
Throughout the course of his campaign, Sanders has promised to transform American government by bringing “millions and millions” of new voters to the ballot box.
This is in contrast to the incrementalism of Clinton’s campaign, which recognizes the confines of a bitterly divided American electorate and offers to fight for whatever gains are available.
Sanders rejects the limits of this system. His “political revolution” is based on the idea that Democrats could win big with a message that gets a massive number of new lower- and middle-income voters continually engaged in the political process.
It’s an inspiring vision. But there is little sign that it’s actually happening.
Low turnout in Nevada wasn’t an outlier. New Hampshire saw 10 percent fewer voters in 2016 than it did eight years ago. In Iowa, turnout was also down — from 287,000 in 2008 to 171,000 this year. (By contrast, voter numbers are exploding on the Republican side, with records for GOP turnout being crushed in Iowa, New Hampshire, and, from the early results, South Carolina.)
Sanders needs this to change, and quickly, to validate one of his key arguments against Clinton.
As Vox’s Ezra Klein has written, Sanders thinks “the core failure” of Obama’s presidency is its failure to convert voter enthusiasm in 2008 into a durable, mobilized organizing force beyond the election. Sanders vows to rectify this mistake by maintaining the energy from the campaign for subsequent fights against the corporate interests and in congressional and state elections.
The relatively low voter turnout in the Democratic primary so far makes this more sweeping plan seem laughably implausible. Three states have voted, we’ve had countless debates and town halls, and there’s been wall-to-wall media coverage for weeks. Sanders has drawn close to Clinton in the polls, and there are real stakes in a closely divided race.
The Democratic contest moved to a not-totally-white state, and Hillary Clinton had her best showing yet. She won the Nevada caucuses by over 5 percentage points, an important margin in a state whose electorate was only 59 percent white. While there are still some questions about how Latinos voted, Clinton can claim tremendous support from black voters heading into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.
According to the entrance poll in Nevada, Clinton won black voters 76 percent to 22 percent. To put that in context, Clinton’s margin is only slightly smaller than Barack Obama’s 83 percent to 14 percent win with black voters in the 2008 Nevada caucuses. While the result wasn’t unexpected given that pre-election polls showed Clinton dominant with black voters, Sanders spenta lot of money on television in the state. That Sanders couldn’t close the gap with black voters with a big advertising push is a very ominous sign for his campaign.
Many of the upcoming primaries will feature a much higher percentage of black voters than Nevada did. While only 13 percent of Nevada caucus-goers in 2016 were black, their share in South Carolina will be much higher (55 percent of South Carolina Democratic primary voters were black in 2008). That’s why Clinton is up by 25 percentage points in the South Carolina polls. Even beyond South Carolina, on Super Tuesday 63 percent of the delegates up for grabs will be in contests with a higher share of African-Americans than Nevada. Better yet for Clinton, 35 percent of delegates will be up for grabs in contests with at least double the share of African-Americans as Nevada. In 2008, 19 percent of voters in all Democratic primaries were black — Clinton’s margin among black voters is a big advantage.?
What now for Sanders?
That’s not to say Nevada was all bad news for Sanders. Sanders has cut into Clinton’s advantage with Latino voters. In the 2008 Nevada caucuses, Clinton won Latinos 64 percent to 26 percent. This year, the entrance poll had Sanders winning Latinos 53 percent to 45 percent. I’m a bit skeptical of those numbers, however, given that Clinton won in heavily Latino precincts in Las Vegas. The sample of Latino voters in the entrance poll was very small, a couple hundred respondents at most, so it’s possible those numbers are just off. (That said, David Shor of Civis Analytics argued that it is possible that Sanders won Latinos even as he did poorly in Latino neighborhoods because many younger Latinos — who are more likely to support Sanders — live in whiter neighborhoods.)
But whether he won them or not, Sanders was clearly competitive with Latinos, which really shouldn’t be too surprising: A recent SurveyMonkey poll found Sanders closing the gap among Latinos to just 3 percentage points, and a NBC News/Telemundo survey put Clinton’s lead with Latino voters at 17 percentage points. Clinton isn’t running away among Latinos. That could be good news for Sanders in states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Texas that vote in March. Still, Sanders is fighting an uphill battle given that many more March primaries have a large African-American electorate.
But in some ways Sanders has already won something: The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 is more liberal than the one that turned out in the party’s last competitive primary eight years ago. Democratic voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada this year were far more likely to describe themselves as liberal than they were in 2008. In Nevada, 70 percent of Democrats said they were liberal compared to just 45 percent in 2008. Sixty-eight percent of Democratic voters identified as liberal in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Nate Silver, the statistician behind the famed FiveThirtyEight blog who predicts election wins with almost unerring accuracy, claims that Sanders has the ability to win every state caucus held after Nevada, and that Sanders’ loss in that state may be the beginning of a big winning streak for him in the remaining caucuses.
“While Clinton has won the first two caucuses in the Democratic race — while losing New Hampshire, the only primary — it’s possible that Bernie Sanders will win every state caucus from here on out.
Here’s why I say that. The remaining Democratic states to hold caucuses are: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Washington and Wyoming. Other than Hawaii — where I’m not going to pretend we have any earthly idea what’s going to happen — those are a bunch of really white states that otherwise look favorable for Sanders and which he could win even if he slightly trails Clinton nationally.”
The analysis seems to suggest, however, that instead of an election fight that is over, we are instead about to see a
The challenge that Sanders posed early on transformed Hillary Clinton from the inevitable dynasty candidate to the one fighting for electoral relevance. And if Saturday is a lesson to anyone, it’s to Sanders’ camp: one should never underestimate either Clinton’s resilience or her attractiveness to voters when she’s able to play defense (despite remaining the party’s most likely nominee).
In her speech, Clinton explicitly addressed young voters – the group she’s most struggled to win away from Sanders – telling them her vision for helping them with regard to college debt . But then she pivoted somewhere unexpected: “It can’t be about what we’re going to give to you. It has to be about what we’re going to build together.”
Summarised from CNN, Reuters, FiveThirtyEight, Vox