Time to Accept Reality, Sanders Supporters

Time to Accept Reality, Sanders Supporters March 29, 2016

Bernie Sanders won three states over the weekend, sending his fans into an orgasmic frenzy of renewed hope. I like Sanders and I’d rather have him as the nominee than Hillary Clinton, but that hope is now pointless. There is no plausible path by which Sanders can win enough delegates to deny the nomination to Clinton.

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I know, I know. I’ve seen the roughly 47 million Facebook memes saying “he’s only behind by a couple hundred delegates and California alone has more than that” or “the media is lying to you, he’s going to win.” It’s time to wake up and smell the math. Yes, there are lots of delegates yet to be determined, but the fact that all of them are divied up proportionally makes it far more difficult than it would be if there were winner-take-all states like the Republicans have. The two top polling analysis and predictions sites, Five Thirty Eight and the Princeton Election Consortium, have detailed explanations as to why the chances of Sanders catching Clinton have essentially vanished. First, Sam Wang of Princeton:

Luckily, it is an easy problem to figure out what fraction of the vote Sanders needs. The Democratic Party’s rules assign delegates proportionally to the popular vote. (In this respect, the Democrats’ rules are more truly democratic than either the Electoral College or the Republican Party, which are both dominated by winner-take-all contests. Indeed, if the Democratic Party’s delegates were assigned on a winner-take-all basis, tonight’s delegate count would be Clinton 2020, Sanders 734, a 2.7-to-1 margin.) So Sanders needs to win the popular vote 56%-44% in the remaining elections, i.e. he needs Sanders +12%.

Now let’s look at national opinion surveys. In the last 8 polls (spanning March 17-23), Clinton led by a median of 9.5 +/- 2.1%. Overall, Democratic polls have been pretty accurate. Therefore, assume that the upcoming 22 primaries and caucuses will have an average margin that is similar to national opinion.*

For national opinion to come into line with what Sanders needs, there would have to be a change from Clinton +9.5% to Sanders +12%. That’s a 22-point swing. To put that into perspective, that is about how much the Clinton-Sanders margin has moved over the last seven months, since the start of August. Going forward, opinion would have to start moving about three times faster. And for this to happen, Sanders would have to start to cut into Clinton’s support, which has stayed in the 50-55% range this whole season. Basically, her support would have to drop to 40%. That simply isn’t going to happen.

The probability of a massive polling error (movement of at least four sigma) is basically zero. However, the real question is whether some unanticipated externality can impose a massive swing across all states at once. I estimate that the probability of such a drastic swing in the remaining 10 weeks of the primary season is quite low – well below 5%. Therefore the probability that Hillary Clinton will have a majority of delegates at the convention is greater than 95%.

And Harry Enten of Five Thirty Eight points out that most of Sanders’ wins have come in caucuses and all of his wins have come in states with a below average African-American population:

Bernie Sanders won a trifecta of states on Saturday. He put up big victories in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, after carrying Idaho and Utah earlier in the week. Sanders beat his delegate targets by a solid margin in all five of these states and closed Hillary Clinton’s pledged delegate lead to just north of 225. In doing so, Sanders highlighted an ongoing Clinton weakness: caucuses. All five of Sanders’s wins this week came in caucuses. The problem for the Sanders campaign is that there are only two caucuses left on the Democratic primary calendar.

So why is Sanders doing better in caucuses than primaries? The most obvious answer is that caucuses reward candidates with diehard supporters. There are often speeches, and sometimes multiple rounds of voting at caucuses. Typically, you have to stick around for a while to vote. That takes devotion, and if you’ve ever met a Sanders fan, you’ll know that many would climb over hot coals to vote for him.

Sanders’s strength in caucuses may also be, in part, coincidental. 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.)…

Sanders had a strong week, and this has been a crazy year in politics. But there’s nothing in the recent results to suggest that the overall trajectory of the Democratic race has changed. Clinton was and is a prohibitive favorite to win the nomination.

Sanders is going to continue to say that he has a chance until there is no mathematical way at all that he can win, and that’s what he should do. He wants attention to his agenda, whether he wins or loses. He’s taking a long-term view here and looking to start a movement that outlives him. And that’s a good thing, and an important thing. Not winning this election does not mean that he hasn’t done something important by advancing a genuinely progressive economic agenda and getting a seat at the table.

And I understand why his fans don’t want to hear this and want to hold out hope. But at some point, reality has to replace wishful thinking. And he simply is not going to win, folks. It’s time to wake up and smell the math. Now go ahead, tell me how I’m a shill for Hillary Clinton and then all that math will magically disappear once you’ve applied that inaccurate label.


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