Sunday, March 27, 2016

Post "Western Saturday" Update

Yesterday was the contest CNN dubbed "Western Saturday," where Washington state and Alaska had Democratic caucuses, while Hawaii had a presidential preference poll, which is a weird combination of a primary and a caucus where the voters fill out secret ballots and then hang out while they are counted and announced. Unlike other states, the Hawaii Democratic Party did not release results until they had all been collected, so the mainstream media went to bed and played their pre recorded programming. Meanwhile, a student in Ithaca, NY collected precinct information from Twitter with the help of a dozen or so strangers on the Internet and posted it on a publicly available Google doc so people could get an idea of the outcome.

At the end of the day (by which I mean this morning), it was clear that Senator Sanders had handily won all three contests. His margin of victory ranged from 40-60, depending on the state, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this was a landslide victory for him. Between the timing of these elections (today is Easter Sunday) and the appearance of a finch on Sanders' podium in Portland on Friday, it is difficult to resist the urge to wax poetic, but I will refrain for now.

A bird lands on Bernie Sanders’s podium as he speaks on Portland, Oregon Friday March 25, 2016.(Photo: Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

It has now become even more clear that the peak of Hillary Clinton's delegate lead occurred on March 15, and that she will be on the defensive from this point forward. The next multi-state election is a month away on April 26, which gives Sanders a lot of time to devote significant attention to each of the individual states coming up. Nine days from now, on April 5, Wisconsin will have its first election with its new controversial voter ID law. We have seen in the past that barriers to voting tend to disproportionately impact Sanders' likely voters, so this could be a problem for Sanders. But Wisconsin's primary is open to Independent voters, and he previously won two of the state's neighbors, Minnesota and Michigan, so this state is definitely in play. If you live in Wisconsin, and you are not sure whether you have the correct voter ID, contact VoteRiders for assistance.

Since March 15, 285 Democratic delegates have been pledged, and Sanders has earned 188 (66%) of them. This is well above his 58% target, and is enough to bring his new target down to 56%. He's gained substantial ground (in fact, if you go back to my hypothetical 2008 race from my last post, after adjusting for inflation of the number of delegates, Obama had a bigger lead over Clinton as of today than Clinton has over Sanders, by almost 30 delegates), and this race is far from over. Back in 2008, Obama beat Clinton about 60/40 in both Wisconsin and Wyoming, while this year Sanders is likely to win Wyoming by an even larger margin, and Wisconsin will probably be very competitive.

New York's closed primary on April 19 is the race to watch in the next few weeks, though. A lot of Sanders' biggest strengths will be poorly-matched to this state. He runs very strongly with new voters, and with independent voters, but New York's primaries are closed, so only registered Democrats can vote. The last day to register was this past Friday, and Sanders' official campaign office didn't open in New York until this weekend, so from here it's just a matter of making his case to those who are already registered as Democrats. Several volunteer groups have done tremendous work registering new voters over the past several months, but even those efforts were stymied by New York's labyrinthine electoral laws.

Voters who were previously registered to vote as independent, or under a party other than the Democratic or Republican Party, had to change their registration to Democrat at least 30 days before the last general election, which was held on November 3, 2015. This means that if you're a registered Independent, or registered as a member of the Working Families Party (a major party in New York with automatic ballot access in countless races, but whose candidates are often the same as the Democratic Party's candidates), the last day for you to change your registration to Democrat in order to participate in the primary election on April 19 was in October, before the first Democratic debate.

New York is going to be a hard primary for Sanders, and he will probably lose it because its process is so heavily weighted in favor of the longtime Democratic establishment. If it were only the barriers to entry, it would still be a problem, but it would not be a problem much different than other closed primaries in other states. But the Working Families Party, which is in a lot of respects the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, would likely be strong supporters of Sanders, were they able to vote in the primary. In fact, the Working Families Party has endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. It is unfortunate that their endorsement came two months after the deadline to change parties.

In summary, after this weekend supporters of Senator Sanders have much to be pleased with, but the next month is going to be bumpy. Hold tight!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Yesterday Was a Good Day

I know, I know, everyone is freaking out about Helen Purcell's indescribable incompetence, and some people are even suggesting that electronic votes were flipped between Sanders and Clinton (the Mayor of Phoenix has even called for a federal investigation). Really, though, even just going off the projections of delegates based of the reported precincts just before noon today from FiveThirtyEight, Sanders is on track to get the majority of pledged delegates by June 14.

Seriously.

As I mentioned in my last post, Clinton was likely to peak soon, probably at the latest on Saturday when Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington choose their delegates. It looks like she may, in fact, have peaked on March 15. This weekend Democrats Abroad announced the results of their primary contests, which were conducted in person at 56 locations worldwide, and also by mail and e-mail. Sanders received the majority of votes in 53 locations, with Clinton winning only Nigeria, Singapore, and the Dominican Republic. Sanders won the overall vote 69% to 31%, and took away 9 pledged delegates to Clinton's 4.

Yesterday Arizona and Utah had primary elections, and Idaho held a Democratic caucus. Between them, 132 delegates were at stake. With commanding leads in Utah and Idaho (79%/20% and 78%/21%), Sanders got 45 delegates to Clinton's 11. Arizona has been counted as a victory for Clinton (although, as I mentioned above, there are questions about that election's legitimacy), but even with that victory, Clinton could not make up for the huge drubbing she received in the more northerly states. Based on FiveThirtyEights's calculations (the AP actually gives Sanders one more delegate while leaving two undecided as I am writing this), Clinton got 46 delegates and Sanders got 29.

All told, since the last Tuesday primary, Sanders has gained 83 delegates to Clinton's 61. He's pulled in 57% of the delegates that have come through since March 15 (this is still using FiveThirtyEight's delegate numbers which haven't been updated since 11:30 this morning and under report Sanders' delegates from yesterday according to the AP). As I said Friday, Sanders needed to win just over 58% of all the remaining delegates after March 15 in order to finish with a majority of pledged delegates after June 14. If the extra delegate the AP has for Sanders out of Arizona is accurate, then Sanders came in with 58.3% of the delegates that have been awarded since March 15.

This puts Sanders right on track to seize the lead pledged delegates on June 7, after California and five other states vote, and as long as he gets at least 4 of the District of Columbia's 20 delegates on June 14 (admittedly, if Clinton's lead among black voters from the Deep South shows up again in DC, it is possible that he might miss the 4-delegate mark), he would enter the convention with a majority of pledged delegates. Obviously, Clinton's lead among the super delegates represents a significant barrier for Sanders, at least in terms of the media narrative, but keep in mind that super delegates haven't voted yet, and no laws or rules require them to stay with the candidate they currently support.

Many of them are elected officials who will be running for reelection at some point. If they go against the will of their constituents, they may have to answer for that at the general election. If they go against the will of the people, they may have to answer for that at the general election. Super delegates will have about six weeks after DC's primary closes to make up their minds who they will vote for at the convention.

And that's assuming that Sanders only performs as well as he has performed on average since March 15 between now and June 14. If his performance improves (at is seems likely to do), then he may well secure a majority of pledged delegates after June 7, before DC even gets a chance to vote. It is almost impossible for Sanders to secure the majority of pledged delegates before June 7. In order to do so, he would need to win 94% of the pledged delegates between now and June 5 when Puerto Rico votes.

So keep that in mind. Even though (if) Clinton peaked on March 15, I can tell you with almost total certainty that she will not be defeated before June 7. This is going to be a long slog.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Reality Check for my Fellow Bernie Sanders Supporters

I've been seeing a lot of memes going around talking about how Barack Obama was behind Hillary Clinton eight years ago, but he still secured the nomination. I know these memes are intended to encourage supporters of Bernie Sanders not to get discouraged by Clinton's current delegate lead, and I support that goal. Less than half the pledged delegates have been assigned to date, and there is still a lot of primary to go. But let us not lose sight of the fact that pulling off a victory at this point is going to be VERY VERY DIFFICULT. Confidence and passion are good, but cockiness is unwise.

Just so we're clear, there was never a point in the 2008 campaign when Barack Obama trailed Hillary Clinton in pledge delegates. Seriously, it NEVER happened. If you count the Florida and Michigan primaries as of the dates they occurred, rather than on the dates that the DNC finally decided to permit their delegates to be seated and vote, then there was a very brief period from January 29 until February 9 when Clinton had a slight lead in pledged delegates, but it's important to keep in mind that Florida and Michigan both held their primaries before Super Tuesday in violation of DNC rules, and Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.

The smallest lead Obama ever had over Clinton was 1 delegate (after the Iowa caucuses, when Obama had 16, Clinton had 15, and Edwards had 14 - by the convention, Clinton had only 14 delegates from Iowa and Obama had 25). Thus far in the 2016 campaign, the smallest lead Clinton has had over Sanders has been -4 delegates (yes, that's negative four - Sanders led Clinton in pledged delegates from February 9 until February 20.

This year's primary election is not a complete repeat of 2008, obviously. If you want to draw a comparison, though, in terms of the electoral outcomes so far, Clinton is playing the role of Obama and Sanders is playing the role of Clinton. In 2008, Obama led Clinton in pledge delegates for the entire race, with Clinton playing catch-up. Obama's lead entered the triple-digits on February 12, after 38 of 55 contests had been held, and remained in the triple digits until the convention. His lead peaked at 151 on May 6, after 50 of 55 contests had been held.

There are about 20% more delegates this year than there were in 2008, so Obama's lead from 2008 translates to a lead of 180 delegates this year. Clinton's lead has exceeded that value since March 2, after 16 of 57 contests. As of today, 27 of 57 contests have concluded, and Clinton's pledged delegate lead, now 322, has not shown signs of having peaked.

But let's look at this race a little bit differently. Assume, if you will, the primary contests in 2008 were held in the same order they are being held this year, while also assuming the results stayed the same. If that were the case, Obama's lead on March 20 would have been 167 delegates (200 delegates if you adjust for the 20% more delegates this year). He would have peaked on April 10 with 231 delegates (276 adjusting for "inflation").

Clinton's lead as of now is more than 50% greater than Obama's was at this point in our hypothetical 2008 primary. But it's absurd to say that because Clinton wasn't able to catch up with Obama, Sanders won't be able to catch up with Clinton. Clinton spent the entire primary playing catch-up, never passing into the lead (unless you count delegates from primaries that violated DNC rules), while Sanders led in pledged delegates after New Hampshire this year. Clinton faced a Super Tuesday where 23 of the 55 contests were held, while there have barely been that many contests in total this year.

Sanders still has a path to the Presidency. Clinton's electoral coalition this year is different from Obama's in 2008, and Sanders' is different from Clinton's in 2008. This is a very different election, and we're going to see results that look very different.

The next half of the primary season, demographically, is favorable to Sanders, and we can expect him to start closing the gap soon. It may start as soon as this Tuesday, but it will certainly start by Saturday. The key to a Sanders victory this year is ensuring not only that Clinton's delegate-lead peak occur no later than March 22 (and preferably it has already occurred), but also an aggressive and swift reduction of that lead over the next three months.

If the rest of the country that hasn't voted votes more like Minnesota, Colorado, and New Hampshire, then Sanders can win. This is doable, but it will not be easy. Keep the passion, don't get discouraged, but don't get complacent, either.

Bernie Sanders is About So Much More Than "Free Stuff"

Market solutions are an excellent way of handling the production of goods and resources, but they do a lousy job of distributing them. Our economy has done a great job of increasing labor productivity, but a lousy job of returning the value of that increased productivity to the labor that produces it. There are lots of potentially-viable solutions for the economic problems we have. Increasing the minimum wage could do it. 

Minimum wage workers represent a very small fraction of the total labor force, and significant increases in the minimum wage have been shown in the past to have a smaller impact on consumer prices than they do on average wages. Higher average wages, in turn, lead to higher levels of consumption, which results in higher demand for production, which increases the demand for labor, creating (rather than destroying) jobs. Maybe the minimum wage is not the most effective means to accomplish the goal of increasing wages, though. It is, after all, a blunt tool.

Stronger protections for organized labor, however, would be a good replacement for minimum wage laws. Allowing workers to bargain collectively with their employers for higher wages and increased benefits evens the negotiating table, allowing all the parties with a stake in the success of a business to participate in determining the business's policies. This would allow for a more closely-tailored balance between the need of the workers and the profits of the owners, which is clearly a more surgical way of addressing depressed wages than a minimum wage increase.

Offering every citizen (or, perhaps, even every resident) with a guaranteed basic income and healthcare, designed to meet the minimal needs of everyday life, removes the need for people to accept a job simply because they need to afford food and shelter. This increases individual workers' ability to negotiate for better wages or working conditions, because the risk of unemployment isn't a one-way ticket to homelessness. This also removes some of the costs associated with supporting the subsistence of employees from the employers' hand, allowing them to price their salaries solely based on the value added to the business while society deliberately covers the externalities associated with those decisions.

The problem is that the Republican economic theory adopts none of these policies, and in fact opposes all three. The idea that individual unskilled workers who enter into wage agreements with sophisticated businesspersons do so on an equal basis and entirely voluntarily is a myth.

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But support for Bernie Sanders, for me, at least, goes so much deeper than the economic woes of our society (woes which I, happily, have been largely shielded from by a privileged upbringing and higher education). Bernie Sanders is the only Presidential candidate seeking the nomination of a major party who opposes interventionist foreign policy. He is the only Presidential candidate seeking the nomination of a major party who supports publicly-funded election campaigns. He is the only Presidential candidate seeking the nomination of a major party who does not take money from billionaires to fund his campaign. All of these things mean something very meaningful to me, and none of these things have anything to do with wanting "free stuff."