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.

No comments:

Post a Comment