Nevada Caucuses Go as Expected

Media overreacts to the Sanders victory all the polls predicted.

When several news alerts to my phone announced that Bernie Sanders had won the Nevada Caucuses, I had little reaction. It would, after all, have been shocking if he hadn’t.

But the press headlines this morning are treating it as a major surprise or development in the race.

The New York Times‘ main story is headlined “Bernie Sanders Wins Nevada Caucuses, Strengthening His Primary Lead” and carries the subhed “His triumph will provide a burst of momentum that may make it difficult for the still-fractured moderate wing of the Democratic Party to slow his march to the nomination.” The lede:

Senator Bernie Sanders claimed a major victory in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday that demonstrated his broad appeal in the first racially diverse state in the presidential primary race and established him as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

In a significant show of force, Mr. Sanders, a liberal from Vermont, had a lead that was more than double his nearest rivals with 50 percent of the precincts reporting, and The Associated Press named him the winner on Saturday evening.

His triumph in Nevada, after strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, will propel him into next Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, and the Super Tuesday contests immediately thereafter, with a burst of momentum that may make it difficult for the still-fractured moderate wing of the party to slow his march.

The Washington Post is more restrained with “Bernie Sanders decisively wins Nevada caucuses.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders won a resounding victory in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, providing another boost to an insurgent campaign that is challenging the Democratic establishment and stifling the plans of rivals who still hold out hope of stopping him.

Sanders’s advantage in Nevada was overwhelming, with substantial leads in nearly every demographic group, allowing him to set down a marker in the first state with a significant share of nonwhite voters. Sanders expanded the electorate by attracting relatively large numbers of first-time caucus-goers, providing momentum as the race shifts into a critical stretch over the next 10 days.

He prevailed among those with college degrees and those without; those living in union and nonunion households; and in every age group except those over 65. He won more than half of Hispanic caucus-goers — almost four times as much support as his nearest rival, former vice president Joe Biden — and even narrowly prevailed among those who identified as moderate or conservative. Despite attacks on his health proposal by the powerful Culinary Union, he won in caucus sites filled with union members.

USA Today goes with “Bernie Sanders scores a commanding victory and other takeaways from the Nevada caucuses.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders cemented his frontrunner status in the Democratic primary Saturday with his huge victory in the Nevada caucuses.

The Vermont senator, who has been leading in national polling and in several state polls, heads into South Carolina and Super Tuesday with a lead in pledged delegates to be the Democratic nominee. A candidate needs 1,991 pledged delegates to become the party’s nominee. He won New Hampshire and was in the top two in Iowa.

After news organizations projected a Nevada win for Sanders, he declared his movement “unstoppable.”

This result has also spawned numerous reaction pieces about Sanders’ inevitability. Even Nate Silver, whose algorithm has been predicting that no one will win a majority of delegates going into the convention, headlined his post “Bernie Sanders Wins Nevada — Putting Him In The Driver’s Seat To Win The Nomination.”

Now, it’s true that, with roughly half the votes counted, Sanders looks to have won really big. He’s standing at something like 45%, with the next set of candidates clustered in the mid-teens.

But Sanders has been expected to win in a blowout for a while now. The RealClearPolitics average of Nevada polls—of which, granted, there weren’t all that many—had Sanders at 32.5 and Buttigieg, Biden, and Warren clustered in the mid-teens. Silver’s 538 had Sanders at 30.2, Buttigieg and Biden in the mid-teens, and Warren at 11.

So . . . the night went pretty much as expected.

Sanders had a very good night in the first diverse state contested. But Nevada only awards 36 delegates–five fewer than Iowa.

There’s a strong argument at this point that Klobuchar, who is expected to have yet another poor showing in South Carolina, should drop out and endorse another candidate rather than continue to divide the “moderate” slate. But, otherwise, I don’t see how anything has changed from what we knew yesterday afternoon.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Teve says:

    I’m trying to look on the bright side, on the off chance that Sanders becomes the nominee, he did really well with Hispanics, and there are 55 million Hispanics in the US.

  2. James Joyner says:


    They are commenting on the magnitude of the win, which was surprising.

    Probably. But we only have 50 percent or so of the votes even counted at this point.

  3. wr says:

    Lot of people screaming that this will be a replay of 1972. After watching Bernie speak yesterday, and seeing how he’s connected to young and minority voters, I wonder if maybe there isn’t a different year we should be looking at — 1980.

    In 1976, the party’s establishment barely fought off a challenge by the radical wing led by a charismatic candidate surrounded by scores of dedicated true believers. That radical spent the next four years preparing for the next election, and even though many still believed he was too extreme for the country he swept into office and realigned politics for decades to come.

    That radical, of course, was Ronald Reagan…

  4. James Joyner says:


    That radical, of course, was Ronald Reagan…

    I wasn’t quite 15 when Reagan was elected and was an enthusiastic supporter. Yes, he was widely considered too radical at the time, even by many establishment Republicans. But he not only won an Electoral College landslide but had significant coattails, bringing in a Republican-majority Senate.

    But I don’t see Sanders as another Reagan. His policies aren’t as radical as they’re being painted, I grant you. But Reagan didn’t pout after he lost in 1976; he worked hard to get his supporters behind President Ford’s re-election. Sanders is still angry about 2016 and is making no bones that he’ll throw another tantrum if he’s denied the nomination this time. Reagan was a sunny optimist, whereas Sanders is an angry crank. Reagan had a long record as Governor of compromising with the opposition party to get deals done; Sanders has a long record as Senator of not being able to compromise even with Democrats—so much so that he’s not even willing to call himself a “Democrat” while seeking their nomination.

  5. wr says:

    I’m sorry, but where are you getting your news from? Fox? Red State?

    ” Sanders is still angry about 2016 and is making no bones that he’ll throw another tantrum if he’s denied the nomination this time. ” That’s exactly the opposite of what Bernie has been saying this entire cycle. I’m sure you’d happily explain that fine, these are the words he uses but he means the opposite…

    As for the rest, sure. Bernie is not exactly the same person as Reagan, and this is not exactly the same period as 1980. Just as Bernie is not exactly the same person as McGovern and we are not currently drafting young men to send to Vietnam.

    The similarity I do see from your comments is that even moderate Republicans hate Bernie as much as Democrats hated Reagan. “Pout.” “Crank.” “Tantrum.” Apparently Bernie is also similar to Hillary in that you hate them both so much it becomes impossible for you to apply your otherwise keen analytical mind to them and you fall back on right wing talking points.

  6. Gustopher says:

    It’s also the first contests that has Buttigieg back quite a way from Sanders. Not unexpected, but it’s the first clear win for Bernie.

    Also, WaPo has a nice breakdown of their entrance polls. I really like the bar graphs with the rising heads.

  7. Kylopod says:

    Damn, I gave Guarneri an upvote. What is the world coming to?

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    The difference between 1980 and 2020 is huge. Carter presided over an economy suffering from raging inflation and astronomical (for the US) interest rates. He also needed to campaign during the Iran hostage crisis, which fairly or not, was viewed by many as a humiliation for the US. While Trump is Trump, the economy is generally good and Tiny’s foreign policy failures aren’t evident to the typical voter.

    As James points out, Reagan was a sunny optimist who promised morning in America, at a time when the country had gone through a decade of turmoil, while Carter was the dour Calvinist who advocated turning down the heat and taking our Castor oil. Bernie of course is a hectoring, arm waving old man, who reminds many of the old codger who kept baseball when it landed in his yard. Comparing Bernie to George McGovern works better than comparing him to Reagan. Now if Bernie had FDR’s sunny countenance and promised a chicken in every pot, he might have a chance.

  9. wr says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “Now if Bernie had FDR’s sunny countenance and promised a chicken in every pot, he might have a chance.”

    Boy, political myths never die, do they. The sunnier candidate wins? How sunny was Mr. “American carnage?” Mr. “Only I Can Save You”?

  10. Jax says:

    @Guarneri: I don’t know that it was Ukraine so much as lackluster debate performances and town halls, and a general air of “not quite there like he used to be”. At least as far as “standard Democrats” go. Any “on the fence” Republicans who didn’t want to vote for Trump again were probably turned off by Ukraine, so in that respect, Trump’s gambit worked. There’s a huge amount of irony that he wasted all that political capital and got himself impeached trying to take out a competitor who probably isn’t going to be the nominee.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    The sunnier candidate wins? How sunny was Mr. “American carnage?” Mr. “Only I Can Save You”?

    He wasn’t sunny at all…but he did have the advantage of running against the second most unpopular major presidential candidate in modern history…

    As I’ve noted, idiots pushing the Ukraine BS assasinated Biden. Congratulations.

    It’s amazing how the same toadies will push anything that paints their dear leader in a positive light…as Jax notes, there were probably other reasons why Biden has stumbled, but, hey, anything to make Trump look better than he actually is…

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Any “on the fence” Republicans who didn’t want to vote for Trump

    Good point. but I’m not sure that those 10 or 12 guys can make the margin of difference needed to defeat Trump. 😉

    ETA: OR put Biden over, for that matter.