The Magnitude of Sanders’ Win

It comports with the polling.

“Bernie Sanders 2016” by Shelly Prevost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the comment thread of James Joyner’s post on Sanders’ Nevada caucus win, the issue of the magnitude of the win was raised as an explanation of what was driving the media coverage of the outcome. To wit: most reporting shows Sanders at 46% while he was polling at 32.5% in the RCP average and 30.5% at FiveThirtyEight (as James noted in his post).

At first glance, that 46% number looks like a major out-performance of the polls. However, a second glance is needed because the 46% is not of the vote, it is of the county delegate count. Moreover, that delegate count is the result of final preferences being taken into account, not just first preferences:*

Source: NYT

If we look at the first preference vote total (33.2%) we see that the polling was pretty accurate (especially for the notoriously difficult to poll Nevada caucus process). The RCP average was off by 0.7% and 538 was off by 2.7% (note that 40% of the vote is yet to be counted as per the NYT report above, so these are not the final numbers).

So, James’ headline, Nevada Caucuses Go as Expected is, to quote Mona Lisa Vito from My Cousin Vinny, “dead-on balls accurate” (to use, no doubt, the political science term).

Really, what we are seeing in the media regarding Nevada is a version of the same thing I noted in Iowa: a simplistic view of the process. Now, unlike in Iowa, there is no doubt that Sanders is the big winner here (although, in terms of delegates, not the sole winner). But, there is a lack of sophistication in how the process is reported and understood broadly (whether it be delegate counts or the fact that the results are based on final alignments and not just first preferences). While, yes, Bernie is the big winner, his actual first preference position is about a third of support of Nevadans who participated. Even when get to the final preference count, the support is still less than 40%.

I would note that the system continues to be semi-proportional due to the 15% threshold.** I would note, too, that the ranked aspect is incomplete because the process does not actually reallocate lower-ranked candidates enough to get to a 50%+1 winner. (Indeed, the ballots only required ranking the first three and the reallocation was less ranked-choice and more just realignment in the room).

To be clear: I am not trying to downplay the fact that Sanders was successful in Nevada. I agree with James’ other post that he is in the driver’s seat for the nomination at the moment. But I cannot help but continue to be more than a tad frustration at the coverage (recognizing that it is the normal way this stuff is covered, although every four years the drama seems to tick up) as well as with the insane nature of the process itself.

On that last point: it is difficult to look at a process that is so heavily predicated on sequential events in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada and say that it is anywhere near to a rational means to select a nominee.


*For detailed info on the Nevada process, see: Learn how to Caucus in Nevada. See, also, Precinct 1612: How Democrats caucused in one classroom at Durango High School.

**For more on that, see Matthew Shugart’s post: The strategic voters’ nightmare that is US Democrats’ “proportional” system

FILED UNDER: Bernie Sanders, Campaign 2020, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ll be damned if I see who stops him. The moderate lane remains clogged with Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg splitting the vote. Bernie is going to take California, Texas and Massachusetts on Super T. Klobuchar will be lucky to hold Minnesota. What then will be the counter-argument to Sanders? A Buttigieg win in Virginia? A Bloomberg win in Oklahoma?

    The only way to stop Bernie now is at the convention, where an anyone but Bernie move will alienate a big portion of his voters and probably spell doom – unless somehow Warren is the ABB choice.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Steven

    At first glance, that 46% number looks like a major out-performance of the polls. . . . If we look at the first preference vote total (33.2%) we see that the polling was pretty accurate (especially for the notoriously difficult to poll Nevada caucus process). The RCP average was off by 0.7% and 538 was off by 2.7% (note that 40% of the vote is yet to be counted as per the NYT report above, so these are not the final numbers).

    Huge point there. And, while I get that the media coverage is designed to generate excitement to keep people watching/reading/clicking, you’d think the analysts at the big boy outlets would umderstand this.

  3. @James Joyner:

    you’d think the analysts at the big boy outlets would umderstand this.

    You’d think, but in truth, it is clear that the plurality paradigm is so entrenched that these conversations all tend to get boiled down to “the most” and “winner.”

  4. Also: despite increased attention in recent cycles to the delegate issue, the coverage really glides over it all.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes. Honestly this may be the worst possible way to run the primary system. We have the horse race aspect of old, with two unrepresentative states up front. Followed by one-week-apart contests that don’t winnow the field fast enough. Indeed, with South Carolina coming the Saturday before Super Tuesday there’s no time to reset. And there are too many delegates allocated that day for winnowing after to matter.

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  6. @James Joyner: It is a true mess.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    It’s amazing that the votes of just under 150,000 people across 3 relatively inconsequential states, in a country of 350,000,000, could very well decide the Democratic nominee for president…”mess” isn’t a strong enough word to describe this process…

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  8. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Indeed. And it’s just insane that after only three out of 56 primaries and caucuses, the nomination appears all but decided.

    I am beginning to think the American political process writ large is irrevocably broken, and I shudder to think what that might mean.

  9. Mister Bluster says:

    Marianne Williamson endorses Bernie Sanders for president

    One of her tweets from 2012
    We should start sending light/ posting angels around all polling places now. Massive forcefield needed to counter voter intimidation efforts.

    I’m sure this will work.
    Maybe it has already.

    US intelligence briefer appears to have overstated assessment of 2020 Russian interference

  10. Teve says:

    @Mikey:

    Dixie + Exit == Dixit?

  11. Mikey says:

    @Mister Bluster: From the CNN piece:

    dealmaker

    That’s not IC talk, that’s White House talk.

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Mikey:

    And it’s just insane that after only three out of 56 primaries and caucuses, the nomination appears all but decided.

    Um… I think it’s premature to say the nomination is at all all but decided.

    We’ve never had someone like Bloomberg skip the first few primaries and do a massive, unrelenting ad buy for the rest. We have no idea whether that will succeed, because we have nothing to compare it to.

    We haven’t gotten to Biden’s strong state and the inevitable media proclamation of it now suddenly being a two or three way race.

    Klobuchar has yet to throw a stapler at anyone’s head. Mayor Pete hasn’t done whatever Mayor Pete is going to do (probably duck that stapler?)

    All we know right now is that Bernie roughly tied in one primary next to his home state, and one caucus, and won another caucus outright. And Warren seems to be underperforming, which makes me sad. And the schedule is a complete clusterfuck that makes a contested convention more likely than most years.

  13. Jc says:

    It’s simple. After Romney lost to Obama, you got Trump. After Hillary lost to douchebag, you get Bernie. People are not picking up on the exasperation. It’s time. It is Bernie’s time, win or lose.

  14. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    Um… I think it’s premature to say the nomination is at all all but decided.

    I agree it’s premature. Still, it’s hard to think of any cycle in the modern era in which the front-runner around this point in the race (just as the early contests were finishing up) didn’t go on to be the nominee. There were several cycles that seemed to drag on for quite some time with an insurgent candidate trying to stop the front-runner, and some people believing it was just on the brink of happening–1992 with Jerry Brown, 2008 with Hillary Clinton, 2012 with Rick Santorum, 2016 with Ted Cruz–but none of them ended with the front-runner getting knocked out.

    Obviously, just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen now. But we need to maintain perspective. Sanders is the front-runner, and I think he’s the likeliest to become the nominee.

  15. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:
  16. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Ducking staplers chucked at you is a valid life skill.

  17. @Gustopher:

    We’ve never had someone like Bloomberg skip the first few primaries and do a massive, unrelenting ad buy for the rest. We have no idea whether that will succeed, because we have nothing to compare it to.

    At the moment, I would argue that Bloomberg’s presence actually helps Bernie, as Bloomberg is just making it all the harder for anti-Bernie support to coalesce around an alternative.

    Bloomberg doesn’t pull support from Bernie. He pulls support from everyone else.

    @Kylopod:

    I agree it’s premature. Still, it’s hard to think of any cycle in the modern era in which the front-runner around this point in the race (just as the early contests were finishing up) didn’t go on to be the nominee.

    Exactly. Yes, things could change, but there is no doubt that Bernie is in the best position at the moment.

  18. Tyrell says:

    Senator Sanders says that he would use foreign aid money as a leverage on Israel’s policies toward Palestine. Where’s Adam Schifft? He needs to make a bunch of his speeches about it.
    “Quid pro quo’: Bernie Sanders wants to end ‘carte blanche’ aid to Israel” (John Gage)

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  19. @Tyrell: Are you sincerely unable to differentiate between using aid as tool of policy (in public) as opposed to using aid to leverage personal gain (in private)?

  20. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Jc:

    It’s simple. After Romney lost to Obama, you got Trump. After Hillary lost to douchebag, you get Bernie. People are not picking up on the exasperation. It’s time. It is Bernie’s time, win or lose.

    This times 10. It amazes me how many experts and centrists still don’t understand the depths of the frustration and anger out there. Both parties can point to high level indicators like the stock market or unemployment rate, but if you aren’t in the top 10% or so (and especially the top 2-3%), the economy has been leaving people behind for 30 years and they are frustrated beyond belief.

    I absolutely agree Trump was hardly the answer, that in fact the entire Republican dogma since the 80’s is primarily to blame, and that even centrist D’s have much better plans for addressing the problem. But you simply cannot be connected to “moderates”, the “establishment”, or Wall Street billionaires and match the frustrated left wing Bernie base. Which, like Trump’s base, has gotten to the point where they just want to blow the system up. And why not, it’s not working for them, and hasn’t been for a long time (and that includes the Obama and Clinton years).

    I’m not a Bernie fan, but unless African Americans break huge for Biden in SC, Bernie is going to win for the same reason Trump annihilated the R’s in 2015/2016. Sheer, massive, frustration. Of course, not a fan of Biden either, so as usual my vote will be against someone (Trump of course) than for anyone but I’m used to that. The only candidate I’ve ever voted FOR in my life (as opposed to against someone else) was Obama, and sadly (and infuriatingly) he was stonewalled by the worst party politics since the 1800’s.

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  21. Teve says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: Reagan produced a large number of Republicans that statisticians have said are basically going to be funeral homed out of the system by about 10 years from now. All the younger demographics are strongly Democratic.

    Maybe that’ll happen and the whole system will get to be reformed, or maybe we’ll have a political crisis and America in its present form doesn’t survive.

    ETA Not all of them will be dead in 10 years, of course, but enough of them that they won’t be able to win anymore with the current program.