Three Reasons Why Bernie Sanders’s Underperformed on Super Tuesday

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders thinks that to beat Donald Trump, Democrats will, as he explained during the South Carolina Democratic debate, “need to bring working people back into the Democratic Party. We need to get young people voting in a way that they never have before.” Obviously, Sanders believes that his campaign is the best position to increase voter turnout, pointing out to huge number of supporters who attend his rallies or his grassroots movement’s energy.

Compared to former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, the Sanders campaign had all the advantages, entering the Super Tuesday primaries. Yet, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders underperformed and here are three reasons why.

First, and probably most important, voter turnout increased in many of the Super Tuesday’s primaries. But rather than supporting Sanders, voters by in large backed Biden, as the next graph illustrate.

The numbers for California are eye-popping. Even though California is still counting votes  — it still has to process 6% of the vote —  the lower-than-expected turnout may have hurt Sanders the most. His campaign’s plan was to win big in California to expand his small lead of pledged delegates entering Super Tuesday. Today, Biden leads with 664 delegates to Sanders’s 573.

The second reason is probably the most worrying given Sanders’s opinion that his campaign is the best positioned to turnout young voters. The exit polls show that Sanders won most voters between the ages of 17 and 44, but he did poorly with voters older than 45. While he needs to find a way to get more support with older voters, his campaign’s biggest challenge is mobilizing and turning out these voters, who stayed home. Had he been able to mobilize and turnout these voters, the outcome of Super Tuesday could have been very different. 

For instance, 18% of North Carolina’s primary-goers in 2016 were between 18 and 29. The number declined by 4% on Tuesday. In Texas, 20% of young voters participated in the primary in 2016. The turnout rate in 2020 decreased to 15%. We saw this problem for the Sanders campaign in New Hampshire were the young vote declined by 5% to 13%. Massachusetts and Virginia experienced the same drop, from 19% in 2016 to 16% in 2020.

Finally, we have assumed that Sanders has strong backing from Latinx voters. But a closer look at exit polls data shows that he has very strong support among young Latinxs and not older ones. 

The first set of graphs looks at California’s Latino vote in more detail, which represented 26% of the electorate. Sanders’s won California with 34% of the vote, while Biden received 27%. 

The exit polls estimate that Sanders’s won 49% of the Latino vote and Biden captured 22%. The Vermont Senator’s victory is explained in part by his decisive win of the Latinx vote in three out of the four age categories. But, it is important to highlight that older Latinos are less supportive of Sanders’s message. 

The story in Texas is different. while Sanders received 30% of the vote, Biden won Texas by 5% points. According to the exit polls, the Latinx voter turnout did not increase in the last four years. It represented 32% of the electorate. The next graph breaks down this group into different age categories.

Unlike California, Sanders did not do well with Latinx voters aged 45 and higher and this explains in part why he did not win Texas. 

Will Sanders win the next states with substantial Latinx voting populations? His strengths in Western states indicate he should do well in New Mexico and Arizona. But, he is going to face an uphill battle in Florida, where many Latinxs are critical of socialism. Sanders’s most immediate challenge however, is younger voters’ decision to sit out the primaries. If Sanders wants to win the next big primaries and stop Biden’s momentum, his campaign has to figure out how to turn the energy of his rallies and the passion of his grassroots movement into votes and it has to do so fast. 

Will Bernie Sanders Win the Super Tuesday Primaries? An Analysis of Recent Public Opinion Polls

I recently wrote why I thought that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic primaries in California and Texas. I noted that his win was predicated on his campaign’s ability to mobilize young and Latinx voters. If Sanders fails to turnout these voters, it is difficult to see how he can claim to be an alternative to former Vice President Joe Biden or be the best candidate to beat President Donald Trump.   

Surveys completed after Biden’s big win in the South Carolina primary show that the former Vice President is gaining ground in the polls. These numbers do not capture the possible impact of Biden’s new endorsements from his former rivals — Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris. Let’s not forget that South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden before the Palmetto state’s primary did give his campaign a much needed boost.

Let us look at the moving averages for the following states to get an idea of the state of the race going into Super Tuesday: California, Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts,  and Virginia. The next figure reminds us that these states have the most pledged delegates.

California:

Texas:

North Carolina:

Massachusetts:

Virginia: 

Analysis:

In California and Texas, Sanders’s lead has been very consistent. But it seems that his support has a ceiling in both states. The reality is that Sanders has failed to consolidate the progressive vote and this is partially due to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy.

Biden’s numbers have dramatically improved after his commanding win in the South Carolina primary. I thought before the primary that Biden’s victory would translate in modest gains on the Super Tuesday’s primaries. What my analysis failed to consider was voters’ deep desire for a candidate who can beat Trump in November. Ideological debates are not influencing their choice. They want to support a person who can win. 

Before the Iowa caucuses, Biden had a firm control over the race. His poor debate performance and his weak showings in Iowa and New Hampshire forced many voters to reconsider their support for Biden. This helped Mike Bloomberg grow his support and gave Sanders’s an opportunity to become Biden’s alternative.

After South Carolina, the Democratic establishment has lined up behind Biden. The endorsement from his rivals echo the Democratic Party’s faith that he is the best candidate to take on Trump in November. This is why Bloomberg’s support has declined. Many voters who considered voting for the former New York City Mayor have been moving towards Biden and this has raised questions about Sanders’ long-term viability.

Does this mean that Sanders is out of the race? No. He has more money than Biden and his campaign is stronger on the ground. Biden’s surge in the polls will test his campaign’s get-out-the vote operations. If he can mobilize young and Latinx voters, he will win California and build a big lead in terms of pledged delegates, which will be difficult for Biden to close. While a Sanders win in Texas is more difficult, if he can mobilize his base and pull off a victory, he will be able to show that he can take on Trump and stop Biden’s momentum. 

Sanders lets not forget  is poised to win the primaries in Vermont, Maine, Utah and Colorado. Now that Amy Klobuchar has ended her campaign, he may win Minnesota’s primary. He may win the Massachusetts primary, which may convince Elizabeth Warren to end her campaign.

Biden should win the primaries in Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma. But it is worth noting that these are states where Bloomberg could do well as well. After all, Bloomberg has built an impressive ground operation too and if he can mobilize his supporters he could limit Biden’s gains in the delegate count. As I noted in my earlier post, Biden’s financial difficulties forced him to dedicate all his campaign’s resources to South Carolina and this could hurt his chances of winning these primaries by big margins. Also, Sanders may actually gain more than 15% in all these primaries, adding delegates to his tally and helping him grow his existing lead. 

I still believe that Sanders will win the majority of the pledged delegates at stake on Super Tuesday. But, there is a good chance Biden, Bloomberg and Warren will limit the margin of this victory. 

Post-Super Tuesday the race for the Democratic nomination does not look too rosy for Sanders’s supporters. Even if Warren ends her campaign, it will be difficult to win many of the upcoming contests by big margins. If Biden can keep the race for pledged delegates close, there will be a contested convention. Given the Democratic establishment’s backing of Biden, it is difficult to see how Sanders will be able to convince superdelegates to support his presidential aspirations. This will tear the Democratic Party apart and favor Trump’s reelection chances. 

Will Bernie Sanders Win the California and Texas Primaries on Super Tuesday? His Win in Nevada Provides Clues

On March 3, 2020, 14 states and the American Samoa will hold their primaries for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Together these contests are known as Super Tuesday and they are the most consequential day in this race. 

The Democratic candidates have been competing for a majority of the 3,940 pledged delegates distributed across 57 caucuses or primaries — comprising the 50 states, 6 unincorporated territories, and Democrats Abroad. The first four contests only represent 4% of the total. At stake on Super Tuesday is 35% of the total count of pledged delegates. 

The two most important primaries, as the figure shows, will be held in California and Texas. Together they represent close to half of Super Tuesday’s haul.

Will Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders win these primaries? Polling data plus the Sanders’s win in the Nevada caucuses indicate that not only will he win these key contests, but also that he may do so by big margins.

Polling Data

The following graphs include moving averages for the main Democratic candidates in California and Texas. I collected the polling data from the RealClearPolitics website. 

The numbers suggest that Sanders will win both primaries. In California, the margin of victory could very big. While the polls capture former Vice President Joe Biden’s declining popularity after the Iowa caucuses, it also shows growth in his support after the South Carolina Democratic Debate and his commanding victory in South Carolina’s primary. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s numbers are fluctuating around 15%, which is the threshold candidates need to meet to win pledged delegates. Interestingly, while earlier polls showed gains for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, the last few polls may be a sign of her weakness entering Super Tuesday. 

Sanders’s biggest advantage is the early vote. The University of California, Berkeley’s latest poll indicates that Sanders’s leads in the early ballots by 15%. He also holds a demographic advantage over the other candidates — an issue I address more closely in the next section.

Sanders’s projected winning margin in Texas is less pronounced. The race for second place is very interesting. Bloomberg’s early strength may have been tempered by Biden’s big win in South Carolina’s Democratic primary. Could these moderate candidates thwart a Sanders’ s win? It will depend on who turnouts to vote.

The latest CNN poll shows that Sanders is struggling with voters who are 65 or more. These voters prefer Bloomberg (34%) and Biden (29%) over Sanders (11%). In contrast, 40% of voters between the ages of 18 and 49 favor the Vermont Senator.

The Racial/Ethnic Composition of California’s, Texas’s and Nevada’s Registered Voters

Sanders’s commanding victory in Nevada was very impressive. The results challenged the media narrative that Sanders’s message only resonated with young voters or very liberal ones. The entrance polls demonstrated that Sanders has been able to broaden his coalition, increasing his support among moderates and older voters.

Most importantly, Nevada was the first contest that had a sizeable non-White population. Over a third of non-White voters participated in the caucuses and Sanders won 42% of these votes. While Joe Bide won 38% of the African American vote, which represented 11% of caucus-goers, Sanders captured 28%. Most impressive was Sanders’s 50% win among Latinxs, who represented 17% of caucus-goers. 

Repeating Sanders’s strong win in Nevada will be more difficult in future contests. But his popularity among Latinx voters gives him a critical advantage in states with an active Latinx electorate. The exception to this rule may be Florida given Puerto Ricans’ and Cuban Americans’ aversion to socialism.

The next figure illustrates the racial/ethnic makeup of California’s, Nevada’s and Texas’s registered voters. The data was collected by the U.S. Census. 

Based on these numbers, will Sanders’s winning margin in California be as big as Nevada’s? Recent survey data shows that Sanders’s support among Latinxs is mixed. The poll conducted by the University of California, Berkeley finds that 51% of Latinos will vote for the Vermont Senator, while the CBS News/YouGov estimates his support to be around 30% in this voting group. 

As noted above, the race is closer in Texas. However, the NBC News/Marist poll indicates that 46% of Latinxs will vote for Sanders in the primary, while the CBS News/YouGov estimates that this support is closer to 42%.

It is clear that Sanders is poised to win both states, but the margin victory will be decided by the turnout rate among Latinx voters. 

Does Age Matter?

Nationally speaking, 60% of the Latinx voters are Millennial. Age is an important part of Sanders’s appeal to these voters. Indeed, Sanders has won the highest share of voters who are aged 17 to 44 in the first four nomination contests. Younger voters are more diverse as a study from the Pew Research Center demonstrates.

Here is a breakdown of registered voters in California, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas. 

While Biden won the South Carolina primary by a huge margin, the state’s electorate is older. Sanders’s performance with African Americans was not as strong as in Nevada, but polls suggest that his message appealed to younger African American voters. Only 29% of primary-goers in South Carolina were between the ages of 17 and 44 and Sanders won 38% of the vote, edging Biden’s 36% share. His share was higher among 17–29 group was 43.5% and Biden’s was 29.5. 

If we look at Nevada’s registered voters by age, we can see that the 18 to 44 age group is bigger in both California and Texas. These numbers bode well for the Sanders’s campaign and it is a warning for Biden’s. 

Age is an important factor that can play decisive role in the Super Tuesday primaries. If the Sanders campaign can energize and turnout young voters, who are more diverse and liberal than older voters, Sanders will not only win big in some primaries, including California and Texas, but also increase his small lead among pledged delegates.