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 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.