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. 

Joe Biden’s Projected Victory in South Carolina Will Not Stop Bernie Sanders’s Surge

After poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, former Vice President Joe Biden argued that he would do better in states with more diverse electorates. His subsequent second-place finish in the Nevada caucuses supports his claims, but Bernie Sanders’s commanding victory has prompted many South Carolinians to give the Vermont Senator another look. Will Biden’s South Carolina firewall hold? Could his campaign change its fortune and find a way to win the nomination?

After poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, former Vice President Joe Biden argued that he would do better in states with more diverse electorates. His subsequent second-place finish in the Nevada caucuses supports his claims, but Bernie Sanders’s commanding victory has prompted many South Carolinians to give the Vermont Senator another look. Will Biden’s South Carolina firewall hold? Could his campaign change its fortune and find a way to win the nomination?

Polling data indicates Biden will win the South Carolina primary. The current RealClearPolitics polling average estimates that the vote will be fragmented between Biden (34%), Sanders (22%) and Steyer (14%). The rest of the field will probably fail to clear the necessary 15% of the vote needed to win a portion of the state’s 54 pledged delegates.

Can a Biden victory in the Palmetto state thwart Sanders’ momentum? It is unlikely in the short term for at least four reasons.

First, even if Biden outperforms his polls, a win will not affect Sanders’ frontrunner status. Biden’s bounce will be tempered by the fact that the Super Tuesday primaries will be held four days after South Carolina’s primary. Sanders’s lead in the national polls is so big that it is difficult to see how Biden will be able to close the gap in such a short time.

Second, The New York Times reports that Biden’s campaign is not on the ground in many of the Super Tuesday states, while Sanders has established an impressive ground game. At stake are 35% of all pledged delegates distributed along 15 contests, including primaries in California and Texas. While the Sanders campaign wants to win the South Carolina primary, its goal for the last weeks has been to win a majority of the pledged delegates on Super Tuesday. Current polls show that Sanders is leading in California and Texas. A big win in South Carolina could help Biden cut down Sanders’ small lead in Virginia and North Carolina, but given California’s 416 pledged delegates and Texas’s 228 all eyes will be on the other two states.

Third, the Biden campaign entered 2020 with the “least amount of cash on hand”. To secure a victory in South Carolina, the campaign has spent over $1 million in advertising in the state. This may explain why it is only spending a modest “six figures” on television commercials on Super Tuesday states. In comparison, Sanders has spent close to $14 million in these states. Biden has even been outspent by former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who have spent $1.6 million and $3.5 million respectively on advertising in these contests.

Fourth, Sanders has won 45 pledged delegates and Biden is in third place behind Buttigieg (25) with 15 delegates. The FiveThirtyEight Democratic Primary Forecast predicts that Sanders will win 14 of South Carolina’s delegates to Biden’s 32. To be sure Biden will celebrate his first victory, but Sanders will still be frontrunner. And once the vote is counted after Super Tuesday the margin between both candidates will widen in Sanders’s favor.

In the long term, a victory in South Carolina may boost the Biden campaign’s finances and help it craft a post-Super Tuesday game plan. Even if Klobuchar were to win her state’s caucuses on Super Tuesday, which is not guaranteed, it is unlikely she will be able to raise enough money to stay in the race. Buttigieg faces a similar predicament. As the field of candidates narrows and future primaries include more diverse group of voters, Biden will have an opportunity — however improbable — to frustrate Sanders’s presidential aspirations.

Biden’s most immediate obstacle is not Sanders, but the state of his campaign’s finances. To add insult to injury, former New York City Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, the California philanthropist, are both using their personal wealth to finance their campaign and their messages appeal to Biden’s core supporters — moderates and African American voters. If Biden fails to consolidate his support among these voting groups in the next weeks, it will be difficult, if not mathematically impossible, to close Sanders’s lead.

Biden will win the South Carolina Democratic primary. And while a “win is a win”, this victory will have a pyrrhic quality to it. Biden has spent so much time and resources protecting his firewall that his campaign has been unable to mount a serious effort to stop Sanders’ momentum or to win a majority of the pledged delegates in the Super Tuesday contests.

Did Mike Bloomberg’s Poor Performance on the 9th Democratic Debate Stalled His Momentum?

On February 25, 2020, Mike Bloomberg will participate in his second Democratic primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina. After his poor performance in the 9th Democratic Debate on February 19 in Paradise, Nevada, this could be a defining moment in the race.

While he will not be participating in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, the debate will be held a week before Super Tuesday, when 15 states, including California and Texas, will hold their primaries and the eight candidates will compete for 34% of all the pledged delegates.

How bad was Bloomberg’s performance in the Nevada debate? Recent evidence suggests that his momentum has stalled. This does not mean that Bloomberg is out of the race. But his path to victory may be more difficult if he has another lackluster performance in the upcoming debate. 

Before we look at two metrics that show Bloomberg’s decreasing popularity, it is important to point out that more than 33 million saw the debate. To put this figure in perspective, 11 million viewers watched each of the previous two debates.

Bloomberg’s Polling Averages

Before the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden enjoyed a big lead in the polls, followed by Bernie Sanders. Biden’s centrist positions appealed to many Democrats but weak showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary raised questions about his electability and his long-term viability. 

Unsure about Sanders’ progressive policies and as a reaction to his growing popularity, many Democrats see Bloomberg as an alternative to Biden, Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar.

The following graph charts Bloomberg’s increasing popularity before the debate and also his decreasing support after. The gray vertical line depicts February 19, 2020  —  the date of the Nevada Democratic Debate. 

While his support has dropped, it is important to note that only two nationals polls were conducted after the debate. The survey conducted by CBS News/YouGov estimates his support at 13%. The Morning Consult/Politico Poll conducted before and after the debate indicates that Bloomberg’s support fell from 20% to 17%. To be sure, these two polls do not represent a trend, but they do point out that Democrats are questioning his electability.

Bloomberg’s Social Media Followers

In a post I wrote after the New Hampshire debate, I explained why political campaigns are trying to grow their social media followings. 

When I started to track Bloomberg’s following on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at the end of November 2019, he had 2.3 million followers on Twitter and 233,891 on Instagram. Facebook provides us two measures: Page Likes and Page Follows. He had 762,190 page likes and 766,443 page follows.

Today, his Facebook measures are 891,955 and 933,644 respectively. He currently has close to 2.7 million Twitter followers and 420,262 on Instagram. 

The next graph measures the change in followers for each social media network. The gray line depicts February 19, 2020  —  the date of the Nevada Democratic Debate. 

We can clearly see sharp drops in the number of followers on Facebook and Instagram after February 19, 2020. The decrease in Twitter is less pronounced, but still noteworthy.

Can Bloomberg Regain His Groove?

While Bloomberg’s momentum has stalled, he has an opportunity to right the ship. Sanders’ overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses has rattled the Democratic Party’s leadership. Many moderate Democrats are still searching for an alternative to Sanders.

However, Elizabeth Warren’s attacks during the last debate undermined his credibility among women, Latinxs and African Americans. It is difficult to see how Bloomberg can win a majority of pledged delegates in the Super Tuesday contests without the support of these three voting groups. This is why a strong performance in the upcoming South Carolina debate is critical.

Could Candidates’ Visits to New Hampshire Indicate Who Will Win the Democratic Primary?

Introduction:

In the last Democratic Debate, Joe Biden noted in regards to his fourth place finish in the Iowa caucuses and his chances of winning the New Hampshire primary: “I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here. Traditionally, Bernie won by about 20 points last time, and usually it’s the neighboring senators that do well.” In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s surrogates dismissed Bernie Sanders’ victory as “a matter of geography”. These statements are problematic in two levels. 

First, in 2020, Bernie Sanders is not the only candidate from New England in the race. While Clinton did not win the primary in 2016, she pulled off a surprise victory in 2008. Thus, she should have been able to compete against Sanders in 2016. Second, these views are an insult to New Hampshire voters’ intellect. Primary-goers proudly study the candidates’ positions very carefully, they expect candidates to spend a lot of time answering their questions, and they usually make-up their minds late in the game.

In this post, I will look at the candidates’ campaign events in the Granite State, especially those events that took place after the Iowa caucuses. To try to gauge the popularity of these events, I tap on data collected on each candidate’s Facebook page, which includes information on the number of Facebook users (i.e. guests) who demonstrated an interest in many of these events. 

The Data:

I scraped the data on campaign events from the NECN’s 2020 New Hampshire Candidate Tracker. I cross-referenced each event with the list of event indexed in the candidates’ Facebook page. I then collected the number Facebook users who said they would attend these events. 

It is important to add two caveats at this point. The Facebook “event guests” data does not represent the total number of people that attend an event. I suspect that the number of attendees is higher as the candidates use many tools to advertise their events. I use these data to help us make sense of each candidate’s support in Facebook. Second, the events listed in the Candidate Tracker are not included in some candidates’ Facebook pages. In these cases, I relied on the NECN’s reporting to construct my dataset.

My dataset also classifies each event into different types, including “town halls”, “rallies”, “speeches” and so forth. Although this analysis will not use these data points, the dataset includes specific information of the venues that hosted these events and the time of day. 

Who Will Likely Win the Primary?

Before we start our analysis, the RealClearPolitics average indicates that Bernie Sanders will more than likely win the primary. Pete Buttigieg should place second, while Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and former Vice President Joe Biden compete for third place. The rest of the field is in the single digits. 

Given this forecast, we should expect that the leading candidates organized more events than the weaker ones. But this is not the case. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is expected to receive around 3% of the vote, held 126 events since she announced her candidacy last year. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who is likely to get less than 1% of the vote, held 82 events.

It is worth highlighting that the Biden campaign organized only 42 events in New Hampshire since April 2019. This is the lowest number of appearances for one of the major contenders in my dataset. 

Rather than looking at all of New Hampshire’s campaign events, I focus on those events held in January and February of this year. In addition, given their low polling average, this does not include events for the following candidates: Bennet, the philanthropist Tom Steyer, and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.

Total Number of 2020 Campaign Events Per Candidates:

The next figure summarizes each campaign’s events for January and February 2020. In line with the figures above, Yang and Gabbard organized more events than their counterparts. For Gabbard, a poor showing in New Hampshire will more than likely end her presidential hopes and it may explains why she devoted some much time and resources in the state. 

Yang’s long-term prospects are better than Gabbard’s but it is not clear why he organized so many events. The polling average suggests that he will win around 4% of the vote. Does his internal polling suggest he receive a higher share of the vote?

Geographical Distribution of 2020 Campaign Events:

The next map shows that most of the events were held in the counties bordering Massachusetts, were the majority of the state’s residents live. More specifically, 76 events were held in Hillsborough County, where the city of Manchester is located, closely followed by 30 events in Merrimack County and 24 in Rockingham County. The candidates did not visit Coos County this year, though several candidates held events in this part of the state last year. 

In the last days of the primary, the candidates concentrated most of their time and resources in Manchester and Concord. This following bar graph shows that Yang visited many of the listed towns and cities. The same applies to Buttigieg, Sanders and Klobuchar. In contrast, the Biden campaign prioritized more densely populated communities over rural areas. It indicates that the former vice president may have difficult connecting with rural voters. 

Which Candidate Held the Most Events in February?

Most of the candidates participated in at least two events per day. The exception is February 7, 2020, as most of the candidates used this day to prepare for the debate. As expected, the majority of campaign events since the Iowa caucuses took place in the last days of the race. 

Yang appeared in 28 events, while Sanders had 22 and most of these took place in the last three days of the race.

Main types of campaign events and their popularity:

Town halls are the most popular type of campaign events in my dataset. The events labeled as “speech” include events or forums, where the candidate was been invited to speak. Not included in this graph are informal “meet and greets”, canvassing events and so forth. What can we learn from these data?

The candidates with the least recognition — Gabbard and Yang — held the most town halls in January and February. The Klobuchar campaign organized more rallies than town halls, which is surprising given her strong debate performance.

 In contrast, it is not accidental that the Biden campaign favored rallies to town halls as the former Vice President has in the past confronted attendees who have asked questions about his son’s connection to a Ukrainian gas company or challenged participants who questioned his electability. 

What type of activities did the campaigns selected in the closing days of the primaries? And which events attracted the most attention? To answer these questions let’s look at the collected Facebook data. 

Keeping in mind that the Facebook Guests data are not representative and that many more people attended these events, Sanders seems to have received the most total support. Nonetheless, Yang’s numbers are very impressive too. But if we average the total number of guests by the type of events, his popularity declines relative to the rest of the field. 

To gauge each candidate’s popularity, we can average the number of Facebook guests who expressed interests one of these types of events (i.e. see second column in the graph above). Although these data are noisy, these findings are in line with the primary’s forecasted outcome. 

Concluding Remarks:

In this short analysis, I have used different data points try to measure the campaign’s overall strengths and the candidates’ popularity. In reaction to Biden’s opinion that New Hampshire voters prefer New England candidates over nominees from others part of the country, this analysis shows that this is not the case. Sanders’ popularity is an outcome of his high name recognition as well as his campaign’s organizational capacities. 

It will be interesting whether the forecasts are correct. While Facebook data are not representative, they could be one way to measure and contrast candidates’ level of popularity. This is an area for further exploration and it will be interesting to see how this analysis applies to events data from Iowa or the upcoming nomination contests in Nevada and South Carolina, which require the candidates to spend some time in those states engaging voters.

Is Pete Buttigieg Surging in New Hampshire?

My Twitter feed was abuzz with videos and pictures of long lines of people waiting to see one of Pete Buttigieg’s rallies in New Hampshire.

Could Buttigieg pull off a surprise win in the New Hampshire primary? I collected all the polls conducted this year. In addition, I have calculated the average scores. To help us visualize the trends, I graphed these findings.

Here are a few quick observations:

1. Even though Buttigieg’s support has increased since his finish in Iowa, Bernie Sanders still leads by an average of 5%.

2. Buttigieg’s post-Iowa bounce seems to have subsided and Sanders’ support seems to be growing.

3. Buttigieg’s rise is not a threat to Sanders but to Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar, who share his more moderate positions. Sanders’ main challenger is Elizabeth Warren. Thus, Buttigieg’s gains or loses are not necessarily affecting Sanders’s standing in the race. 

4. Biden’s declining support explains why he has decided to reorganize his campaign. Failing to finish in the top three will hurt his campaign’s fundraising operations or its get-out-the-vote efforts in Nevada or South Carolina.

5. Klobuchar’s increasing support is modest, but it parallels Buttigieg’s small decline. As I noted in an earlier post, she had a strong performance in the last debate and it seems that voters are giving her candidacy a second look.

6. Warren’s fluctuations are also interesting. The graph indicates that she will come in third in the primary. Her sagging numbers seemed to have hurt her fundraising efforts and it may explain why her campaign has canceled television ads in Nevada and South Carolina, saving precious resources for the Super Tuesday primaries.

At this point, I think that Sanders will win the New Hampshire primary, but Buttigieg could still pull off an upset. The latest CNN/UNH poll still shows that 28% of likely voters are still undecided. But, the Sanders campaign’s organizational advantage in New Hampshire should help the Vermont senator secure the victory.