Michigan Primary Suggests Sanders Has a Chance

If the Vermont senator can best Hillary Clinton in Michigan, more states could be at play this month.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 9
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 9 (Gage Skidmore)

The outcome of the Michigan Democratic presidential primary suggests Bernie Sanders might have a chance after all.

Although the Vermont senator did not win Michigan by a large margin, overcoming media expectations as he did on Tuesday night stands to give him the same “buzz” that a landslide would have.

How did Sanders manage it?

For one, many pollsters stopped polling several days before the primary. It can’t account for the entire discrepancy, but certainly some voters appear to have made up their minds in the final few days before the contest.

Moreover, all polling includes subjective determinations as to who will turn out to vote. These models are often less reliable for primary elections, because there is less historical data to work off of and the electorate is more volatile than in the general election.

Throw the unconventional Sanders campaign into the mix and it’s even more difficult to guess who will actually head to the polls for any given election.

The fact that Michigan was an open primary may have influenced the outcome. Of the remaining Democratic contests this month, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio are open primaries as well. All of these are major states in terms of both allocating delegates and setting the narrative.

Favorable outlook

North Carolina, which votes next week, is the final of the unquestionably “Southern” states which have so heavily favored Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state.

Ohio, Illinois and Missouri vote on the same day. Given demographic similarities with Michigan, it stands to reason that a similar “Sanders beats the polls” dynamic could be at play in Illinois and (especially) Ohio.

Three caucus states are next: Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii. Sanders has been shown to overperform in caucuses, most strikingly in Kansas and Maine.

I am definitely in the minority on this issue, even at the Atlantic Sentinel, but to my mind it is far too early to consider the Democratic race over. Aside from the substantial financial resources which the Sanders campaign has at his disposal, the senator is decidedly within striking distance of Clinton on a national basis in a contest that is not even halfway over.

Delegate race

What about that overwhelming Clinton delegate lead?

Many news outlets seem to be obscuring the facts, ignoring the distinction between regular delegates and superdelegates. But superdelegates (party officials) have not voted yet and won’t vote until the convention.

Given that every Democratic contest is to some extent proportional, Clinton’s lead among elected, pledged delegates — 760 to Sanders’ 546 by the Associated Press’ count — can certainly be overcome. And if that were to happen, there is no way the party would take the nomination away from Sanders. It didn’t in 2008.

The takeaway from Michigan: If it’s possible for the Sanders campaign to overcome a 20-point polling deficit in a major state everyone had written off, there is no reason for the senator to even think of giving up.

Leave a reply