Swing State Pres

Monday, March 2, 2020

BTRTN Super Tuesday Preview: Bernie Wins Big, But Biden Keeps it More Than Close Enough

Tom previews the Super Tuesday primaries, including our BTRTN predictions – and then looks ahead at the implications of the outcome. 

The key question for Super Tuesday is a simple one:  how big a bounce will Joe Biden receive, by virtue of his mammoth win in South Carolina?  Because this, in turn, will define the size of the lead Bernie Sanders will have, and that, in turn, will dictate whether it is all over (if that gap is huge) or whether Biden has a chance to make it a race over the balance of the primary season, or at the convention, if it’s close enough.

The field narrowed quickly after South Carolina.  Tom Steyer withdrew right after the South Carolina results, Pete Buttigieg followed suit on Sunday, and Amy Klobuchar left just a few hours ago.  Steyer, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren have all had their moments, but the Nevada and South Carolina results essentially removed any remaining rationales for their candidacies.  (Tulsi Gabbard, the other remaining candidate, has never had a rationale for her candidacy, and should have dropped out far earlier with the rest of the “never weres.”)

The four remaining candidates, Sanders, Biden, Bloomberg and Warren, are all septuagenarians.  And it is likely that ultimately (and soon) the field will further narrow down to Sanders versus Biden, two white men, the younger of whom is 77 years old.   This is remarkable for a party famous for its broad tent, its youthful slant (the party of forty-somethings JFK, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama), and the party for whom coalition building is crucial to its electoral success.  And the party that has nominated the first African-American and the woman presidential candidates in the last three cycles.


SOUTH CAROLINA POST-MORTEM

Suffice to say, Joe Biden did all he had to do, and much more, in South Carolina.  In securing nearly 50% of the vote and achieving a 30 percentage-point win, Biden greatly over performed the polls, which suggested a high-30% range for Biden and a roughly 15-point win.  It was quite a performance, and quite obviously most of the people who decided in the final days went for Biden.

The Sanders camp had not given up on this state.  Sanders spent considerable time in South Carolina, with no illusions that he would overtake Biden, but to minimize the size of the win.  Of note, South Carolina is an open primary, and there was no GOP primary, so there was some GOP/Trump effort to get South Carolinian Republicans to go to the polls and vote for Sanders, who they feel is the far easier candidate to beat than Biden.

But to no avail, as Biden swept the state, including every single county.

We at BTRTN were on to the sizable Biden win, but under-called it.  We also accurately predicted the exact rank order of the candidates.

South Carolina
BTRTN Prediction %
Actual %
Delegates*
Biden
38
48
33
Sanders
25
20
11
Steyer
13
11
0
Buttigieg
12
8
0
Warren
7
7
0
Klobuchar
3
3
0
Gabbard
2
1
0
Other
0
1
0
*Per AP/NYT; more delegates to be allocated as results finalize

These were disappointing results for every candidate other than Biden – actually, a death blow for Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar and Steyer.  For the first three, this was their chance to consolidate whatever momentum they had generated from their high points:  Buttigieg’s win in Iowa and close second in New Hampshire, Klobuchar’s surprising third place finish in New Hampshire, and Warren’s outstanding Nevada debate performance.  Each of them also had something to prove with respect to attracting people of color to their cause, and they all failed. 

Steyer’s story was different.  He was a virtual non-entity in the first three contests, but had targeted South Carolina, banking on a long personal history of walking the walk with the African-American community.  But like the others, he had to make a dent in either Bernie’s support (Steyer is truly a progressive) or Biden’s (with the African-Americans); he did neither, and promptly exited.  I suspect that Steyer, with his near-unlimited personal wealth, will continue to be a force through the power of the wallet.

Biden reestablished his campaign, and it was interesting to hear Jim Clyburn, who issued his endorsement on Wednesday, making it clear that the Biden campaign had to step up its game, and he would have a strong voice in that.

Thus Biden not only lives to fight another day, but he steps into the role of being the only contender who can possibly stop Sanders.  Biden, unlike Bloomberg, has now shown viability at the ballot box, core strength with minority voters, a sharply improved debate performance – and, even before South Carolina, he was ahead of Bloomberg in most Super Tuesday polls..

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, perhaps Biden has also found a new approach.  His post-South Carolina speech (like his CNN town hall several nights ago) led more with his heart and his compassion than his experience and track record.  He finally found a way to speak in his more natural style – softer, slower, more emotionally – a gentler tone that contrasts sharply with both Sanders and Trump.  In short, Joe Biden may finally have found himself.


SUPER TUESDAY PREVIEW

The math of Super Tuesday is quite stark.  It is possible for Bernie Sanders to amass a big enough lead over the field to effectively close the contest.  It is extremely difficult to overcome a big lead when the primaries allocate delegates proportionately, rather than in a winner-take-all fashion.  Plus, Sanders has his strongholds in New England and the west that will give him victories down the road.

No one understands the unforgiving nature of delegate math better than Bernie Sanders.  In 2016, after Super Tuesday, he trailed Hillary Clinton by 191 delegates, largely on the strength of her win in delegate-rich Texas (California was not in Super Tuesday that year).  He won four of the next six primaries, including in the largest of those states by far, Michigan.  But because his win in Michigan was close, he picked up only +4 net delegates there, and overall lost ground, trailing by 209 delegates.  He then lost seven in a row and the gap with Clinton grew to over 300; then he won six out of seven and sliced the gap to 213.  That was as close as he came; ultimately Clinton defeated him in the primaries by almost 400 delegates, and won the nomination outright.

Biden’s entire game is to keep the Super Tuesday gap as low as possible, and the key to that is not necessarily “winning” races but rather in the “margin” game – when you win, win big, when you lose, lose by a little, and, critically, exceed that 15% threshold.  If you do not achieve 15% of the vote in the state, you are shut out of the state-wide delegates who are otherwise allocated proportionately.  (This is also true for those delegates earned at the district level.)  And with so many candidates, there are many races where the 15% threshold comes into play.

Sanders is only a few delegates ahead of Biden right now (56 to 48, according to AP, and Biden will likely pick up more delegates in South Carolina, which has not completed its allocation process yet).  If Sanders ended Super Tuesday with a 200+ delegate lead, that would be tough to overcome.  On the other hand, Biden would be thrilled if the gap was in the 100+ range.  Our forecast is that it will be somewhere in the middle.

Before we get into our preview, let’s outline some caveats with the data on hand:

·        Overall there has been no polling that was fielded entirely after the South Carolina results, thus it is very difficult to determine evidence of a Biden “bounce,” or the magnitude of it.  A Morning Consult “pre/post” national poll shows a +7 percentage point bump among Democratic primary voters, taking three points from Sanders.

·        There has been extensive polling in California, Texas and North Carolina, four polls in Virginia, but only a few in most of the rest, and none in Tennessee and Alabama.

·        The impact of the Buttigieg, Steyer and Klobuchar departures is unknown, each having come in the last 48 hours.  Their supporters do not necessarily stay within their “lanes” and also – I would think, given the lateness of their departures, they will all likely still be on the ballots.

·        As stated, there are a number of candidates in a number of states hovering in the 15% range; falling below or above makes a huge difference; for instance, getting north of 15% in California could mean 30+ delegates to Warren, coming from Sanders and Biden.

These caveats make it more difficult to predict Super Tuesday outcomes with supreme confidence, but we go forward with this reasoned analysis nonetheless.


SUPER TUESDAY PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

Super Tuesday consists of 14 primaries and the American Samoa caucuses, with a total of 1,344 delegates at stake, about one-third of the 3,979 pledged delegate total.  (Democrats Abroad begin voting on March 3, and continue until March 10, so sometimes you see this contest and their 21 delegates included in Super Tuesday totals.)

Here are the BTRTN headlines on the outcomes:

·        Bernie Sanders will be the big winner, with a haul of well over 500 delegates and approaching the 550 range.  Sanders will win California by a substantial margin, hitting 40%, top that off with wins in home-state Vermont, Utah and Colorado, and perhaps in Massachusetts, Maine and Minnesota as well.  Importantly, he will achieve the 15% threshold everywhere.

·        But Joe Biden will score in the 400+ delegate range, a total thought to be nearly impossible just a few days ago.  Biden’s win in South Carolina will give him victories in a number of states with relatively large African-America voting populations in the south – North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama – and he just may squeak out a win in Texas as well.  But these will all be relatively close races, none by wide enough margins to offset Sanders’ more lopsided wins out west.  Even if Biden loses some or many of these races, it will not affect the delegate count too much, but it could affect donor excitement and campaign morale. 

·        Mike Bloomberg – on the ballot for the first time -- and Elizabeth Warren will each come in with roughly 200 delegates, but no wins.  Both are hanging around the 15% mark in a number of states, so there could be considerable variance in their vote counts if they cross that threshold in multiple races.

SUPER TUESDAY VOTING % ESTIMATE

Contest
Biden
Bloomberg
Sanders
Warren
Other
California
23%
15%
45%
15%
3%
Texas
34%
16%
32%
14%
4%
N. Carolina
38%
19%
27%
12%
4%
Virginia
32%
18%
30%
15%
5%
Mass.
22%
14%
33%
26%
6%
Minnesota
24%
9%
38%
20%
9%
Colorado
20%
16%
41%
19%
4%
Tennessee
33%
21%
28%
14%
4%
Alabama
33%
21%
28%
14%
4%
Oklahoma
32%
26%
24%
13%
5%
Arkansas
32%
24%
24%
14%
6%
Utah
17%
23%
39%
16%
5%
Maine
25%
15%
30%
24%
7%
Vermont
15%
6%
64%
12%
3%
Am. Samoa
31%
21%
32%
12%
4%












SUPER TUESDAY DELEGATE ESTIMATE
Contest
Biden
Bloomberg
Sanders
Warren
Total
California
104
34
207
70
415
Texas
87
40
82
19
228
N. Carolina
46
23
33
8
110
Virginia
33
19
31
16
99
Mass.
23
7
34
27
91
Minnesota
22
0
35
19
75
Colorado
14
11
28
14
67
Tennessee
24
15
20
5
64
Alabama
19
12
17
4
52
Oklahoma
13
11
10
3
37
Arkansas
11
8
9
3
31
Utah
5
7
12
5
29
Maine
7
2
8
7
24
Vermont
2
0
13
1
16
Am. Samoa
2
1
2
0
6
Total
412
191
541
199
1344



WHAT IT MEANS

It would be hard for Elizabeth Warren or Mike Bloomberg (or Tulsi Gabbard, of course) to look at these results and come away with any valid rationale to carry on.  Biden’s doubling of Bloomberg’s totals essentially undercuts the reason Bloomberg got into the race – as a Biden alternative.  Bloomberg took his shot at Super Tuesday to offer that choice and will come up well short.  Sanders’ more than doubling Warren’s totals speaks for itself, the continuation of Sanders finishing well ahead of Warren, his ideological double, in every contest.

We could (and should) be down to a two-person race by Wednesday morning. 

From there, this will resemble the Obama/Clinton slugfest in 2008 and the Clinton/Sanders one in 2016.  In each case the second place contender could not overcome the leader.  But in those races, the Democratic establishment was content with the leader; that is not the case this year.  Heavy arsenal will be brought out to push Biden forward and attempt to propel him ahead of Sanders, including (perhaps) Bloomberg and Steyer money and major endorsements from a host of figures, perhaps even the Clintons.  (I doubt Barack Obama will go that far, but he may.) 

Can Biden catch up, or keep Sanders under the 1,991 first-ballot-win threshold in a two-person race?

Facing only a gap of 150 or fewer delegates coming out of Super Tuesday, and a tighter field, the answer is almost certainly a resounding yes.  I’ve run models out the rest of the primary season, making assumptions on areas of strength for Sanders (New England, out west), and Biden (the South, Delaware, Pennsylvania) and Biden can indeed keep Bernie under the 1,991 threshold and also keep him reasonably close.  Under certain scenarios he can catch up to Sanders.

If Sanders is denied a first-ballot win, then anything can happen.  The superdelegates (771 of them), who can vote on the second ballot, are far more likely to support Biden than Sanders, and same with Bloomberg’s 200 delegates, who would be released.

But if Sanders significantly outperforms the BTRTN expectations tomorrow, winning some of Biden’s states and widening the gap in California, it is a much different picture.  As said, if Bernie builds the gap to over 200 or higher, the task to catch him becomes much more difficult.

There is no rest for the weary.  Next week, on March 10, there will be five contests and 488 delegates at stake.  Sanders will do well, presumably, out west in Washington (108), Idaho (25) and North Dakota (18).  Biden should win Missouri (68) and Mississippi (36).  But the biggest two prizes will be large, Midwestern states, Ohio (153) and Michigan (147).  One might think this is Biden country, centrist states with decent-sized African-American presence, but Sanders has been polling well in Michigan.





5 comments:

  1. Been waiting for this post for the last couple of days. Like all the other post here - it is the best of its kind on the internet. For all of us Non-US citizens - the US elections are the most important one that does not happen in our own country. Thank you a lot for your work.

    Some questions are though connected to the evaluation of the numbers - and are probably difficult to answer.

    1. The distace for Trump - influence on democratic and independent voters in the primary. Before the primaries - Bidden was often described as the best canditate against Trump. How do you estimate this impact?

    2. Taken question 1. into account - is it possible that Sanders support stopps with the people that have already decided that democratic socialism is the right for the US and Warren´s supporter will mover to Bidden - as they are not socialist (people can say a lot about Warren - but she is not a socialist) . The same will go for Bloomberg´s supporters.

    3. Impact of the corona virus - that said - Sander´s supporters might be more fired up - and not as afraid of the virus - any thought on the issues of voter participation due to the virus? Could that change the segments of the voters actualy voting in the primaries?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind comment! As for the questions:

      1) Yes I think Biden is the best candidate against Trump, though Bloomberg would be fine as well. They all (those two and Sanders) poll similarly versus Trump now at +5 points nationally, but I think that Sanders numbers could go down once Trump started the endless attacks on him as a "socialist" and for his spending plans, whereas Biden and Bloomberg have fewer easy attack points.

      2) I think Sanders' support has a cap, yes. But surveys show that roughly 40% of Warren supporters have Sanders as a second choice, so there is some room for expansion if she drops out. But, obviously, more than half could go elsewhere, presumably to Biden.

      3) Strictly opinion, but I do not believe Sanders' people are any more fired up about voting than the other candidates. They are younger, which means from the outset they are LESS likely to vote. There may be something to the theory, but I doubt it will be a material factor...unless the whole virus gets out of hand, in which case it will dampen all primary turnout and could even result in cancellation or other types of balloting. Great questions!

      Delete
  2. Does the Democratic party really want a candidate that couldn't remember Chris Wallace's name on a Sunday talk show. One that thought he was arrested to support Mandela but actually was 600 miles away. One that on national TV during a debate stated that 150 million Americans were killed by gun violence since the mid 2000's. One that on stage at a rally asked the folks to cast their vote for him in his race for the US Senate.

    The answer is Yes. Pretty pathetic but otherwise it's Bernie.

    Sad but true

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  3. I don't think we should judge anyone, including presidential candidates, by their gaffes. Obama once said there were 57 states, and that was hardly his only gaffe. Biden has heart, empathy, dignity, experience and knows everyone. Good enough for me. Especially to get that bozo out of the WH.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for gently answering the "gaffes" question.

      Two things
      -- in a course on Deceptive Communication years ago, I learned all inaccurate statements weren't alike. Even those which rise to a common judgment of "lies" (known falsehood, strategic purpose) can be further parsed by what the purpose is: a lie which says your spouse looks great in an outfit that is average is different than a lie saying your spouse looks awful in an outfit that is average. Trump is notable for lying to build himself up or to tear someone down. Biden's lies sometime build himself up -- but more often, point out a problem and exaggerate his role in it. He rarely seems to lie to tear someone else down.

      -- "Gaffes" are most often damaging when a candidate inadvertently says something out loud which undercut his position. Trump saying Sessions was awful for recusing himself on his first day is a gaffe -- an untrue statement which went on to make it clear that Trump wanted to obstruct justice by having his subordinate respond to his expectation of not being bothered by the Russia allegations. Sanders, blurting out that AIPAC is "a platform for bigotry" may be true -- but his saying it out loud will cost him votes in Florida.

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