Hillary Clinton's big advantage in the Democratic race for president | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hillary Clinton's big advantage in the Democratic race for president

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 11:44 AM

click to enlarge CLINTON: The delegate math suggests that Hillary Clinton will win the nomination.
  • CLINTON: The delegate math suggests that Hillary Clinton will win the nomination.
A new poll out this week shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Georgia by a margin of 72-20. Among black voters her advantage in the poll was 79-14. 

The poll highlights the dynamic that makes Clinton the overwhelming favorite to take the nomination despite a much more dramatic fight than anyone would have expected a year ago. Sanders has run a remarkable campaign, tapping into the energy of the party's left wing and younger voters, and clearly demonstrating that the Democratic party is much more liberal than it was during Hillary and Bill Clinton's previous runs. But we are about to hit a stretch of the electoral calendar in which Clinton is likely to run up the score. 

Benji had a good post on the blog over the weekend on the results of the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, where Clinton notched a 5-point victory over Sanders. That result has a lot of pundits saying that the nomination is hers to lose even though they have won the same number of delegates (51 each) and Sanders dominated in New Hampshire. 

Benji argued that the consensus opinion is jumping the gun. Let me put on my pundit hat and defend the conventional wisdom. The political narratives that follow the ups and downs of presidential campaigns are often dumb and have no basis in evidence. But in this case, Clinton really does appear to have a significant advantage. The available evidence suggests that the race is likely to be competitive going forward, but she is almost certainly going to win the nomination. 

Now, one takeaway from Nevada is simply that Clinton is probably clinging to her small national lead over Sanders. Nevada isn't the best bellwether, because they hold caucuses in a state with lots of industries that make it particularly difficult to caucus, but demographically it's a decent proxy for the country as a whole (Hispanics make up a larger percentage in Nevada than they do in the nation as a whole and African Americans a slightly smaller percentage, but Nevada looks more like the USA than lily-white New Hampshire and Iowa). If Sanders had beaten Clinton by five points, it might be a first hint that he could do more than just top Clinton on turf friendly to Sanders. Clinton's victory suggests instead she still has the advantage in states more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire. 

And the Democratic electorate as a whole is quite diverse! Here's what matters more than Clinton's narrow victory per se: according to the entrance poll, Clinton dominated among black voters, winning 76 percent to 22 percent. That's a resounding victory that isn't so far from the domination that Barack Obama once enjoyed over Clinton among black voters in 2008 (Obama beat Clinton among black voters 83-14 in the '08 Nevada caucuses). There are no two ways about it: if Clinton keeps beating Sanders by this kind of margin among black voters, it will be impossible for Sanders to win the Democratic nomination for president. 

Of course, this is why we have campaigns: things can change. The worry for Sanders is that the Nevada results suggest that things are not changing nearly enough, or fast enough, among the black vote to give him a realistic chance going forward. The evidence is no better in South Carolina, which votes on Saturday: Polls continue to show that Clinton has around a 20-point lead and a 40-point advantage among black voters. Sanders has apparently given up hope of pulling off an upset in the state. 

Nationally, new polling from NBC shows Clinton up 51-40, with a 65-22 percent advantage among black voters. 

Benji wondered whether pundits are overconfident that black voters will line up behind Clinton, following the lead of key black political leaders, groups, and institutions. After all, over on the GOP side, the establishment hasn't had much luck moving the needle: "Might Clinton's surrogates in the black political community be overestimating their ability to deliver voters, much as the Jeb! campaign assumed an appearance by George W. Bush would still have currency among South Carolina Republicans?"

The difference, though, is in the evidence: Trump dominated the polls in South Carolina and Bush struggled for for months, and there was no indication whatsoever that the Bush family's backing moved the polls. The GOP results in South Carolina were expected, not a surprise. On the other hand, the evidence is quite strong that Clinton really has a clear and enduring advantage among black voters (and more generally, in the South) that probably makes it impossible for Sanders to win the nomination.

Here's Harry Enten of fivethirtyeight

While the result wasn’t unexpected given that pre-election polls showed Clinton dominant with black voters, Sanders spent a lot of money on television in the state. That Sanders couldn’t close the gap with black voters with a big advertising push is a very ominous sign for his campaign.

Many of the upcoming primaries will feature a much higher percentage of black voters than Nevada did. While only 13 percent of Nevada caucus-goers in 2016 were black, their share in South Carolina will be much higher (55 percent of South Carolina Democratic primary voters were black in 2008). That’s why Clinton is up by 25 percentage points in the South Carolina polls. Even beyond South Carolina, on Super Tuesday 63 percent of the delegates up for grabs will be in contests with a higher share of African-Americans than Nevada. Better yet for Clinton, 35 percent of delegates will be up for grabs in contests with at least double the share of African-Americans as Nevada. In 2008, 19 percent of voters in all Democratic primaries were black — Clinton’s margin among black voters is a big advantage.

Clinton's advantage starts to become even starker once you think through the delegate math. From the New York Times:  

Mrs. Clinton has 502 delegates to Mr. Sanders’s 70; 2,383 are needed to win the nomination. These numbers include delegates won in state contests and superdelegates, who can support any candidate. She is likely to win a delegate jackpot from the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic areas in the Southern-dominated Super Tuesday primaries on March 1, when 11 states will vote and about 880 delegates will be awarded.

Since delegates are awarded proportionally based on vote tallies in congressional districts and some other areas, only blowout victories yield large numbers of delegates. And Mrs. Clinton is better positioned than Mr. Sanders to win big in more delegate-rich districts, like those carved out to ensure minority Democrats in Congress, where she remains popular. 

Note that because of the Democratic party's (crassly undemocratic) superdelegate rules, Clinton has a big built-in advantage. You don't want to put too much stock in a count of superdelegates like the one noted in the Times article above — superdelegates aren't bound by their pledges. But no on doubts that Clinton has a mammoth lead among them (while the candidates are tied among delegates won, of the 712 superdelegates, 451 back Clinton and just 19 back Sanders). Fairly or not, if the race is tied or close to it, the superdelegates will put Clinton over the top. Sanders already looks unlikely to keep pace with Clinton, but even that wouldn't be good enough — he has to have a significant enough lead to overcome her superdelegate edge. It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that happens. 

None of this is to say that Sanders should drop out. On the contrary, many states will continue to be competitive and there are opportunities for Sanders to pick up more wins. He will continue to force the Democratic party to discuss issues of inequality more deeply and the pressure that he has applied from the left is real (note Clinton suddenly starting to talk about the public option, showing more engagement with #blacklivesmatter and criminal justice reform issues, etc.). He will likely remain a strong candidate throughout the primary season and offer a genuinely competitive race few thought possible a year ago. This ain't Bill Bradley's short-lived challenge to Al Gore. Sanders has emerged as more than a protest candidate and he is giving Clinton all she can handle.

But precisely because he is a serious candidate, it's worth being honest about his actual prospects: barring a miracle, Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee for president.

The takeaway of this campaign for me is just how quickly the Democratic party's voters have shifted left. Sanders is an underrated politician and an effective, if eccentric, spokesman for his cause. But he's also one of the oldest serious candidates for president in the nation's history, has never been a Democrat as an elected official, and wouldn't necessarily be the first person you would pick if you were drafting a dream candidate to unite the party's left-leaning constituencies. 

Unlike the cult of personality around Trump, by contrast, I don't think that the Sanders phenomenon is dependent on Sanders (and of course, he wouldn't want it to be!). Some time soon, someone is going to run for president who is just as left wing as Sanders but: 1) Has a history with the Democratic party and liberal interest groups and has institutional support from key party actors and allies. 2) Is not an avowed socialist (even if ideologically the same as Sanders), eliminating many of the fears about electability that, rightly or wrongly, dog Sanders. 3) Is more easily able to represent the party's diverse base. My guess is that it would be help to be younger (though Sanders is doing quite well among young voters) but it would help a lot if the candidate was a woman or non-white. Identity isn't everything, and it's possible that a liberal white male candidate is out there who is particularly adept at connecting with the black community, say. But I think that there is real interest in a candidate that looks like the diverse base of voters at the heart of the Democratic coalition. 

Imagine a woman, or a person of color, with roots in the Democratic party and Democratic coalition, running on a platform just as left wing as Sanders. I predict that such a candidate will win the Democratic nomination in the not-too-distant future. Even if Sanders comes up short this year, that in itself would amount to a powerful legacy for the Sanders campaign. 

The median voter in the Democratic Party is well to the left of Hillary Clinton. Eventually the party's nominee is going to reflect that. 

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