Friday, February 26, 2016

POLITICS - Bernie vs Clinton Photo Finish?

"Bernie Sanders Still Has a Path to Victory.  Here It Is." by Christopher Hass, In These Times 2/25/2015


The media says Clinton is inevitable (again), but the battle for delegates could be closer than anyone expects.

The main media narrative coming out of Saturday’s Nevada caucus was clear: Hillary Clinton’s got her inevitability back, and Bernie Sanders’ campaign is toast.  You can see it across a broad swath of the political spectrum, from Salon (“Hillary Clinton’s Path Is Clear: Barring a catastrophe, her nomination is inevitable”) to the Drudge Report (“Bern Out: Hillary could end it all in two weeks!”).

But if you put aside conjecture and speculation for a moment, there’s really only one fact we can know for certain: Sanders currently trails Clinton by just a single pledged delegate, 51-52.  Yes, it's true that, including superdelegates (which we’ll get to in a bit), a candidate needs to amass at least 2,383 total delegates in order to claim the Democratic nomination—but that’s just another way of saying that you have to win by one.

That’s not how the media tends to talk about the nomination, but it’s the framework to keep in mind as things unfold over the next few weeks and months—and it’s a framework the campaigns themselves clearly understand.  For all the talk of momentum, it’s math that will determine the winner.

(Re)setting expectations

When polls closed in New Hampshire, two things happened within seconds; the networks declared Sanders the winner, and the Clinton campaign released a three-page memo that attempted to reframe not just her loss but the entirety of the race to come.  The memo explained:

While important, the first four states represent just 4% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination. …

The way to win the nomination is to maximize the number of delegates we secure from each primary and caucus.  That means, in many cases, that the margin of victory (or defeat) within a given state is actually more important than whether the state is won or lost.

Given its timing, the memo may have looked like sleight of hand to disguise an embarrassing loss, but the underlying point is absolutely correct.  The early states, with their relatively small populations, account for only a fraction of the total primary votes.  And though every delegate is a zero sum game (either Clinton wins it or Sanders does), every state is not.  The margins matter.

So, let’s look at the margins.

What it takes

Trying to map the 2008 race to 2016 is an imperfect science, but 2008 does provide the most recent example of what a long, contested Democratic primary looks like (and of course, there’s one constant in both: Hillary Clinton).

Most everyone remembers the exciting first act of 2008; Barack Obama's historic victory in the Iowa caucus, Clinton's teary-eyed come-from-behind win in New Hampshire, and the photo-finish of the Nevada caucus.  When seen in terms of delegate differential, however, it looks likes this:

The reality is considerably less dramatic, isn’t it?  Math will do that.  Now, here is where the race stands at the same point in 2016:

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