Yes, Bernie Sanders Won the Majority of Counties in New York’s Primary. Who Cares?

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So apparently a lot has gone on during my week long hiatus with my family in New York. Something about early voting in Maryland. I’ll have to see what that is all about.

Speaking of New York, the state had its primary on April 19 in both the Republican and Democratic nomination battles. My main focus here will be on the Democratic primary.

Hillary Clinton, after a string of losses due more to a number of states that play to Bernie Sanders’ strengths holding contests one after the other than to a campaign in peril, rebounded in a big way in her adopted home state. The former New York Senator dismantled her rival by 16%, and by a margin of nearly 300,000 votes. So naturally, with a result as lopsided as this, supporters of Bernie Sanders and his campaign just tipped their hats to Clinton on her victory and vowed to fight on, right? Of course not.

There have been three main arguments coming out of the Sanders camp in the days following the New York Primary. The first is outrage that more than 126,000 active, registered Democratic Party voters were purged from the voter rolls by mistake in Brooklyn. This led to widespread problems at the polls in Brooklyn on election night and led to the suspension of New York Board of Elections Chief Clerk Diane Haslett-Rudiano while an investigation into what happened is conducted.

I’ll start by saying the accidental purge of this many active voters is a major problem. I doubt Clerk Haslett-Rudiano will return to her job and she shouldn’t. Something like this just cannot happen and safeguards need to be put in place so people who want to vote, can. I will also say as big of a problem as this is, it did not change the outcome.

Even if every one of those voters were Sanders supporters, it would only cut Clinton’s margin in half. Also, Clinton won Brooklyn by 20% and dominated New York City as a whole. It is plausible to think that this voter purge may have held Clinton’s overall margin down a little bit.

The second is more outrage that New York was a closed primary where Independents could not vote. While there is certainly an argument to be made for more open primaries, I am fine having the state party decide whether to keep the primary open or closed. I know Sanders runs very strong among Independents, but he is running for the Democratic Party nomination. That being considered, it is not unreasonable to think that if he is as strong a candidate as he says, Sanders should be able to win over more voters in his own party.

Then there is the whole story about how Bernie Sanders has also won closed contests in Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, and Nebraska this year. Funny that he never seemed to complain about closed contests after those victories.

One thing I should mention is in addition to these states being closed contests, each one of them were caucuses. You can read here for my thoughts on how caucuses disenfranchise voters and depress turnout.

The third, and most absurd, argument coming from Sanders supporters is that despite the loss, there is a silver lining for him. Of course there is. The silver lining is Bernie Sanders won the majority of counties in New York. This has also led many Sanders supporters to wax poetic about a system that is rigged and unfair because it gives too much influence to New York City voters and not enough to everybody else in the state.

So yes, Bernie Sanders won more counties in New York than Hillary Clinton despite losing the state by a large margin. And this means absolutely nothing. Sanders does not deserve any additional delegates for this. Sanders losing despite winning more counties does not mean the system is rigged against him. It certainly does not mean we need to reform the system. At least not in this regard.

What this means is Sanders won a lot of counties where very few people live. Take a look at this map of where the highest population density areas are in New York.

NY Population Map

The five that stand out are in and around New York City, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo.

Now take a look at the map below showing who won each county.

NY Primary Map

With the exception of Albany, Clinton won the other four population centers. She won all 10 of the most populated counties in the state; if you expand that to the 15 most populated counties in the state, Clinton won 13 of them; if you expand that even further to account for the 20 most populated counties in the state, Clinton won 13.

So why exactly is this unfair? Isn’t the entire point of winning elections to win the most votes? Clinton won because she won the areas where a lot of people actually live. Are Sanders supporters really going to call for a change to this system? Do they think the candidate who wins more counties or congressional districts should win the state, regardless of whether many of these areas are mostly land mass devoid of actual voters?

Running up the score in densely populated areas is the way Democrats have been winning elections for years now.

Take the 2008 election for example. By all accounts, Barack Obama beat John McCain in a landslide, right? Of course. However, if you look at the nationwide results by county on the map below, you will see an awful lot of red on it.

2008 County Map

The reason you see all of the red is because despite losing the popular vote 53% to 45% and by a margin of over 8.5 million votes, John McCain won the majority of counties across the country. By a lot. Of the 3,114 total counties in the United States, John McCain won 2,244 of them. That is nearly 75% of the counties nationwide.

So why the lopsided numbers? Because, like Bernie Sanders, John McCain largely won sparsely populated areas. If you add up the overall vote totals in the counties McCain won, he received roughly 29,631,113 votes to Obama’s 19,195,973 votes. This adds up to 48,826,986 votes between the two candidates in 2,244 counties.

In the 867 counties Obama won, his overall vote total was around 46,722,798. McCain received 28,079,315 votes. As you can see, the number of votes Obama received alone in counties he won in 2008 nearly equal the combined vote total in the counties he lost. And this is because the counties he won are the country’s major population centers.

Let’s take a look at things on the state level. I pulled numbers from eight states in the 2008 election. Three safe blue states: California, Illinois, and New York; and five swing states: Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

In terms of the blue states, Obama won California by 24%, or 2,886,815 votes, and while he did win more counties than McCain, the split was only 33 to 25.

In Illinois, Obama’s home state, he won by a margin of 25%, or 1,338,079 votes, yet lost more counties in the state than he won. McCain won 57 counties; Obama won 45.

And in New York, Obama won by 25%, or 1,787,026 votes, and still won just 10 more counties than John McCain; Obama won 36 counties and McCain won 26.

So even in the bluest of blue states, Obama did not win the majority of counties in his home state and the numbers were close in the other two.

As for the swing states; in Colorado, where Obama won by 9%, McCain beat him in 38 of the 64 counties in the state.

In Florida, Obama won by 2% and only won 15 of the state’s counties; McCain won 52 of them.

McCain won 66 of the 88 counties in Ohio despite losing the state to Obama by four points.

He won 49 counties in Pennsylvania, a state he lost to Obama by 11%. By contrast, Obama only won 18 counties in Pennsylvania.

And finally in Virginia, Obama only won 48 of the 134 counties/cities there despite winning the statewide vote by 7%.

So what exactly are they upset about here? Do they really think this unfair? Or are they just grasping at straws because they still cannot believe their guy is losing? Something tells me it is the latter since I doubt they had any issues with this when Obama was elected in 2008 and winning re-election in 2012.

If they think it is unfair, what would they change? Would they give Bernie the lionshare of delegates in New York because he won the most counties? That hardly seems fair. And it sounds strangely similar to GOP proposals to get rid of the system that awards electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis based exclusively on statewide popular vote totals. I have to imagine liberals opposed this kind of “reform.”

Come to think of it, I know liberals opposed this kind of “reform” because they did in fact voice strong opposition to GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country when they attempted to change how their state’s allocate electoral votes by giving candidates electoral votes based on the congressional districts they win.

Liberals including, I assume, many current Sanders supporters went so far as to accuse the GOP of trying to rig future elections. And for good reason. Take a look at the 2008 and 2012 presidential election maps by congressional district.


2008 CD Map








2012 CD Map







Look at what happens when you decide to give land mass (i.e. low populated counties and/or congressional districts) outsize influence in elections.

Take Michigan, for example. In 2012 Mitt Romney would have won 11 of the state’s 16 electoral votes despite losing the statewide popular vote by nearly 10%.

Similar scenarios would have played out in Colorado, Florida, Indiana (2008), North Carolina (2008), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin (2012). In fact, if this were the process across the country, Mitt Romney would have defeated Obama in 2012 with 276 electoral votes. This despite losing the nationwide popular vote by more than four million votes.

Still want to change the system?

Rewarding Sanders for winning the majority of New York’s counties would likely give him more pledged delegates from the state than Clinton.

The people of New York voted. And they voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t matter where they are concentrated. The popular vote is the only way to decide the winner of any election, be it state or districtwide. Anything else would be going against the will of the people.

Team Sanders is supposed to be all about fairness. What I am hearing in the aftermath of New York tells me they are all about fairness and the “will of the people” when it is convenient for them.

Do Bernie supporters really want to go down this road? Do they really want to put into practice something similar to the ideas they were so angry about when republicans proposed them?

I understand campaigns get heated and that people get fired up and passionate about their candidate. But a lot of these upset Sanders people need to step back, take a deep breath, and be careful what they wish for.

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