Turns Out Bernie Sanders Isn’t Dominating Open Primaries or Swing States Either

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Throughout the course of this campaign, we have heard a plethora of whining and excuses reasons from the Sanders Camp about why they are losing to Hillary Clinton in the battle for the Democratic Party nomination.

Two narratives in particular seems to be resonating even with some people who are not hardcore supporters of the Vermont Senator.

The first narrative is Bernie Sanders dominates Clinton when Independents are allowed to vote in primaries. His supporters make the case that this is proof Sanders has a broader appeal than Clinton; who is skating by on winning primary contests limited to registered Democrats.

For a while, even I took this at face value. But the other day, I was updating the delegate counts for each party using the GreenPapers website and noticed Hillary Clinton had won more open primaries than I thought. So I decided to take a look and see if this open primary narrative was actually true or not.

It is obvious what a closed primary/caucus is; only registered Democrats can vote. Period. In terms of an open primary/caucus, there is some nuance to it.

Open contests are when Democrats, Republicans, and Independents can vote; but there are also contests called “modified” primaries or caucuses. The rules vary by state. In some states, a modified contest means only Democrats and Independents can vote, no Republicans.

In other states, Independents are allowed to vote, but once they do, their party registration is changed from Independent to Democrat.

Two examples of the former are New Hampshire, won by Sanders; and North Carolina, won by Clinton.

Two examples of the latter, where Independents’ registrations are changed to Democrat if they choose to vote in the primary, are Rhode Island, won by Sanders; and Ohio, won by Clinton.

Even when factoring in the nuance, these are states where people who are registered Independents are allowed to vote.

So what do the numbers show? For starters, 44 state and territory contests have been held so far. Clinton has won 25. Sanders has won 19.

It is absolutely true that Hillary Clinton does very well in closed contests. So far in 2016, there have been a total of 18 closed primaries or caucuses. Clinton has won 12. Sanders has won six.

The other 26 that have been held so far have been open/modified contests. If you are to listen to the Sanders people, you would think Sanders would lead in this category by a decent margin, right?

Wrong. Of the 26 open/modified contests so far, Sanders has won 13. Clinton? She has also won 13.

But why stop there? Let’s take a deeper dive into these numbers and include vote totals and pledged delegates won.

I lay it out in the chart below. The pledged delegate and vote totals include states the candidates have lost as well.

Clinton Sanders closed-open primary

As you can see, of the 18 closed contests held so far, nine of them have been primaries. The other nine have been caucuses. Clinton has won all nine closed primaries and has won 713 pledged delegates in these states to Sanders’ 456. She has also won about two million more votes in these states than Sanders has.

Sanders does have more victories in closed caucuses, however. He has won six of these contests, along with 155 pledged delegates and 133,525 votes. Clinton has only won three, taking 109 delegates and 74,755 total votes from these states.

When you take a look at the open primaries, amazingly, Clinton has won more of them than Sanders has. Clinton has won 12 states that have held open or modified primaries; Sanders has won seven. Clinton has also won more pledged delegates and total votes than Sanders in these open and modified primary states.

As has been the norm throughout 2016, most of Sanders’ win have come via caucus. He has won six of the nine closed caucuses that have taken place so far, while also winning more votes and pledged delegates from these states. And he has won six of the seven open caucuses as well.

So the whole notion that Bernie Sanders is routing Hillary Clinton in states where Independents are allowed to vote is 100% false. The numbers do not lie.

To be fair, it is true that Sanders does win among Independent voters specifically, even in the open states Clinton has won. But it doesn’t really matter. The states themselves have split between the two candidates.

As you know, I have been on record saying caucuses are one of the most undemocratic ways of voting out there. Again, it forces people to stay in a location for multiple hours, and they have a very specific time window where they take place. They are a detriment to voter turnout.

In a primary, the polls are open throughout the day and only require people to cast a vote and leave. They are much easier to participate in.

Bernie Sanders has been on record as a strong advocate for open primaries, which he says increases turnout to his advantage.

So if we put Sanders’ argument and mine together, it stands to reason that we both believe the states allowing Independents, and sometimes even Republicans, to vote in primaries (not caucuses) are the most open, democratic, voter turnout encouraging contests in our primary system.

Remember, there have been 19 of these types of contests. Look at the chart again. Who has won more of these states? Hillary Clinton has. Not Bernie Sanders.

The second narrative the Sanders team keeps throwing out there is the notion that Clinton is mostly winning states that have next to zero chance of going for the democratic candidate in the fall; while Sanders is winning the majority of the swing states that will decide who wins the White House.

So, instead of just buying into the narrative or believing the Facebook meme that serves to reinforce a preconceived point of view, I took a look into this as well.

The chart below shows how each state is ranked coming going into the general election, and which candidate has won the states that have had primary voting so far.

2016 State Rankings President

Each state in the safe columns have gone for one party in each of the last four elections, and by a fairly wide margin.

States in the lean columns have gone for one party in at least three of the last four presidential elections. A few of these state have gone for only one party in each election. In some cases, the margins of these states have been close. In others, demographic shifts and the likely candidate match up (Clinton v. Trump) make them competitive in 2016.

The toss up column consists of states that have gone for each party twice over the last four presidential elections; Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia.

For right now, let’s look at the face value argument being made by Bernie Sanders and his supporters; that he wins the swing states, while Clinton racks up victories in conservative states that will not flip in 2016 no matter what.

So far in 2016, there have been 14 contests in states the GOP is 100% certain to win in the fall. Guess what? Both Clinton and Sanders have won seven.

All five of the toss up states have voted in the primary. Clinton has won four. And her margin of victories in these states have not been very close. Her average margin of victory over Sanders in these states is 19.65%. Sanders has won Colorado and that is it; though he did win it by 19%.

Sanders has won more of the lean democrat states than Clinton, winning four of the six that have voted so far. But Clinton makes up for that margin in states that lean towards the GOP, taking four of five.

If we were to simply lump all 25 of the non-competitive states, states that are safely in the Democrat and GOP column, the split would be 13 wins for Clinton, 12 wins for Sanders.

In addition, if we grouped the states in the toss up column with the states that could go one way or the other (Lean D/R) in November, it would give us a total of 16 swing states. Clinton has won 10. Sanders six.

At some point, don’t the people peddling these narratives have to just admit they are not accurate? These numbers and statistics are so easy to research, and therefore, it is so easy to blow these narratives apart.

And from the sound of it, it seems like the Sanders camp is, once again, making the argument that the superdelegates in the states he won should all commit to supporting him at the convention. They should “listen to their constituents,” Bernie likes to say.

I laid out the fallacy of that argument here. In short, if every superdelegate went with the winner of their respective state, Sanders would still be losing. Yet he and many of his supporters still believe the opposite.

This is what happens when people insulate themselves in a bubble where they only talk to people who agree with them. Somebody throws out a theory, and everybody in the room just nods their head in agreement and reinforces each other’s opinion. There is no debate; and nobody’s theory or point of view is challenged.

It isolates people from the world outside of their like-minded bubbles and divorces them from reality. This is one of the reasons why the unreasonable (again, not all) Sanders supporters seem genuinely surprised that there are people out there, even liberals and progressives, who simply do not want this guy to be the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.

So they justify it, or suspend disbelief, by throwing out these ridiculous theories that sound good, but are rooted in naïveté and fantasy. And yes, I know these bubbles exist among supporters of other candidates too. Believe me.

Regardless, two more “Sanders is really winning” theories have now been debunked. Whether the hangers on believe it or not, this is the reality of the 2016 race for the Democratic nomination.

3 thoughts on “Turns Out Bernie Sanders Isn’t Dominating Open Primaries or Swing States Either

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