Tag Archives: South Carolina Primary

Comparing Sanders and Clinton: Primary and general election prospects

It is far too early to predict the outcome of the Democratic Party primary. Personally, I like both of the candidates and will support whichever one is selected to run in the general election. Both candidates have strong reasons to vote for them, and each candidate has their own “electability” issues. I vote on March 1st, and have not yet decided whom to vote for.

Why would I start out an essay, an essay that is meant to be an objective analysis, with that statement? Because the validity of a statement, opinion, or analysis of the current primary process is inevitably evaluated in terms of the leanings of the source. I have found that when I say (or, more likely, post on Facebook) something that favors one candidate, some supporters of the other candidate assume that I have formed an opinion, and they go on the attack. In the extreme, I have been told that I am not being truthful about my uncommitted and undecided status. To that, I say this: when I have decided which candidate to support, there will be no mistaking my position and I will be fierce about it.

With that aside, I have a few thoughts on what may happen over the next few days as the Democratic Nevada caucus (February 20th, Saturday) and the Democratic South Carolina primary (February 27th, Saturday) play out; about the overall race within the Democratic Party; and a few observations on the differences between the candidates. I’ll also point out an analysis by my friend Shawn Otto, who wrote one of those things that when I read it, I think, “Damn, why didn’t I think of and say these smart things, that’s brilliant.”

The Nevada Caucus: who will win and what will it mean?

Polling shows a dramatic recent shift in the standing of the two candidates in Nevada, though there have not been a lot of polls. Last year, Clinton held a strong but variable lead in various polls, ranging from as little as 16% to as much as 45%. I know of no polls from January, but polling conducted in February shows the two candidates nearly neck and neck, with Clinton up by no more than 6% in the poll favoring her the most.

One of those polls, actually reported by Real Clear Politics (which is a handy but not unbiased, and often inaccurate) source for polls, showed the two candidates in a tie, but we have learned since the poll was done that it was probably biased, some claimed a fake. Of this poll, Jim Newell at Slate says:

It was commissioned by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication that exists largely to terrorize Hillary Clinton. The poll was conducted by TargetPoint Consulting, a conservative firm stocked with Republican operatives whose clients in 2012 included Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, Mitt Romney’s super PAC, and Karl Rove’s super PAC. This is either a solid poll or it’s a well-conducted effort to stoke the “Clinton in disarray!” narrative swirling around the Clinton campaign following New Hampshire. We will know more soon.

Despite the questionable nature of that poll, other polls such as a recent CNN/ORC poll, show the two candidates in a statistical tie. The CNN/ORC poll indicates that Clinton was ahead late last year by about the share claimed by Biden, suggesting (maybe) that Biden supporters broke for Sanders. This poll also indicates that the percentage of respondents who are undecided has dropped significantly, but 25% are still “trying to decide.”

I’ve written before about the Ethnic Effect, which is important this year for a number of reasons. I’m looking to both Nevada, with a lot of Hispanic voters in the Democratic party, and South Carolina, with a lot of African American voters in the Democratic party, to inform us, at least initially, as to how this is going to play out.

In Nevada, voters concerned with “race relations” favor Clinton by a strong majority. Related, voters who are concerned with immigration strongly favor Clinton. These observations indicate a strong diversity effect favoring Clinton over Sanders, as has been repeatedly suggested by expert commentarians.

According to the CNN/ORC poll, almost everyone in Nevada is “white” and few are “non-White” (suggesting that Hispanic voters are conflated with non-White Hispanic), and thus, this poll provides no information for us to evaluate the Ethnic Effect. I suppose we will learn more after the event, with exit polls. The pattern of men favoring Bernie and women favoring Hillary is extant in Nevada, according to this poll.

There are three answers to the question of who will win in Nevada.

1) Can’t tell, polling is too close.

2) Both, because it will be a statistical tie, though maybe not as close as Iowa, and thus, Nevada will be sending the Iowan message to Democrats: “You have two good candidates here, carry on.”

3) Sanders, because the trend has been for Clinton to slowly leak support while Sanders slowly adds support, and Clinton was way ahead before. So, Sanders will likely squeak past Clinton, and this will be viewed as a big win for the insurgent candidate.

The South Carolina Primary: who will win and what will it mean?

Clinton has been ahead in the under-polled state of South Carolina all along. Recently, Sanders has shown some increased support there, and Clinton has lost some support there, but this change is well within the range of what we expect to see as campaigns evolve and background effects such as name recognition come into play. There is no apparent Sanders Surge happening in South Carolina. This means two things.

1) Clinton will win this primary, affirming her hold on the African American constituency.

2) Sanders needs to do better than expected to a certain degree in order to make South Carolina a bellwether of his future success.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll (Clinton: 60%, Sanders 32%) released today (Feburary 19th) looks at ethnicity. As summarized by NBC News,

In the current poll, Sanders leads Clinton among white Democrats, 51 percent to 46 percent. But Clinton crushes him among African Americans in the state, 68 percent to 21 percent.

Even among African Americans under the age of 45, Clinton is ahead of Sanders by 17 points, 52 percent to 35 percent.

I’m not sure what percentage of the South Carolina vote Sanders has to get to show that he is eating some of Clinton’s lead. Clinton is up by an average of about 24%. But the most recent polls show her closer to 24%. Taking out the uncommitted, Sanders is expected to get about 35% of the vote between the two candidates. It seems to me that if he gets 40% or more, that is big.

What does all this mean?

The Democratic race is evolving in two ways. First, Sanders is simply picking up support among his base. Those new voters, millennials, as well as a lot of regular Democrats, but more men than women, and mostly white, are joining up. At the same time, Clinton is holding her position, and possibly expanding a bit, among African Americans, women, and traditional Democrats.

The “electability” argument is most often used these days against Sanders, but has traditionally been used against Clinton. I’m reminded of the joke of how fast you have to be to out run a lion on the African Savanna. (I take this personally having been in that situation a number of times.) The answer is, of course, faster than the one you are with. The common culture seems to assign more unelectability to Sanders than to Clinton, but this culture forgets that Clinton has always borne this burden. In any event, I think the electability argument is starting to fade as we are told by the primary voters that we have two good candidates, move on to the next state. I suspect this will continue to happen over the next eight days.

Who will win the nomination, and how will they win the presidency?

Both campaigns require a surge of support in order to win the general election.

As Bernie Sanders himself noted the other day in Saint Paul, when voter turnout is low, the right wing wins. When voter turnout is high, progressives and liberals win.

But each candidate may have a different subset of voters who will turn out. Sanders has the young, the millennials, the doods. This subset of voters is among the most unreliable when it comes to showing up at the polls. Can they be counted on?

Clinton has women, who are good at showing up at polls, and African Americans, who are traditionally thought of as a weak voting block, but who have in fact been strong over the last couple of election cycles. So for Clinton, the question is, were African American voters so involved only, or mainly, because they were supporting the first African American candidate, and if so, do they not constitute an important part of Clinton’s path to the White House?

The details of the South Carolina primary, and the collection of primaries and caucuses on March 1st, Super Tuesday, may answer that question.

There is a reason to say that Sanders will win the nomination.

This is the first time I’ve said anything like this, on behalf of either candidate, but I have reason to say this now, provisionally, as a working hypothesis and nothing more. As I noted at the start of this essay, we simply don’t know at this time, and it is way too early to say. But there are a couple of reasons for the Clinton campaign to worry.

First, look at these two graphs from Real Clear Politics. The top graph shows the march of polling results during the entire 2008 primary. The second graph shows the current polling results to date. See the pattern? Is is possible that the Clinton-Sanders race is mirroring the Obama-Sanders race of 2008?

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 11.23.09 AM

A second, related (not independent) reason supporting this pattern recognition exercise is the simple fact that Sanders seems to exceed expectations and Clinton seems to not meet expectations. Again, this is too early to say, but if that pattern continues in both Nevada and South Carolina, then there might be something to this.

The third reason, which is more fundamental and explanatory and less reliant on seeing patterns in the data, is that proposed by Shawn Otto in a recent essay at Huffington Post, called “What the Clinton Campaign is Missing.”

In this essay, Otto, who is an astute political observer (and author of Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America), notes that the effectiveness of a campaign is partly tied to the effectiveness of that campaign’s story.

As a touchstone to the deeper concept, Otto reviews and critiques the various campaign slogans.

On the Republican side…

Bush: Jeb!
Carson: Heal + Inspire + Revive
Christie: Telling it Like it Is
Cruz: Reigniting the Promise of America
Fiorina: New Possibilities. Real Leadership.
Kasich: K for US
Rubio: A New American Century
Trump: Make America Great Again!

Bush’s slogan says nothing beyond emphatically asserting his first name, suggesting a lack of purpose in his campaign beyond entitlement that is completely at odds with an otherwise thoughtful man. Carson’s is obtuse and intellectual… Christie’s and Fiorina’s were both full of corporate-style bravado but said little beyond bluster, while Kasich’s is opaque and too cute for prime time. The only candidates who are telling voters stories about why they should be elected are Cruz, Rubio, and Trump…Trump has the stronger and more emotional narrative…

On the Democratic side we see the following:

Clinton: Hillary for America
Sanders: A Future to Believe In

Here, Clinton’s static, self-referential message isn’t telling a story that connects with voters’ lives in a meaningful way, and much of Sanders’ rise can be attributed to the fact that he is. … Voters will connect deeply and passionately even with a grumpy old socialist if he tells them a story that intersects with their lives…

Read that essay for a much more detailed analysis.

Finally, I’m going to make an observation about the difference in style between Clinton and Sanders. I’ve seen Clinton speak (in person) twice, and Sanders once, but I suspect these observations are accurate.

When Sanders speaks, he speaks in bullet points, each internally well worked out, and each delivered with roughly equal levels of rhetorical energy. When Clinton is at the podium, the entire speech as a whole has a larger pattern. She begins by making personal connections to her audience, and to others who have been on the stage before her. She moves from this introduction to historical context and backstory about her own experiences, and then eventually moves on to the key issues of the day. As this happens, the rhetorical crescendos start off small and infrequent, then strengthen, and eventually merge into a short but powerful set of rallying cries that gets everyone on their feet.

It is not the case that either of these approaches is newer or more traditional. Bernie sounds like the old timey liberal activists that I remember getting to know back when I was a teenager working on my first campaigns. Indeed, he sounds like an old fashioned socialist. Hillary sounds like a traditional fire-and-brimstone orator, reminding me of Ted Kennedy and, actually, his brothers. Both methods are good.

There may, however, be an unintended consequence of these two rhetorical styles. Clinton is a great novel or an engaging TV series with the cliffhanger in the last episode of the season. Sanders is a series of eye-catching facebook posts or compelling tweets. Even in the debate context, Sanders hits the points again and again with each arm-waving opportunity to speak, while Clinton weaves a narrative across her speaking opportunities. Sanders jabs and jabs and Clinton plays rope-a-tope and eventually lands the uppercut. Sanders is a football team driving down the field, making third down conversion after third down conversion, while Clinton is a baseball team wearing down the other pitcher and stacking up men on base for the grand slam. Sanders is the insurgent rebel force hitting target after target, Clinton is the big army strategically moving all the troops into place and then closing down the enemy’s options. If someone does not stop me now, I’ll probably think of metaphors in the areas of evolution, education, and housecleaning.

If Shawn Otto is right about story, this difference between Sanders and Clinton may be a difference in the structure of the story, how it is delivered to the reader. If so, this may be a factor in the difference between the two candidates in who supports them, as categorized by age and maybe sex.

New Hampshire Primary Results

First, the numbers:

  • Romney “won” (as expected) with 38% of the vote.
  • Ron Paul, who is irrelevant, used up 24% of the vote.
  • Huntsman kept in the race but with little prospect of going forward, with 17% of the vote
  • Santorum and Gingrich are battling it out for fourth place at 10% (as of this writing they are fewer than 100 votes apart).
  • Rick Perry, who is still running for the nomination did not campaign in New Hampshire, received an ort of less than 1%

And now, the burning question: What does it all mean? As I’ve noted before, not what a lot of he talking heads are saying.

Romney’s win here was no more significant than Tsongas’ win here several years ago. New Hamshire is, politically and demographically, a quaint neighborhood of Massachusetts, and this is Romney territory. The fact that he got less than 40% means that his campaigning did not push him forward, might mean that the Bain effect is kicking in or it might mean that Huntsman increased his footprint effectively. There is absolutely no significance to winning both the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary … assuming that we base “significance” on precedent and pattern. It’s never happened before in an open election season for this party, and only once for the Democrats. It just does not matter.

None of this ambiguity means that Romney is not the front runner. He is. There have been two contests and he’s won twice. But those who are saying that the nomination is now locked up are placing their bets on the good odds, but the game is still on.

The following questions remain:

Is Huntsman now a factor, or did he shoot his wad, as it were, in the Granite State? Most talking heads have dismissed him. In my view, it depends on the money. If some of the millionaires who plan to back a Republican see Bain as Romeneys Bane, they will put their money somewhere else, and it won’t be Ron Paul. They may have to choose between obnoxious (Gingrich), Right wing evangelical (Santorum) and low pain-level for the thinking person (Huntsman). He could get enough of a boost in funding to campaign in several of the upcoming less conservative or fundamentalist states. A not-so-conservative Republican candidate running in the general election will not need that much support in the rightest leaning states, because, after all, the Republicans in those states will be dutifully Voting Against the Black Guy(TM). Huntsman could do better in the moderate or bluish areas against an Obama people may be frustrated with. Hell, if I was the Republican Party, I’d be pushing for that strategy.

Is the field (below Romney) set, or is it volatile, and how fixed is Romney’s lead going forward? Let’s go back to the numbers for a moment. Here’s the breakdown in rank order of the last two contests and the current poll-based prediction for the South Carolina primary.

Iowa NHam SoCa
Romn Romn Romn
Sant Paul Sant
Paul Hunt Ging
Ging Sant Paul
Perr Ging Perr
Hunt Null Hunt

The leader will remain the leader until he is unseated, but the chance of that happening goes up as the contest goes south. Romney is a Yankee and a Mormon and a big businessman and his shine will not exactly be the right kind of shine when he is campaigning in Dixie. Look for news stories of special gaffs that only a Yank in the heart of the Old South can make over the next 10 days. Look for other candidates gaining on him.

Santorum showed well in Iowa, not so well in New Hampshire but his southernosity may pay off in South Carolina. But the real ringer there will be Perry. Perry, who often comes off like a clone of Bush, could end up doing better in South Carolina than polls currently suggest. We assume Huntsman will stay on ice. And, of course, Gingrich will falter and fail in ever more spectacular ways, but if he gets sufficient funding he may stay in the race for a few more primaries.

Has all the money settled on Romney or are there other strategies being considered? What we are looking for is a sling shot effect. None of the sub-Romney candidates is staying in place so far … they all seem to be bobbing up and down across these two contests and one poll. Certain bobbing is expected. Huntsman spent in New Hampshire do he did well, as did Paul. But some of what has happened was not expected. Santorum was a bit of a surprise, and please keep in mind that he came in “second” by only dozens of votes. The winner is the winner, but we’d be having an entirely different conversation if the count in Iowa was switched by the number of people eating the Fired Mopzzarella at Pazzesco’s on that Tuesday night. The point is that Santorum has been and will be all over the map.

There is an unknown but not small number of wealthy individuals ready to pay for the rest of this campaign, to back a certain candidate through the primaries then run that individual against Obama. Romney is the clear choice right now to the talking heads, to anyone who notices that he’s won twice and is on top of the polls in the next contest. But if you look at each of the candidates running in polls, head to head, against Obama, the outcome is not so clear; Romney is not a True Republican and certainly not a Teabagger; The Republican Party hasn’t put a Northerner up for election in a long time, except when they did, and they pretended those guyz was from Texas. Perry made a fool of himself but he can come back. The Huntsman strategy could be viable if other candidates start looking bad. Santorum represents the core of the party far better than Romney. Gingrich is like a muscle spasm you get in your back in the same exact place and you never quite know how to get rid of it, and Ron Paul is … well, whatever.

Romney is not the clear leader. He is the current leader and the leader-apparent, sitting on top of a bubbling cauldron. If his campaign weakens, some of those wealthy backers are going to start side bets, and if those side bets start to work out, they are going to pick a new horse and it could (almost) be any of them.