Democratic Party Prospects: New Hampshire results to Nevada’s Caucuses and South Carolina Primary
New Hampshire and its open primary elections are now behind us. As readers of our posts will recall, New Hampshire’s unusual primary system allowed Independents to choose which primary they wanted to vote in right up to the final moments. Once I saw the early exit poll figures that showed 35% of independents voted Republican and a whopping 47% voting Democratic, it became clear that the non-party regulars, whom polls indicated overwhelmingly supported Trump and Sanders, had voted–the degree to which was in doubt right up to the final polls. Final results, a few hours later, confirmed this as both Trump and Sanders won big in New Hampshire. There was almost no momentum carryover from the Iowa caucuses. Rubio’s surge fell flat in New Hampshire, possibly affected by his flubs in the final Republican debate. No such excuse was found on the Democratic side. Sanders’ young and disaffected supporters voted, and he soundly trounced Hillary in his neighboring state. Both Sanders and Trump carried almost every demographic cohort. The handwriting was on the wall when Hillary took off from campaigning in New Hampshire, during the final days leading up to the election, in order to make an on-the-ground visit to Flint, Michigan.
Most of the late polls called New Hampshire correctly, and a closer look at the ones that didn’t reveal that their samples underweighted cell-phone users, thereby likely underweighting younger respondents. They also missed their guesses as to how many Independent voters would vote in the respective party primaries. New Hampshire has always proven problematic for pollsters due to their system of voting. Besides being a neighboring state to Bernie’s home state of Vermont, Sanders benefited from the lack of diversity among New Hampshire’s population–i.e., fewer minority voters that polls show heavily support Clinton. Nonetheless, it was a thorough drubbing of Hillary and it raises questions about the effect of her low trust numbers going forward. Thursday’s PBS debate was watched by close to 8 million viewers and while some may have expected Sanders to deliver a dagger to Clinton, most objective observers felt that Hillary’s strong showing may have slowed whatever momentum Bernie found from New Hampshire. I agreed. While the evidence is scant at this time, CNN’s focus group of female voters in South Carolina showed no change of mind following the debate. Sanders’ supporters felt that he gave the stronger performance, while Hillary’s were equally convinced of her debate win. Keeping her own voters, following her loss in New Hampshire, was in many ways a clear victory for Clinton. It seemed to me, from the debate, that Sanders still is the candidate with the more glorious vision, while Hillary certainly reinforced concerns that Sanders promises were utopian, while hers were more grounded and achievable. The young have always been seduced by utopian visions, so Sanders likely will retain the enthusiasm of his largest demographic. This kind of campaign can occasionally win a nomination, but rarely plays well in a general election. The candidacy of George McGovern comes to mind. His strong, youthful, and dedicated cadre of supporters were successful in wresting the nomination, only to be soundly defeated by Richard Nixon in the general election. The choice may come down to how badly Democrats want to keep the Republicans out of the White House. I suspect that Sanders’ early fine match-up numbers are largely a function of his being an alternative to Hillary; polls indicate that Sanders, his self-described socialist label, and his policies are still relatively unknown to the bulk of the Democratic polity beyond the early primary states.
Will Sanders gain some momentum for the upcoming elections in Nevada and South Carolina? Surely he’s now a more serious player, albeit still a long shot. Sanders carries white males, especially those with lower education levels, about two to one. This is problematic for Hillary, but not necessarily devastatingly so–both John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama won without this cohort. Like them, Hillary does extremely well with minority voters. About 55 percent of South Carolina’s registered Democrats are Black or Hispanic. If Hillary can get them to turnout at anything close to the numbers Obama produced, South Carolina should still be safe for Clinton. Nevada has a caucus method of primary voting, with the winner of each precinct garnering delegates. The Nevada Democratic Party caucus is on Saturday February 20, and the South Carolina Democratic primary is a week later. Mainstream polls, as of this writing, are more than a month old. At that time Hillary had a big lead over Sanders. A tiny, and possibly suspect, Republican poll in Nevada just came out showing Hillary with only a 2 point lead over Sanders with 12 percent still undecided. There have been a lot of wild guesses about the numbers of minority voters in Nevada–some of the lower numbers reportedly put out by Clinton supporters in order to lower expectations there–but with Obama running, in 2008, about 35 percent of the Democratic Party caucus-goers in Nevada were minority members. A loss in Nevada by Hillary would raise questions about her electability, given her low trust numbers in the midst of the email controversy and suggestions of impropriety in the Clinton Foundation. Should she falter in Nevada, South Carolina truly would be considered a firewall for Hillary.