Bernie Sanders' Strategy to Win the Nomination

Bernie Sanders has either stated or implied two features that make up his strategy to win the Democratic nomination to be the party's candidate for President this November.

Implied, sort of stated: Convince so-called "Superdelegates" (properly called "uncommitted delegates") in states where he has won to vote for him, even if he is in second. That is a good idea, and if the two candidates are close, it could happen. However, when I run the numbers, giving Bernie "his" uncommitted delegates and Hillary "her" uncommitted delegates, it is pretty much a wash. The uncommitted delegates are not perfectly evenly distributed across the various voting units (states and such) but they are evenly enough distributed that not much happens. Not that this can't come into play when Spooky Delegate Math is applied, but there isn't much there.

Stated, the other part of the strategy: Get more votes. The idea here is that the second half of the primary season (counted in terms of numbers of delegates awarded over time), which started on March 22nd, is more favorable to Sanders than it is to Clinton.

Earlier work I did showed that this strategy has only a small chance of working, because Clinton will in fact win plenty of delegates during this second half of the season, and she has plenty of delegates under her belt now. Bernie just can't catch up. See this post for details.

Unless ...

As I have said many times, each primary or caucus, or each day on which there are a number of contests at once, is a test of one or more hypotheses. One hypothesis at stake last Tuesday was the accuracy of the model noted above. The various iterations and updates of my models for predicting primary outcomes have been very accurate all season, and I accurately predicted the outcome of Tuesday's primary in terms of wins. I predicted that Hillary would win Arizona, and Bernie would win Idaho and Utah, and they did.

However, the magnitude of the predictions was off. Hillary won fewer votes than expected in Arizona and Bernie did way better in Utah and Idaho than predicted. (Also, the role of crossover voting was reduced as a likely factor in these elections, because Bernie did so well in Arizona with no crossovers.)

The difference in magnitude was so great that the seemingly assured Clinton victory in delegate count was turned on its head, and Sanders got more delegates than Clinton.

Is that a wakeup call? Or is it random variation?

Well, let's assume for a minute that this is not random, and that this small set of contests tells us that the model is fundamentally wrong(ish). One thing I could do to fix that is to add the new data into the multivariable model and recalculate, but the number of new data points is insufficient to make a difference.

Another thing I could do is to assume that there is change over time in voting behavior, and add a variable for time. There are two reasons to not do that. One is that the more variables you add, the more accurately the model can predict the past (i.e, predict the value of the variables that are used to make the model), but not necessarily the future. The second reason is that if time is in fact a variable, simply adding it now would not work because of imbalance over time in sample size for the relevant variable.

So, what to do? Well, a third possibility is to fudge the data. Let us take a chance and provisionally assume that Arizona, Utah, and Idaho indicate that from here on in the expected outcomes based on my model are off by a certain amount, and then adjust future states to reflect that.

I quickly add that I've done this before ... fudging the model to see if a Sanders claim about future outcomes might change the numbers ... and each time that new hypothesis was falsified by subsequent primaries. But, why not try it again? The numbers from yesterday's contests are startling enough to make it, actually, necessary, if one wants to remain honest about what is happening on the ground.

I have felt all along, and still feel, and most people agree with this, that there are two kinds of states, those that tend to favor Bernie and those that tend to favor Hillary. Also, the variables used in the multivariable analysis may have asymmetries across the nearly-even-state boundary of bias. (In fact I'm pretty sure they do.) So, let's consider Arizona as a Clinton-favoring state in which she underperformed a certain amount that we estimate by comparing the expected results with the actual results. Let us also assume that Utah and Idaho are Sanders-favoring states in which he over performed by an amount that we can similarly estimate.

This is conservative because the estimates are based on the differences between the candidates, not the absolute magnitude of their delegate takes in each contest.

In this revision, then, I put Clinton's expected future performance in Clinton favoring states as a 30% reduction in the spread, and Sanders's expected future performance in Sanders favoring states as a 300% increase in spread. (Notice the asymmetry emerges here.)

Those sound like really different numbers, but they are not. The typical predicted Sanders win is small, so the total number of extra delegates Sanders ends up with is pretty similar in the two kinds of states.

When I do this, Clinton still wins. See the chart at the top of the post. But, there are three very important things to note.

First, this is too close to call. If this Sanders II strategy works out over the next few contests, and we believe it is the New Normal for this primary season, then it will simply be impossible to say who will win. The outcome here is very close, and had I used just slightly different numbers, I could have come up with an equally close outcome with Sanders winning.

Second, it is possible, depending on what happens with uncommitted delegates, that if the race is this close, there could be a brokered convention. I actually think this is unlikely, because in order to have that happen you probably need three or more candidates staying in it until the end, so a bunch of delegates are bound to vote for someone other than the two front runners. But, I've not looked at the numbers and the data and the rules closely enough to be sure. Consider it something to look into.

Third, the role of the big states now emerges as more important than it was before. The really big states, including New York, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey, were actually all very close in the model, and frankly, I can't tell if they are Sanders vs. Clinton favored states. This is for a good reason. These states are so large that they are internally fairly diverse, and also, not easily affected by odd rules in the primary or caucus process the way some other states are. The apparent bimodality of states in general applies mainly to the smaller states.

Putting this another way, the larger the state, the closer to the national average response we see, and the national preference between the two candidates is similar. Smaller states stray away from the mean, larger states regress towards the mean. Like this:

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 11.29.35 AM

So what does this mean? This means that larger states are not going to break strongly for either candidate. But, it also remains true that there are a lot of delegates in these states. So, this could mean that a strategy that effectively focuses on the big states, or one or two of them, could push that state over to one side or another.

I can make you this promise. Both campaigns are currently having this conversation and there will be intense campaigning in the big states. It is possible, maybe probable, that the candidates will watch each other doing this and end up differentiating, with the different states being focused on by different candidates. But, there are also states neither will give up. I suspect New York and California will be fought over heavily, while Clinton may give way to Sanders in Pennsylvania and Sanders may give way to Clinton in New Jersey.

The cycle over the last several weeks has been to see Sanders as possibly moving closer to Clinton, but then, failing to do so. But this week, he did. And, this is the first week in a series of contests where elements of the stated or implied Sanders strategy are supposed to come into play. And maybe they did. Or maybe not.

Frustratingly, the next several states are not going to be too informative. Washington is big, and Sanders will probably make big gains there. My main model, which I will continue to assume is the most accurate projection until proven otherwise, has Sanders getting ten more delegates there than Clinton. The revised Sanders II concept, in contrast, has him getting 30 more delegates than Clinton. That will be a test of the Sanders II hypothesis.

Then, eventually, comes New York, where we will see a test of the Too Big To Fail In State strategies. My model has Clinton winning in New York by just a few delegates, and the Sander II model says pretty much the same (remember, it is conservative, addressing only the gap). If New York is close to a draw, as predicted, then we will be left wondering. If Sanders takes 20 or more more delegates than Clinton in New York, then we will be left in wonderment.

Following that is Little Big Tuesday, with several small states and Pennsylvania. That should also be close to a draw, according to my primary model, with Clinton winning a few more delegates than Sanders. But the Sanders II model has Sanders winning not just a few more, but many more delegates.

According to the Sanders II model, at the end of the day on Tuesday, April 26h, after Pennsylvania, a ca 320 delegate lead by Clinton will be cut to a 190 delegate lead. According to the main model, the one I still trust until proven otherwise (perhaps over the next few weeks), the Clinton lead will still be over 300.

So, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Both of them. For now.

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Glad to see you are finally giving a nod to tactical considerations. Not enough to please zebra, of course, but who cares about that!

I would argue that the Arizona results are simply a reflection of very heavy commitment of resources for Sanders relative to light for Clinton, and so your model should not be revised. This is a logical tactical move for both campaigns.

It may be overly subtle reasoning, but I'm not convinced that Hillary wants Bernie to quit at all. I don't; I want him to stay in the race, but I want him and his supporters to argue policy and stop making personal attacks against Hillary.

If that would happen, she would be much stronger in the general election. She only needs to win big in one more large State and maybe a small one to create a sure win-- no need to run up the score, as they say in football.

May have skimmed over your thoughts on this, but there has got to be a reason that Bernie wins BIG in caucus states and pretty much follows the predictions that favor Hillary in the voting states. What's up with that?

Ellen #2,

Bernie wins big among White Males. Also among "independents".

Think about the environment of a caucus, and whether minorities and women, whose numbers are much stronger for Hillary, would go out of their way to participate.

At least part of the long-running advantage the Clinton campaign has held arises from the perception that Sanders "can't win".

Right now the media seems to be assuming almost all of the uncommitted delegates favor Clinton. If this changes, i.e. if they see the wind changing as it did in 2008 and are put in play, then it could then it could be a whole new ball game.

Zebra, that may well be. I don't have any information on how the two campaigns operated there.

Ellen, I think this is what is happening. Both candidates probably have good ground games, but the implementation of the ground game is working better for Sanders, and the ground game tends to do better in caucus states.

However, he did not do great in the Nevada caucus, and that is closed, and he tends to do better in open caucuses. He does better in open primaries that are not in the south. The open-closed part of it may be important as well. Also, many of the caucuses are not caucuses, but ballots. "Caucus" is not a simple easily defined things.

Sanders does better when independents are allowed to participate. According to the Wash Post: "In Gallup's most recent analysis, 42 percent of Americans identify as independent, compared with 29 percent who say they are Democrats and 26 percent who say they are Republicans." Now the Post bends over backwards to break independents down into left-leaning and right-leaning, but no matter how they lean, if they aren't registered for the party, they can't vote in a closed primary or caucus.

Damn Obstreperous - I was just about to post that :) I thought his point about the mSM reporting the early voting totals first to be a good point. As he said CNN called Arizona for Clinton before the first vote from the actual voting day had been counted.

By Douglas Alder (not verified) on 23 Mar 2016 #permalink

Sanders will win Washington state by a similar margin to Utah and Idaho, giving him +59 delegates - 80 to 21: at which point the current media blackout on his campaign will end.

It will still not decided, but the weekend's votes will be the game-changer.

Greg #5,

I'm just going by brief statements in a news piece (NYT) that H made one appearance and B did 5, also that B had a big ad buy.

At this point, the Sanders team has to gamble on creating some kind of "this changes everything" buzz result-- but we have seen exactly that before, as you say, then the next set of numbers quashes it.

And faithless superdelegates? Kind of a hypocritical (and unrealistic) suggestion from the campaign running on an "honest and trustworthy" theme.


This analysis simply makes no sense-- he is conflating poll results with early voting, and also making the same inconsistent argument about polls and the general election that I've pointed out here previously.

Polls are more accurate as they get closer to the date of voting, and general election polls only become meaningful close to and after the conventions, when the matchup is set.

If we see that poll results are wrong one month before the primaries, why would we use poll results 8 months in advance in an argument about who should be the nominee?

Completely contradicts his own argument.

Can't argue with the reasoning, Greg. This will be a nail-biter.

Superdelegates may express early personal support for one candidate, and ultimately vote for another, either because that candidate won the popular vote or because they see reason to change their minds, without being "faithless." "Uncommitted" means they can do whatever they like; it doesn't mean "committed to the establishment candidate."

If Sanders and Clinton go into the convention with nearly equal delegate numbers, one consideration for superdelegates will be the perception of momentum. Another, very important, will be what happens in the Republican convention, which is scheduled for the week before the Democratic convention. If Cruz is the nominee, the Dem delegates could comfortably assume that Clinton, barring an October surprise such as terror attack or indictment, would pulverize him. Out-of-touch elitist beats oily Dominionist. If Trump is the nominee, preparing to run a campaign of rabid pseudo-populism, it would be much riskier to put Clinton against him, and much more appealing to run a real populist. The Dem movers and shakers might not like Bernie's social democracy, but it may come down to "Daddy, what did you do to stop Trump?"

Jane, I think I'm actually saying here that this will be a nail biter IF Sanders performs from here on out as he did last Tuesday.

We'll know a little more on Saturday.

I'm not sure the momentum thing matters because there are two kinds of states, both are states with actual voters in them. The fact that the first half of the primary had more Hillary friendly states and the second half has more Bernie favoring states does not mean that the voters in the first half of the states should be ignored. Put a slightly different way, it will be impossible and illogical to make the argument that a) Sanders will do better because the Hillary biased states were first and b) Sanders did better because there is national momentum.

I don't think anyone but a small subset of people believes that Sanders should go against Trump and Clinton against Cruz.

But you are right, the GOP matter here .... if the truly dump trump, then my cat cold beat the GOP, and if there is a third party or Indy run, anybody's cat could beat the GOP.

Dogs make better politicians than cats, Greg.

Cats make better administrators -- they're used to giving orders; dogs are only good at following them.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 24 Mar 2016 #permalink

I read an article somewhere - and may have posted it here - to the effect that what matters is how well a Democratic candidate can hold the blue states and swing purple states to blue. A pair of maps I saw showed that Trump and Clinton had each won the entire Old South. That tells me that unless it is a Democratic landslide, Trump is going to win the entire Old South in the general, his nasty retweet about Mrs Cruz notwithstanding. Uncommitted delegates might consider that the Democratic nominee has to win many of the states that Clinton has been losing to Sanders and his independent voters.

Donal, you have to remember that this was southern Republicans voting for Trump. So X% of white southerners will vote for trump and Y% of white southerners will vote for Sanders/Clinton, and everybody who is not white will vote for Sanders/Clinton.

Also, I've heard Trump isn't in good shape in Texas, and Clinton, if she is the nominee, has a good chance of getting that.

This year, also, I'd say any Democrat would probably have a good chance of Florida, and probably North Carolina.


" cat could beat the GOP"

Ackk! When someone who follows politics says stuff like that, I get really scared.

Do your demographics, and tell me how Bernie beats Kasich.

If I were in the smoke-filled rooms, I would tell them to dump Trump and run Kasich no matter what. If it's against Hillary, it becomes a close race that H should win, but there will not be a rout in Congressional races against the R's, which could well happen with Trump v H or even Cruz v H.

Kasich against Bernie will be a rout the other way, especially if there is a terrorist attack. I could put together the ad in a half hour; this is the USA, and looks are everything: "Who do you trust to keep us safe?" Cue montage of wild-haired old Bernie waving his arms around. Game over.

No, they could do the dump and pull it off. Memories are short, and the compassionate conservative schtick works. Pray they don't.

tell them to dump Trump and run Kasich no matter what.

They don't yet realize that they no longer control the G0P. Trump does. They have the rump. He has the voters.

To think otherwise is like thinking that a corporate board serves the management, not the shareholders. (Make of that what you will.)

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 24 Mar 2016 #permalink

#17, Greg, It was Southern Republicans and Independents voting for Trump. If there is only one populist in the race, he should attract the independent vote (unless he manages to offend half of them). I think Trump's problem in the Texas primary was their favorite adopted son, Cruz, but this tizzy over the wives can't help in the general. But maybe it will. Trump seems to get away with breaking the rules.

Never Trump, Never Hilary, Bernie or Bust. In every poll run Bernie beats all the republican candidates, including Kasich. It would only get worse once he is nominated. A good percentage of Independents will vote Republican, Green Party, write in Bernie, or abstain if Hilary gets the nomination.

By tim@facttotruth (not verified) on 25 Mar 2016 #permalink

Have you ever considered, tim, the fact that Bernie's supporters include man who have never been engaged in politics before, don't know much about it, are easily fooled with crazy conspiratorial theories, and those are the small subset of Sanders supporters who are saying what you are saying here?

Actually, I see that a poll this week claims that Cruz would come closer than Trump would to beating Clinton. (Sanders polls better than Clinton against both.) However, I don't believe that would hold up after a few bipartisan debates in which Cruz's alarming religious beliefs and possible intention to shut the whole federal government down indefinitely were highlighted. The GOP-only debates have soft-pedaled his extremism. Sadly, Trump's version of populism will attract many more general-election voters.

Zebra - I said a while ago that Kasich was the GOP's best candidate left, which at the time you didn't like. I agree that, since he's also establishment, Hillary could be the safer choice against him. However, he's a very distant third and had almost no hope of being nominated even before Drumpf started saying his followers would riot if he wasn't nominated - then advising his followers to pack heat. The GOP is in a very ugly and dangerous predicament now (and yes, they got themselves there, and it's tempting to wallow in Schadenfreude except for the fact that the rest of us may end up getting what they deserve).

Have you by chance come to the realization that they aren't as much conspiracy theories but the actual true history of these United States for the first time in modern times being talked about by a leading Presidential candidate. Keep denying the lies that have been used to put shackles around the people of America. Its people ,who like you, are trying to get people to look away from the facts and to believe the half truths that they spread across the American airwaves who are controlled by a total of 6 media corporations owning 90% of all Print, Radio , and Television, that are destroying America. But keep blindly following the ones who would make you their Indentured Servant.

By tim@facttotruth (not verified) on 25 Mar 2016 #permalink

I am trying to decide if 75% of the people who make comments like tim's in newspapers and here are Republican troll sock-puppets.... or only 50%.

Now that would be an interesting research project.

But I have to give the R's credit-- it is probably a pretty cost-effective way to achieve voter suppression without all the bad publicity.

Someone on Slate linked to a new Bloomberg poll in which, given various election matchups, Kasich beat Clinton by four points but Sanders beat Kasich by four points. Caveats: they asked these questions only of people who said they would definitely vote; a bunch still said they were undecided; and something like 44% vs 30% had voted for Obama vs. Romney in 2012, meaning that they weren't representative of the general public.

jane #26,

I know it isn't going to have any effect on your understanding, but for those logical types among us, and to illustrate how pointless looking at these early polls is...

People who would vote for Sanders supposedly represent the very left, liberal viewpoint.

According to this poll, some of those people who would vote for Sanders against Kasich would completely turn around and vote for Kasich, who is extremely right-wing, against Clinton.

Either those people are lying, or are very stupid, or acting under the influence of some kind of mental/personality/cognitive disorder.

In deciding who the best nominee would be, this kind of "voter" is just random noise-- there is no predictive value in this data.

Speaking of polling data, check out the Washington Post article

"Milleniums like socialism-- until they get jobs."

Pretty much cover the bases.

Heh! Amusing, you are, but not very effective. Logical types can go look up the poll. It is a fact that several percent of the "definite voters" questioned would vote for Sanders over Kasich but Kasich over Clinton.

Maybe that is because they are mental defectives, as you suggest, or maybe because it is because they view Clinton as too corrupt, dishonest, arrogant, and secretive to be a good president. Or maybe they are afraid that if she gets indicted in October, even her election would be followed immediately by an impeachment effort.

And I keep trying to explain that while Sanders (unlike Clinton) represents a left-wing liberal viewpoint, many of his voters do not. They represent America's increasingly desperate and hopeless working class, a group in whom Clinton has not had much interest historically.

The WaPo story about "millennials" and "socialism" is paywalled to me (I already had my meager monthly quota of freebies). Do you want to repeat the major conclusion? Be advised I will take it with a grain of salt, since WaPo is about as unbiased a source as the NYT or Fixed News.

I did recently see a poll that said most voters, all ages together, were not turned off by the word "socialism." If "socialism" means working on a kolkhoz, of course nobody wants it. If it means a paycheck that keeps you under a roof, or the ability to go to a doctor when you're sick, that doesn't sound so bad. Real socialism sucks. Plutocrats have not done themselves or the English language any favor by defining any type of social safety net (except, nowadays, those for decrepit white folks) as "socialism." Working-class people are not terrified of safety nets.

I read the Millennials and Socialism article. "Emily Ekins is a research fellow and director of polling at the Cato Institute." which is a libertarian think tank founded by one of the Kochs. Anyway the title is a bit of a straw man. Young Americans like the sort of socialism found in European democracies - not hardcore socialism where the workers own the means of production. Duh. The second claim - according to a Reason-Rupe poll - is that once they make more money, millennials don't want to pay higher taxes anymore. Reason is also libertarian, and I have no idea how they conducted the poll.

It is the convention, I believe, for me to say that I hate to say I told you so. This would be false. I love it.

I told you so.