It’s been an odd, unpredictable seven days in the presidential primaries. In a week where nine states went to the polls, chunks of the electorate defied voting expectations, pollsters lost significant bets, and candidates near-enough counted out made shocking comebacks.
Some of what went down was just business as usual. The GOP continues to inspire a high turnout, the electorate is still voting against the establishment candidates (first goes Bush, now Rubio appears to be on his way out), while Dem voters choosing between Clinton and Sanders remain divided along lines of age and fortune. Otherwise, it was a week where presumed truths were proven false, and where Ted Cruz possibly outing himself as a Brony wasn’t even the most surprising thing that happened. Here are some key myths that got shattered this week.
In southern states like Alabama and South Carolina, Hillary Clinton had been winning with as many as 90% of black voters, easily beating Bernie Sanders with that demographic. So, quite rightly, the pundits had been asking whether the Sanders campaign was ever going to make inroads with more than just Caucasians. Well, on Tuesday, in Michigan, Sanders got 31% of the African-American vote, a significant enough number to bring him victory in a state where 20-30 percent of likely Democratic voters are black. Either the Sanders campaign was right on the money when it assumed black voters in the north would be more receptive to Sanders’ message, or Clinton’s firewall is breaking. (It’s probably not the latter, considering Sanders suffered his heaviest defeat in Mississippi — the state with the largest percentage of African-Americans — the same night he won Michigan.)
This follows Sanders’ strong showing among Latinos in Colorado and a heavily disputed ‘victory’ with Hispanic voters in Nevada. It’s also interesting to note that Sanders did very well with Michigan’s Arab-American Muslim community on Tuesday night, though that’s perhaps not so surprising: Sanders is, after all, the most popular of any candidate among Asian-Americans.
It was said before this week that the only evidence of a ‘political revolution’ was to be found on the Republican side. Rather than Bernie Sanders, it looked like Donald Trump was actually the one driving people to the polls. This week, however, that changed.
Of Bernie Sanders’ wins since Saturday, there was reportedly “massive” turnout in the Nebraska caucus; record breaking turnout in Kansas (more than 40,000 voters, 10% up from 2008); and record breaking caucus turnout in Maine (about 48,000), with some areas so overwhelmed they were forced to cancel the actual caucusing and just hand out paper ballots instead. Turnout in Tuesday’s Michigan primary also broke a record held since 1972, with 2.5 million stepping out to cast their vote. Many of these were for the GOP, but the Democratic field was also flush with voters, with some Dem polling stations even running out of ballots early. Bernie Sanders’ ‘revolution’ may have started later than he anticipated, but he’ll be pleased to see it’s finally underway.
A lot of faith has been put into polls by pundits this primary season, and for good reason. The polls, up until this week, had been predicting the outcome in most states with a solid degree of accuracy. It got to the stage where commentators had basically been calling votes before they’d even happened. Then along came Michigan.
Hillary Clinton’s shock loss in the Wolverine State proved that not a 10, nor 20, nor 37-point deficit in the polls necessarily means a loss on the day. In what has been called “one of the greatest upsets in modern political history,” Bernie Sanders defied an average 21-point shortfall in the polls to win Michigan by some 19,000 votes. On the GOP side, both Ted Cruz and John Kasich also made unexpectedly strong showings through the week, with Cruz snatching three states from Donald Trump and Kasich in seven days doubling the number of delegates he’d amassed in the previous month. This was after Trump had been declared the runaway frontrunner, with pollsters finding him ahead in most states polled.
Though we’ve learned the hard way that the polls aren’t always foolproof, we have to assume based on the still-high level of accuracy that there’s some value in them. So, we look to the question of voter trust for Hillary Clinton. While it’s true that, nationally, trust for Clinton remains a problem, some individual states reveal rather different results. After South Carolina voters declared Clinton more honest than Bernie Sanders, Mississippi exit polls this week revealed voters there trust Clinton on race relations much more than they do her opponent. So, Clinton isn’t entirely the least trusted of the presidential hopefuls. Depending on what state you’re in, she might be the candidate you trust most.
Bernie Sanders is big with young voters. His problem? Well, as Salon put it, a good number of them “never bother voting.” And this may have been true prior to this week, as even Sanders himself complained low turnout was keeping him from coming out on top in some states. But on Tuesday 18-29 year-olds made up 21% of the vote on the Democratic side in Michigan, while voters under 45 made up in total around half of the state vote. It was these folks more than any others that helped bag the state for Sanders, and proved that young voters, when motivated, do GOTV.
We know Bernie Sanders performs well amongst the young and that Hillary Clinton is big with older voters and African-Americans, but what about Donald Trump? Does he continue to do best amongst the “poorly educated,” as he calls them Well, yes, white voters without college degrees are still Trump’s bread and butter, but this past week the Donald has perhaps surprisingly been picking up the college graduate vote as well. In Michigan, Trump split graduates with John Kasich roughly evenly, and he was shown to perform very well in areas with high numbers of graduates in Mississippi, too.
Marco Rubio might not be posing too much trouble these days, but John Kasich did well enough to steal a big portion of the delegates in Michigan, where late-deciding voters went for the Ohio governor first and Trump third. Kasich isn’t the major threat in the long-run, however (though the most recent poll out of Ohio has Kasich regaining his lead over Trump there, unsurprising considering it’s his own state). That would be Ted Cruz.
Cruz not only won, but performed much better than expected in Maine on Saturday. Even more impressively, he defied the polls to beat Trump in both Idaho and Kansas, and proved a stronger-than-anticipated challenge in Kentucky and Louisiana. With home state Texas behind him, it was assumed this “Southern niche candidate” was only on a downward curve, but after a fortnight of Trump taking flak from both the media and the GOP establishment, Cruz has been making a comeback. There are now less than 100 delegates separating Trump and Cruz, with 25 states left to vote. Cruz taking over in first place is easily within the realm of possibility, especially with so many winner-takes-all states coming up.
If we’re to assume that the Republican Party is, in fact, dead as an electable entity, then the race to decide the nominee on the Democratic side is by default the more interesting one. It shouldn’t be, because it wasn’t ever even supposed to be a race: from the start, Hillary Clinton has been the runaway favourite, and she remains the favourite today. On Tuesday night, though, just as the punditocracy was about to disregard Bernie Sanders altogether, the battle for the Dem nomination heated up with his unexpected Michigan win. Sanders has a lot of catching up to do delegates-wise, but with the Deep South vote done on 3/15 (after North Carolina, it gets tougher demographically for Clinton) and with Sanders proving he can perform well in major rustbelt states, this competition just got very, well, competitive again.