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There can be only one… (Superb Tuesday in the Time of Plague edition)

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In last week’s preview of “Swell Tuesday” I wrote:

“Unless Sanders draws in a significantly larger share than the Progressive candidates in total have so far this cycle, and than he did last cycle, it could be very difficult for him to overtake the “Moderate” block that has coalesced around Biden.

Tune in next week to see if this outlook has changed after tomorrow!”

The very short answer is: This outlook has not changed. And, though there is a significant external variable we must discuss, things are not liable to change after tomorrow either. First, a quick look at the March 10th results:

March 10th

Biden nearly swept the field, and, crucially, easily won Michigan, the site of Sanders’ surprise victory in 2016. Washington still has not been finalized due to the number of outstanding mail-in ballots, but indications are that Biden is headed toward a narrow victory there too (Washington, in caucus form, was another state Sanders had won in 2016). Following these races, this is where overall results to date currently stand:

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On the face of it, a 150 delegate lead might not seem insurmountable. As we know from previous years though, it often is. Obama came out of February 2008 with about a 100 delegate lead over Clinton, for example, and she was never able to overcome that despite staying competitive to the end. To do so, the trailing campaign has to be getting more than 50% every election day from then on. And not all election days are created equal…

If two Tuesdays ago was “Super”, and one Tuesday ago was “Swell”, I’d say tomorrow is “Superb”. 577 delegates are at stake in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. Once Wednesday morning dawns, 62% of the total delegates will have been chosen. So it’s a big day, and it will rapidly move things along. Could Sanders catch up? Current indications are not promising:

March 17th

Right now, at 892 to 741, Biden would need to capture 52% of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination, while Sanders would need 59%. A quick look at national polling indicates that this is very in-range for Biden, and very difficult to foresee for Sanders:

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Examining the overall popular vote totals to date for the “Moderate” vs. “Progressive” candidate blocks reinforces this notion:

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As the only remaining “Moderate”, one can easily picture Biden winning 50-something percent of the remaining delegates. As the almost only remaining “Progressive” (sorry, Tulsi), Sanders would have to be doing about 1/3 better than that entire block has done to date to get the 59% of delegates he needs.  After tomorrow, if the above-mentioned state polling indications hold, this number is liable to be even more formidable for Sanders, and even more achievable for Biden.

There is a caveat: The one thing even the best forecast can’t totally control for is major unexpected external events.

Because of concerns about safety around COVID-19, Georgia has cancelled its March 24th primary, and will instead hold it in May. Louisiana likewise is moving  its April 4th primary to June. This is unlikely to change the overall result, which will be pretty much set in stone by Wednesday morning. But it could certainly prolong how long it takes to become official. And the longer a campaign lingers, the more unexpected things may occur…

There can be only one… (“Swell Tuesday” Preview edition)

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Well that was really something!

A lot has happened since last we tuned in, one short week ago. It was inevitable that Super Tuesday was going to knock a few things loose in the race. Indeed, even before it happened, as I was hitting “publish” last Monday, Buttigieg and Klobuchar both dropped out, endorsing Biden to boot. Following Tuesday’s results, Elizabeth (this world does not deserve you) Warren and Mike (we’re glad your money is still around) Bloomberg both dropped out as well.

This leaves us with only three candidates remaining: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Tulsi “she still exists” Gabbard. From 28 that we have had at one point or another to three, bringing us ever closer to the point at which…

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In this regard, Tuesday’s results certainly may give us a clue which way the wind is blowing. As predicted here, Biden had a very good day. Following wins in 10 out of 14 contests last Tuesday, he is now sitting on leads in both the popular vote and total delegates:

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It’s also immediately clear what effect Tuesday’s wins, and the endorsements (Bloomberg also endorsed him after dropping out, and former candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have now done the same) have had on Biden’s national polling numbers:

polling

For those not well versed in math, that’s a thirty point gain in one week! Both the establishment, and voters, seem to be quickly coalescing around Biden.

“Ah-ah!” you say. “Not so fast! It’s the vote still to come that matters.”

Indeed it is, and that vote will matter very rapidly. For better or for worse, we’ll have an almost definitive read on how things are looking by Wednesday of next week.  As of now, around 38% of total delegates have been chosen. By the end of the day tomorrow, this will be at around 47% (which is nearly half in most parts of the world). And then after Tuesday next week, it will be almost 62%:

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But first up, tomorrow. It’s not a “Super” Tuesday, but it’s pretty good. 365 delegates are at stake, including the electorally key state of Michigan. I’m calling it “Swell Tuesday”.

Sanders’ surprise narrow win in Michigan in 2016 was a major turning point for him, and what should have been an indicator that the state could be a problem in the Fall. With due humility for how far off the polls there were last time, they are pointing in an easy-to-spot direction at the moment:

Michigan

Sanders also did very well in Washington in 2016, but with the key difference that it was a caucus then, and is a primary this time. Allowing for the likelihood that many of Warren’s voters will swing toward Sanders, he looks to be on a path to a win there, but not an overwhelming one like he had in the 2016 caucus:

Wa

Another sizable state up tomorrow is Missouri. It was a virtual tie last time, with Sanders finishing less than 600 votes behind Clinton. One would not bet on it being that close this time:

Mo

Based on his Southern results so far, Biden can be expected to crush it in the remaining large state up tomorrow, Mississippi. He’s also currently favored in both Idaho and North Dakota. What this all adds up to is a likely narrow Sanders win in a state he won big in last time (Washington), a loss in the surprise win state that garnered so much attention for him in 2016 (Michigan), and Biden going four for four on the other states up tomorrow.

If so, and given a March 17th that looks like very fertile territory for Biden, Sanders could run out of room very quickly. Are surprises possible? Certainly. But the fundamental problem I see is this. If you take the grossly simplified view that the candidates can be grouped together into two blocks, this is the popular vote so far:

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For reference, the 2016 total came out as Clinton 55.2%, Sanders 43.1%. Unless Sanders draws in a significantly larger share than the Progressive candidates in total have so far this cycle, and than he did last cycle, it could be very difficult for him to overtake the “Moderate” block that has coalesced around Biden.

Tune in next week to see if this outlook has changed after tomorrow!

There can be only one… (“Have yourself a Super little Tuesday…” edition)

<Breaking News! Mere moments after I pressed “publish” the news came through that Amy Klobuchar is dropping out, and endorsing Biden. To adjust for this, take everything I say below, and make it more so.>

<And still more breaking news! Buttigieg has come out saying he plans to endorse Biden in a joint appearance. Take what I say below, and make it even more so more so.>

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As promised in last week’s pre-South Carolina check-in, now that we have South Carolina results, we’re back for a quick check-in today, before tomorrow’s nation-wide electoral hoe-down.

First to note: In the wake of South Carolina, Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg have dropped out of the race. From 28 total and as many as 25 at once, we’re now down to just six candidates! We see you, Biden, Bloomberg, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren. You’re a plucky bunch, but, sooner or later…

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Do we have more of a sense who that one will be? One thing we can observe in South Carolina is that Biden won big, even bigger than many expected:

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One consequence of this final member of the first four elections weighing in is that, literally overnight, Biden has shot to the lead in the popular vote, and a close second to Sanders in total delegates:

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Of course, this is based on a very narrow slice of the overall electorate so far. Tomorrow, in a shot, will take us to more than a  third of the total delegates having been chosen. So what’s the outlook? As recently as two weeks ago, it seemed quite possible that Super Tuesday would be an extinction level event for Biden, and Sanders would sweep the field that day.

But then, as we discussed last week, Biden caught a couple of good breaks going in to South Carolina- a Nevada performance that was less dismal than his first two outings, his main rival Bloomberg being gutted by Warren in his first debate, and strong support in South Carolina itself. You can see the results both in national polling and polls of a few of the major Super Tuesday states, all of which show Biden’s numbers spiking:

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Keep in mind that these are polling averages, and have limited effect so far from his South Carolina win, or possible benefit from Buttigieg dropping out.

Considering where his trendlines were already going, how many southern states with similar electorates to South Carolina are voting tomorrow, and the general momentum from his recent win and a “moderate” rival dropping out, it’s not unreasonable to expect Biden to do much better tomorrow than it seemed just a few weeks ago. Indeed, the number-crunchy folks at 538 now give him odds on winning Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia tomorrow, and a roughly even shot at carrying Texas.

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If you put all this together, I’m smelling a very good day for Biden tomorrow. Sanders probably comes out of this with a plurality of the popular vote and delegates, but Biden will also likely be racking up enough votes and delegates to be nipping right at his heels. Time shall tell, but not much of it, so we won’t have to wait long to see!