US Senator for the State of Vermont Bernie Sanders recently won a resounding victory over his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the Democratic Party Wisconsin Primary. With his campaign’s momentum building by the day, can Bernie win New York and position himself to become the Democratic Party’s standard bearer in the general US Presidential election?
Victory in Wisconsin
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are two very different kinds of candidates. She is the establishment personified; an experienced hand who presents herself as the candidate who can secure the all important independent vote in the general election. He is the ultimate populist; a crusader for the working man who claims he can bring change to Washington D.C.
Clinton has lead Sanders throughout this election. However, the BBC reports that Bernie triumphed over Hillary in the recent Wisconsin Primary, winning in every county except Milwaukee. This brings his total delegate count (including superdelegates) to 1,058. With Clinton still leading, at 1,748 (including superdelegates), the Vermont Senator needs to post big wins in the upcoming spate of Primaries and Caucuses to stay in the race.
Heading to New York
Very few Primaries are more important than New York’s. According to Real Clear Politics, The Empire State will hold its Democratic Primary, where a massive 247 delegates will be up for grabs, on 19th April 2016. Bernie is unlikely to win all the New York delegates, the Democrats divide them up according to vote share. The question is, can the Vermont politician, who grew up in New York, secure delegates than Hillary Clinton, who once served as its US Senator?
National opinion polls suggest that Bernie has a slim chance of winning New York. The Huffington Post’s aggregation of polls shows Clinton leading Sanders by 10 points. But, as the Labour Party found out in last year’s UK general election, polls can be wrong. There are three factors I believe could show whether Bernie could win New York; momentum, turnout and demographics.
Another BBC article points out that Wisconsin is the Vermont Senator’s fourth win in a row, while he has risen to victory in six out of the last seven elections. The momentum is on Bernie’s side and this can be important. As I explained when considering who could win the Iowa Caucuses, momentum allows a candidate to create a positive narrative, positioning themselves as their Party’s best chance of winning in the general election.
Bernie may have momentum nationally, but he recently suffered a setback locally. The Vermont Senator has been hit by a raft of negative press for an interview he gave to The Daily News, a New York newspaper, where he seemed to have a weak grasp on foreign policy; one of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s key strengths. Will this be enough to cut into Bernie’s momentum?
The turnout question
Now, let’s consider turnout; this can often make the difference between victory and defeat. News outlet Bloomberg writes: “While black and Hispanic turnout beat projections in 2012, white turnout was more than 6 million votes lower than anyone might have expected based on census data.” The former traditionally votes Democratic while the latter traditionally votes Republican. In other words, the high turnout of Democratic voters was part of the reason why President Barack Obama won re-election over his Republican opponent Mitt Romney in 2012.
Sanders was recently quoted by Vice saying “If there is a large voter turnout [in New York], we will win.” As a populist candidate, The New York Times points out that he is “extraordinarily dependent on turnout from infrequent voters… mainly because his support is so strong among the young. The young are traditionally less likely to vote, especially in smaller contests such as Primaries and Caucuses, which attract fewer voters as a rule of thumb. In other words, Sanders needs to fire up his New York base in order to stand any chance of winning The Empire State.
Now let’s turn to demographics. The Democrats traditionally attract more minority votes in general elections, so it can be hard to win in a Democratic Primary or Caucus without appealing to these voters. As one of the most populous US states, New York has a particularly large minority population, so it’s especially important for Democrats to enlist the help of these voters to win here.
Minority voters have pushed Hillary Clinton to victories in states with large black and latino populations such as Virginia, South Carolina and Ohio. In contrast, Bernie has triumphed in states with a higher white populations, such as Wisconsin and Oklahoma. Evidence suggests that Bernie has a problem attracting minority voters, so he may struggle in New York. Yet according to Bustle, Sanders recently swept to victory in states with more diverse populations – Washington, Alaska, Michigan and Hawaii. Is Sanders starting to re-write the popular narrative on his relationship with minorities? If so, this could make all the difference on 19th April 2016.
Always the outsider
Can Bernie win New York? Most experts would say he has nothing more than an outside chance, but he been this contest’s outsider from day one. The Vermont Senator’s candidacy was once perceived by the mainstream US media as a joke, but increasingly he’s coming to be seen as a real threat to Clinton’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination. With the momentum on his side and his improving performance with minority voters, Sanders could very well deliver the high turnout in New York that he needs to win in the Primary.