Thursday reflections on Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday was this week and the results were a bit of a shock to the system. Biden’s momentum is strong and his win in South Carolina over the weekend and the new endorsements from his former opponents gave him a big boost in some key states. It was a bit of a tide change, and I’m not sure this shows up better than if we look at the betting odds for the nomination.

RCP betting odds Super TuesdayThat green line…that starts off at the top, drops toward the bottom, and shoots WAY up as we go into March is Joe Biden’s odds (according to folks who place bets) of winning the nomination. Given how fickle these numbers seem, it’s certainly possible that it will end up looking like a peak, and drop back down a month from now, but my guess is that it’s going to stay high, and that Biden will be the nominee.

My prediction is based on something that I haven’t heard many pundits talk about. I actually haven’t heard any pundits talk about it as much as my wife has. Here’s what I think (mostly because she’s made some good points). The democratic nomination has always been Bernie or somebody else (Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, Bloomberg…). In the same way, the 2016 GOP nomination process felt a lot like Trump or somebody else (Bush, Rubio, Cruz). In 2016, it seemed like there was a core of Trump supporters, and a perhaps larger group of those opposed to Trump, but those opposed to Trump were consistently split in their pick. Most of them were split between Rubio and Cruz (more for Cruz than Rubio), but split nevertheless. Had one of them stepped out, I bet Trump would have lost. It seems like that’s what happened in the democratic primary process this year. It was as if we had a group of people who were completely decided and Bernie was their guy. Then we had a group of people who liked (to varying degrees) the other candidates better, but were pretty sure they wanted one of them more than Bernie. It wasn’t clear which candidate would beat Bernie, but once Biden won South Carolina, he became the clear choice and voters gathered behind him.

This isn’t just a hunch. It’s not just some emotional guess at what happened. It’s in the numbers. If we look at the polling averages and compare them to the actual outcomes of the voting, something pretty clear pops out in most of the states. Let’s go down the list, focusing on states that have 100% reporting (as of today) and for which we have polling data (Alabama, for instance, has no polling averages at Real Clear Politics for some reason, so it’s not helpful here).


Virginia nomination polls

If we compare the top line (the final results) to the average of the polls, two things stand out. First, the polling for support for Sanders was amazingly close to the final results. This feels like strong support for the idea that support for Sanders was unmovable. Folks who planned to vote for Sanders showed up and voted for Sanders. But look at the large underestimation of support for Biden and overestimation for the others. Biden got a lot more support than what was showing in the polls, and Warren, Bloomberg, and Klobuchar got less. It’s as if people who planned to vote for the others moved to Biden once he showed that he was the one to back.

We see the same pattern in many (but not all) of the Super Tuesday states. North Carolina polling had Biden at 36.7% and Sanders at 23.3%. Sanders finished remarkably close at 24.1% whereas Biden over performed at 43%. North Carolina is a little different from Virginia, because the polling was pretty close to the final results for the others, so Biden’s support came mostly from voters who were undecided in the polls, still supporting the premise that they were just waiting for somebody to be the non-Bernie choice. In Texas, however, we see a pattern that’s a bit of a hybrid of Texas and Virginia. Sanders polling was almost exactly on the final result (29.5% RCP average vs 30% final result), but Biden’s final numbers were 33.6% compared to a RCP average of 28%. This came mostly at the expense of underperformance by Bloomberg, Warren, Klobuchar, and Gabbard. Again, the polling for Bernie was remarkably accurate, and it appears that there was a strong shift from others to Biden as it became clear that he was the not-Bernie choice.

Of course, the Sanders people see this as a rigged process. Pete and Amy dropping out seems conspicuous to them, as if they were bought off by the DNC. Of course, I’m not omnipotent and can’t say that this isn’t happening, but it sure seems more likely that voters and perhaps the candidates simply saw a path toward having a nominee other than Sanders, and made it happen. That’s really how democracy works, and it’s really what I thought was going to happen in the GOP primary in 2016. I think it would have worked, and I wonder how many republicans wish Cruz or Rubio would have been as gracious. I sure wish one of them would have been…but which one? I guess that’s where the problem lies, especially when the candidates are so different in their views.



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