Overcoming a consensus 21-point deficit in the polls, and odds against winning pegged at 99:1, Bernie Sanders stormed to victory over Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary Tuesday night. Sanders’ stunning upset win has altered the momentum of the Democratic race. Will it be enough to change the delegate math?
Here’s what you need to know.
How did the polls get it so wrong?
Michigan is an open primary, meaning that independents can vote – and on either party’s ballot. That makes the final composition of the electorate impossible to predict, and can make pollsters look foolish when the returns come in.
As far as Democratic Party voters go, the polls had it about right: Clinton won among self-described Democrats by a margin of 16 points (57-41), according to the exit poll.
What was unforeseen was Sander’s strength among independents, who made up 28 percent of the electorate. The socialist won this cohort in a landslide, 71-28.
Sanders’ “political revolution” had been roundly pooh-poohed after his poor performances in the Deep South. We saw a taste of it on Tuesday night – and not just among independents. Turnout among young voters was also stunning: More voters under 30 showed up at the polls than did voters over 65.
Were there other keys to Bernie’s victory?
Sanders’ margin of defeat among African American voters was less absolute. In the Southern states, Sanders had been losing black voters, in some cases, 9-to-1. In Michigan, African American voters still favored Clinton, but only by a 2-to-1 margin – hardly a performance for Sanders to crow about, but ultimately not a roadblock to electoral success.
Does this victory change the delegate math?
Not in the slightest. Despite Sanders’ big win, his path to the nomination grew even steeper Tuesday night. Mississippi also voted, and Clinton romped as she has elsewhere below the Mason-Dixon line, winning by more than 20 delegates. Her margin in Mississippi outstripped Sanders’ delegate victory in Michigan.
In plain English: Sanders fell further behind in the only metric that ultimately matters.
So what’s changed?
The math is still the math, and unforgiving. But the momentum of the race has shifted. After a super Super Tuesday, Clinton had looked on the verge of putting the primary contest behind her and pivoting toward Donald Trump. The result in Michigan changes that timetable significantly – and could keep Sanders in the race through June.
The unexpected victory will surely spark a grassroots moneybomb for Sanders, meaning his campaign will be flush precisely as the electoral terrain shifts in his favor, with delegate-rich contests upcoming in states like Ohio and Illinois. It will be a surprise if more surprise victories are not in the offing.
Is this bad for the Democrats?
In the long run, this is arguably good for Clinton – though expensive for her donors.
The primary contest has pushed the former secretary of State to up her game. Sanders’ victory in Michigan underscores that she has still not found an effective counter to populist anger against her record on free trade. This anger isn’t neatly partisan; Trump will seek to weaponize the same sentiment against her in the general election.
If Clinton succeeds in the coming weeks in fending off a strong attack from Sanders, she’ll be in mid-season form by the time Trump brings the high heat in the general election.
On the other hand, if she continues to flounder on NAFTA and TPP and her coziness with Wall Street, she’ll have left the door open for Sanders to complete one of the most implausible electoral comebacks of all time.
You keep talking about Trump. It’s still Trump on the other side?
Sad but true. Trump cruised to victory in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii Tuesday, gaining ground on Ted Cruz, who ruled only in Idaho.