Last week was Super Tuesday, and it was a day that marked the return of Joe Biden as the front-runner in the Democratic primary. Just a week earlier, the end seemed nigh for Biden’s campaign, but a South Carolina victory and sweeping most states on Super Tuesday has revitalized the campaign.
The other big winner was Bernie Sanders, who came in a close second in terms of delegates. However, Super Tuesday was suspected to be a much bigger day for Sanders, and the consistent defeats against Joe Biden seem to have slowed the progressive campaign’s momentum.
What exactly accounts for this sudden change of events?
Like most things in the world — particularly the world of politics — there is no one thing that directly contributed to Biden’s victory and Bernie’s slump. However, there are a few factors that played significant roles in the day’s turnout.
Ahead of the primaries set for tomorrow (as of this writing) and onward, let’s examine some of the major factors that impacted Super Tuesday, and what the Sanders campaign and voters might learn from them.
1. South Carolina and Media Boost
While the media has certainly never treated Joe Biden poorly, they haven’t exactly made him the center of attention during this primary.
That changed after the South Carolina primary, where Joe Biden handily won, defeating Bernie Sanders by nearly thirty points.
More important than the victory, though, was the non-stop news cycle on Biden’s victory. It’s no secret that positive press coverage improves performance for candidates, especially when it is by such a large margin.
A similar bump happened with Pete Buttigieg after he pre-maturely declared victory in Iowa, and the media ran with it while Iowa was settling it’s caucus debacle.
Positive media coverage is important for presidential candidates, particularly when they are trying to revive their campaign.
As such, when Bernie Sanders won Nevada by a double digit margin, the media was less than positive about it.
2. Moderate Consolidation and Warren Staying In
With all the dust finally settled from Super Tuesday, we can now see just how powerful the moderate consolidation was. Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropping from the race, combined with their endorsements of Biden, were major factors in his victory.
The DNC seemed to learn the lesson the RNC couldn’t in 2016, and their consolidation around Joe Biden may ultimate stop Bernie Sanders.
That consolidation strategy worked in part in part because of Elizabeth Warren staying in the race. I wasn’t one of the people advocating for Warren to drop before Super Tuesday (as others were). However, it is clear that her staying in the race seemed to only hurt Bernie and help Biden.
While Warren’s engagement in the race didn’t matter in some states (particularly the south), it can be argued that Bernie likely would have won several states had Warren not also been running. Those states include:
- Oklahoma (a statistical tie)
This would have affected delegate distribution, giving Bernie an edge over Biden — no matter how small. It also would have dramatically affected the media narrative coming out of Super Tuesday, which as stated above is vital for any campaign.
As of this writing, Warren has dropped out of the race, but has thus far not endorsed anyone.
3. Young Voter Turnout in College Towns
This is an issue that is rarely talked about, yet is also a key reason why Bernie Sanders couldn’t secure delegates in 2016 against Hilary Clinton.
On Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders was banking on a wave of young voters to turn out and vote for him. By his own admission, they didn’t get the results they were hoping for.
However, the raw data in youth turnout is only part of the story. Where they vote is equally as important. The day also matters, but more on that below.
Bernie Sanders has always dominated with college age voters. This makes sense given his appeal to more liberal college students, but it also highlights a problem with delegate allocation.
Most college students are not from the town they attend school in. Many are even from out of state. However, college students register to vote in the district their university is located in.
It makes sense. Most students aren’t willing or capable of driving to their hometowns, just to spend a few hours in line to vote. Nor are they particularly willing to wait for hours in line to vote.
However, that also means a widely liberal vote is consolidated within a relatively insignificant delegate block.
Even if youth turnout had improved, if a large portion of those people voted on college campuses, the delegate count would likely stay the same or only change marginally.
It’s important to note that this is largely speculation at the moment (though it is something I would like to dig into some time in the near future).
Absentee voting seems like the obvious solution, but that option isn’t available in every primary. There has to be a unique rule implemented that allows students to vote from school while still representing the districts they permanently reside in.
4. Voter Suppression in Texas
This story comes as part of larger narrative in this primary (and primaries in general). It seems that state governments (different from the DNC), are abruptly changing voting locations or just outright closing them. This comes less than a day in advance, and disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color.
The most egregious case happened ahead of Super Tuesday, when Texas decided to close hundreds of voting centers. This effort seemed to be specifically aimed at suppressing the turnout of Latino voters and other voters of color.
It’s important to note that Bernie Sanders was overwhelmingly popular with Latino voters in Texas.
I don’t subscribe to theories that the DNC is trying to steal the election from Bernie Sanders. However, I do believe that the powers (DNC or otherwise) that be are threatened against progressive politics, and will use every trick — up to and including voter suppression — to maintain power.
Don’t believe me? One only has to look at the extraordinary history of this happening in American politics.
5. Tuesday is A Bad Day for Young And Working Class People to Vote
This one is more opinion, but it does seem to be backed up by voter data.
Tuesday is a terrible day to hold a primary election, and the reason for holding elections on Tuesday is actually arbitrary and incredibly stupid. It’s particularly terrible for poor and working class people who don’t want to take the day off to vote.
While your employer is legally obligated to let you vote, that doesn’t mean they always comply. Many working class voters also fear the hit their paychecks will take just for missing a few hours or an entire day of work.
While absentee voting is an option, 15 states currently do not allow it. That means the only way to vote is to show up to the polls. This is important to note, since Nevada had IMPROVED turnout thanks to early-voting, and those early votes overwhelmingly went to Senator Sanders.
Most working class people don’t have paid time off, nor do they have the financial flexibility to miss a full day’s pay.
This disproportionately affects the working class, who overwhelmingly support candidates like Senator Sanders.
By moving all voting dates to the weekend and expanding absentee voting rules, we will see greater engagement in elections across the board.
Don’t even get me started on making election days a holiday.
As I said in the beginning, there are a number of factors that impact how voters turnout and what candidates win delegates. These listed points, I feel, are often overlooked, and create a larger discussion about how elections should happen in this country.
At the end of the day, though, the race is far from over. With the two front-runners essentially on their own (sorry, Tulsi fans), we are now entering an entirely new dynamic for the race.
However, one shouldn’t sit back to wait and see what happens. Volunteer for your candidate, talk with friends, and do what you can to spread the word. I know I personally am phone banking for Sanders.
The only way to address the issues above — not just for Sanders, but for every candidate after him — is to be more engaged in our democracy.