How Franklin Roosevelt will cost Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination

Bernie Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s New York state primary served as an unofficial final nail in his campaign’s coffin.  Sure, he is likely to remain in the race for a while longer, but the mathematical truth is that his current delegate deficit would require him to win impossibly large majorities in the remaining states in order to still be competitive.  Sanders’ fans all along have charged that bias towards Hillary Clinton at the DNC and the DNC’s use of undemocratically appointed superdelegates, who heavily favor Hillary Clinton, have been the root of Sanders’ electoral woes. And while these concerns might be more salient if the contest was neck-and-neck, it’s important to realize that Clinton has garnered 2.7 million more votes than Sanders, giving her a 277 delegate lead, without counting superdelegates.  So, instead of treating superdelegates or the DNC as scapegoats for Sanders losses, his supporters would be wise to find someone else to blame.  Namely, Franklin Roosevelt.

That Franklin Roosevelt? Yep, our nation’s 32nd president actually is having a large effect on the selection of its 45th.  As the only president to be elected four times, Roosevelt clearly understood how to win elections, and his best campaign tactic was assembling diverse groups of voters to support both him and his programs.  Roosevelt’s coalition of urban voters, white Southerners, intellectuals, and minorities has since been dubbed the New Deal coalition. While the last 80 years have made slight adjustments to this voting bloc – white Southerners now tend to vote Republican, and younger voters now represent a stronghold of Democratic support – the New Deal coalition remains the basis for Democratic turnout.

The problem with assembling a coalition of voters, however, is that in order for the coalition to last, there has to be some unifying factor to tie the coalition together.  Roosevelt’s coalition was successful because it was tightly unified in support for his administration’s New Deal programs. Unfortunately for Bernie Sanders, his failures in this primary cycle can largely be traced to his inability to unify enough support from enough facets of the Democratic coalition.  Winning a primary campaign for a major party is more about breadth of support across groups than depth of support in a certain group, and Sanders’ campaign was only able to come up with the latter.  For example, even in his loss to Hillary Clinton in New York, he still won the under-30 vote by a whopping 34%.  Winning a group by margins like that, as Sanders has learned the hard way, is only a recipe for electoral success if the group represents a large size of the total electorate or those large margins can be repeated in other demographic groups.  But in New York, under-30 voters only made up 17% of the electorate, and Sanders has been unable to translate his fervent support from young people to other classic Democratic demographics.

Take, for example, urban voters.  City-dwellers have tended to lean Democratic ever since the days of the New Deal coalition, but Sanders has had trouble attracting widespread support in big cities.  Just look at the county by county results in New York:

New York Results

Considering that Clinton won New York readily, it’s surprising to see Sanders’ light blue dominate the state.  Clinton’s key to victory was the state’s urban areas – as the only counties she actually won were in the New York metro area as well as the counties where the cities of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse are located.  Sanders actually won both suburban and rural voters in New York, but since Democrats are most densely packed in cities, Clinton’s urban advantage was all she needed.

Sanders has also had trouble attracting minority support, especially among black voters, who have historically made up a key component of the Democratic coalition.  Reasons abound for why black voters tend to prefer Clinton, from lower African-American unemployment rates during her husband’s administration to Clinton’s longer time dealing with racial issues in the public eye and Sanders’ campaign gaffes while discussing racial topics.  There’s no simple underlying answer – the reason for high Clinton support among minorities likely comes from a mixture of these factors and individual voter preferences.  But while it’s easy to argue about the rationale for Sanders’ struggles to win minority support, it’s hard to argue about the ultimate effects of minority voters heavily favoring Clinton.  Plotting voter demographics against Sanders support shows a clear racial disparity between Sanders and Clinton supporters1:


Clinton has won fifteen of the sixteen states with more than 10% of black voters, while Sanders has won every state with less than 3% of black voters. Reciprocally, with the exception of Iowa (which voted first, when Sanders had less name recognition than he does now), Sanders has won all of the eight whitest states that have voted so far.  Hawai’i is a notable exception to the general trend, as its high proportion of Asian and Pacific Islander residents makes it have low percentages of both white and black voters.  However, ignoring Hawai’i, we discover that Clinton has won all thirteen of the least white states that have cast their vote.  In a party that prides itself on being multiracial, that’s quite a racial divide.  And unfortunately for Sanders, his campaign has cobbled together a losing demographic mix from the diverse party Roosevelt helped establish.

At the end of the day, it takes a coalition to win an election.  The Democrats have had a competitive and remarkably stable coalition of voters going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt, but Sanders’ inability to spread his appeal across the modern Democratic coalition has, more than anything else, helped hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton.

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Nevada Democratic Caucuses and South Carolina Republican Primaries: The New State of the Race

Yesterday, 735,000 Republicans in South Carolina and about 80,000 Democrats in Nevada1 headed to the polls and voted or caucused in the third day of voting in this year’s primary cycle. Here, we break down what exactly happened yesterday and what it means going forward.
South Carolina Republican Primary

Coming out of New Hampshire, Donald Trump had won big, John Kasich pulled out a surprising second place finish, Jeb Bush was riding high on beating Marco Rubio, who was suffering after an embarrassing debate performance, and Ted Cruz still confident after his win in Iowa. New Hampshire and Iowa had served to narrow the field a bit, forcing Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie out. In South Carolina, Trump looked poised to pull off another large victory, leaving Cruz and Rubio vying for third and Bush just not wanting to finish too far behind them. Kasich had absolutely no expectations going in and Ben Carson is somehow still running. And, as expected, Donald Trump ended up the big winner of the night.

Candidates Pct. Delegates
D. Trump 32.5%
M. Rubio 22.5%
T. Cruz 22.3%
J. Bush 7.8%
J. Kasich 7.6%
B. Carson 7.2%

Trump won all of the delegates from yesterday’s contest, giving him a big lead heading into the Nevada Republican Caucuses and Super Tuesday. Rubio and Cruz ended up pretty much tied, but more importantly, Rubio showed that he has mostly recovered from his poor debate performance and is once again the conventional wisdom establishment-backed candidate. More unfortunately for Cruz, South Carolina is an example of why the delegate math is going to be challenging for him; Ted Cruz is expected to do best in many Southern states going forward, a large chunk of which are winner-take-all in each congressional district, meaning that a close second may not mean much in terms of actually winning him delegates.

But the biggest news coming out of South Carolina on the Republican side is that Jeb Bush has announced he is suspending his campaign. This is significant for two reasons. Although there are myriad think pieces dissecting why the Bush campaign failed, I will a chart which contains just one more reason.

Jeb Bush's Advertising

This chart adds together all of the advertising minutes from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina of TV ads from both the Bush campaign and Right To Rise, Bush’s primarily supporting SuperPAC. The biggest take away is that the campaign failed to really advertise until Bush had largely slipped in the polls and had little chance of recovery. It poured money into the first three states, but only right before they were to vote, meaning that they could only sway late-breaking voters. While there certainly are many late-breaking voters, they tend to vote strategically, meaning that if their primary focus is say, stopping Trump, they are more likely to vote for someone like Rubio than Bush. Bush’s advertising campaign simply came too late to substantially change public perception of him as a viable candidate.

Bush’s dropping out is significant for both electoral and monetary reasons. On the electoral side, it frees up the “establishment lane” of the GOP. With Bush and Christie now both out, more moderate, establishment-minded Republican voters really only have a choice between Kasich and Rubio. Taking a look at polling2, we can see specifically that this helps Rubio the most.

Jeb Bush Supporters Second Choice

We can then take the 6.3% of support that Bush had in the latest HuffPost Pollster average and split it up to the different candidates.

Polling with Bush support split up.

Clearly, Rubio is the biggest beneficiary to Bush dropping out, but that 6.3% being split multiple ways means that it honestly does not have a huge difference on pure polling numbers.

The second effect of Bush dropping out, freeing up big donors, is much more significant. Although Bush never got very far off the ground enticing voters, he was very successful in enticing donors. However, with him out of the race, many of these donors will be able to move their money around freely. And the general thinking is that many will move their money over to Rubio who can then use it to execute the same kind of attack-ad heavy campaign that allowed Romney to knock out his rivals in 2012.

Ultimately, the general thinking is that Bush’s dropping out leaves more room for Rubio to win over establishment support and use that support to win the nomination. However, with Trump and Cruz still putting up strong performance, even if Cruz cannot win many winner-take-all states, it seems increasingly likely that this race will drag on well past Super Tuesday.

Nevada Democratic Caucuses

On the Democratic side, yesterday brought more of a return to status quo than any substantial change. Although Bernie Sanders did better than expected in Iowa against Hillary Clinton and followed it up with a demanding victory in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton has steadily been a strong favorite to win the nomination. Going into Nevada, it seemed as if some nebulous “momentum” might be on the side of Sanders, although little was certain because of a dearth of polling in the state. However, Hillary Clinton pulled off a convincing win over Sanders.

Candidates Pct. Delegates
H. Clinton 52.7%
B. Sanders 47.2%

Although her victory was not the 20+ point lead that was seen in the polling last fall, reflecting the overall growth of Sanders as a competitor to Clinton, it likely effectively stopped any momentum that Sanders had coming out of New Hampshire and Iowa. And heading into South Carolina, it will likely prevent the downward trend in Clinton’s polling there that she has experienced since December. Nevada also showed that Clinton’s lead among Latino voters is not as commanding as it was eight years ago3 and South Carolina will let us know if her lead over Sanders among Black voters is as strong as it is assumed to be.

All in all, the Nevada caucuses did very little to change the Democratic race drastically; rather, it restored it back to the conventional wisdom that Clinton will win the nomination. South Carolina will be another test of this hypothesis. If Clinton is able to come away there with a commanding lead, she will have the momentum, and demographics, behind her.

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Iowa Preview: Playing the Expectations Game

After months of speculation about who will run, many debates, and discussion of candidates’ chances, tomorrow, February 1st, we get to learn the first results of the election cycle as Iowa heads to the caucuses tomorrow evening. Although we will be providing rolling analysis as results come in tomorrow, we have also put together this article to help you know what to watch for tomorrow.

Arguably the most important thing to watch for tomorrow is how the candidates do relative to expectations. The first way to track expectations is by looking at win probabilities; if a candidate who is given a small chance of winning the caucuses wins, that win will mean much more than an expected win. FiveThirtyEight has put together what they call a “polls-plus” model1 to assign a probability of winning Iowa to each candidate. PredictWise uses betting market data to derive a similar probability for each candidate.
Win Probabilities for Iowa: Republicans
Win Probabilities for Iowa: Democrats
These two methods produce fairly similar results, but both are worth noting. FiveThirtyEight’s probabilities represent what the polls are showing may happen, so those who follow polling closely will build their expectations to be similar to that model’s. On the other hand, PredictWise uses betting markets, so those probabilities more closely represent the “common wisdom” of what will happen. Because the “common wisdom” is affected so much by media portrayals and how the media spins Iowa will be crucial, it is especially worth paying attention to.

So, what do these probabilities actually tell us? Well, on the Republican side they tell us mainly that Donald Trump is a favorite to win the caucuses. That means that Trump needs to win Iowa or else his campaign will be seen as falling apart. Similarly, despite close polling between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win Iowa. However, because she has only a small lead in the polls, a loss by Clinton would probably not affect her as much as a loss by Trump would affect him.

In addition to looking at the probabilities of winning, another key part of playing the expectations game is how a candidate does relative to their polling. To understand this effect, we looked at all candidates in the last three cycles (2004, 2008, 2012) and averaged the three Iowa polls released closest to the Iowa caucuses. We then compared these to actual results of Iowa result to get an “Iowa Result against Expectation.”2 We did a similar three poll average of New Hampshire polls prior to Iowa held their caucuses and a three poll average of New Hampshire for the days after Iowa held their caucuses. This allows us to detect a change in New Hampshire’s polling which can, in part, be attributed to the results in Iowa3. Using this data4, we created the following chart. In this chart, the dot size indicates the actual share of Iowa vote that each candidate won.
Iowa: The Expectations Game
While not incredibly strong, there is clearly a positive correlation between Iowa results against expectation and changes in New Hampshire polls. By looking in the upper left quadrant, it is also very clear that candidates who beat expectations significantly and win a fairly large share of the vote tend to get the strongest boost in New Hampshire. However, to quantify this relationship a bit more, we can run a linear regression through this data.
Iowa: The Expectations Game
By running this linear regression, we find that a candidate who beats expectations by 1 percentage point in Iowa can expect, on average, to improve their standing in New Hampshire by 0.583 percentage points5. So, the effect is not huge, but it is distinct. Certainly, Trump’s and Sanders’ leads in New Hampshire polling are large enough that it seems unlikely for this boost from Iowa to propel anyone ahead of them. However, in the Republican race, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie are all so tightly packed that a stronger than expected showing in Iowa (or a weaker than expected one) could change the race significantly.

So, tomorrow when the results start to come in, while everyone will be watching mainly to see who wins, make sure to pay attention to how the candidates perform relative to current polling in order to see how New Hampshire and the rest of the race may shake up. And, of course, join us for our liveblog!

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The Murkiness of the Minimum Wage Debate

Last weekend, the Democrats running for the presidential nomination gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for the second Democratic debate of this presidential election cycle. The field was notably smaller, with Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb dropping out between the first and the second debate. The debate was fairly uneventful, with most analysts agreeing that the debate will do very little to change the direction of the contest. However, there was at least one important exchange during the debate on the topic of raising the minimum wage. Although all three candidates agreed that it needed to go up, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley want to raise it to $15 an hour, while Hillary Clinton only wants to raise it to $12 an hour. When asked about the potential consequences of a $15 minimum wage, Sanders responded:

Real inflation accounted for wages has declined precipitously over the years. So I believe that in fact this country needs to move toward a living wage. … So I believe that over the next few years, not tomorrow, that over the next few years we have got to move the minimum wage to a living wage $15.00 bucks an hour. And I apologize to nobody.

O’Malley then chimed in with support for a $15 minimum wage and then said that while he was governor of Marlyand, the state raised the minimum wage:

$10.10 was all I could get the state to do by the time I left in my last year. But two of our counties actually went to $12.80. And their county executives if they were here tonight would also tell you that it works.

Clinton defended her proposal for a raise to $12 an hour, explaining:

That is why I support a $12.00 national federal minimum wage. That is what the Democrats in the Senate have put forward as a proposal. But I do believe that is a minimum. And places like Seattle, like Los Angeles, like New York City, they can go higher. It’s what happened in– Governor O’Malley’s state. There was a minimum wage at the state level. And some places went higher. I think that is the smartest way to be able to move forward because if you go to $12.00 it would be the highest historical average we’ve ever had.

It makes sense that all Democratic candidates want to stress their plans to raise the federal minimum wage, which is currently at $7.25 an hour. Roughly 70% of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage, and just over 90% of Democrats are in favor of a minimum wage hike. The problem is, no one is really sure how much.

The motivation behind the moderator’s question in the debate was a recent New York Times opinion piece by Alan Krueger, a Princeton University economist and the former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, which suggested that a minimum wage greater than $12 would set the country in uncharted territory and could be potentially runious for the economy. However, Alan Krueger’s view is far from the consensus among economists. The Initiative on Global Markets at the Chicago Booth School of Business surveyed 42 prominent economists and found that most economists remain uncertain about the effect of a $15 minimum wage while the rest are pretty evenly split. In spite of the uncertainty of economists in how to raise the minimum wage, the Democratic candidates all came out on Saturday staunch in their policy positions. Only Hillary Clinton acknowledged some level of nuance by admitting that different states have different levels and that may be the best way to do things.

Part of the reason that the minimum wage debate is so complex is because the cost of living is drastically different across the country. Take, for example, my home county of DuPage County, Ill. According to The Living Wage Calculator, a project of Amy Glasmeier of MIT, the living wage1 for a single person is $11.66 an hour. Travel just an hour and a half southwest to La Salle County, Ill. and the living wage is just $9.84 an hour. And yet in both counties, the Illinois minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.

The anecdotal evidence is one thing, but this trend is prevalent across the entire country. In that vein, I have created a series of maps2 to demonstrate the variance in wages across the country. First, we can take a look at the current minimum wage in each state.3
Minimum Wage in Every State
We can compare this to a map of the living wage in every state:
Living Wage in Every County
What is immediately apparent, just by comparing the two maps (which are on the same color scale), is that in most counties, the minimum wage is not nearly as high as the living wage. The exception seems to be some parts of eastern Washington, where the minimum wage is the highest in the country and the living wage is not too high. To get a fuller picture, we can take the difference between the living wage minus the minimum wage to get the following map:
Living Minus Minimum Wage in Every County
There is clearly a lot of variation from county to county in this difference. The county where the living wage most exceeds the minimum wage is Honolulu County, Haiwaii, where the minimum wage is $7.25 and the living wage is $14.66, a difference of $7.41. On the other hand, 21 of the 3143 counties have a minimum wage greater than the living wage, with the largest difference in Pend Oreille County, Washington, where the minimum wage of $9.32 is $0.65 greater than the $8.67 living wage. The mean difference was $2.45, which is fairly clear from the prevalence of green counties in the map.

The point is not to offer any concrete policy prescriptions for how to deal with the minimum wage, although this map shows that by and large, it needs to be raised in order to keep up with the living wage, but rather to suggest that this issue is a lot more nuanced than most politicians are willing to admit. While I can hardly blame Sanders, Clinton or O’Malley for really wanting to get into the messiness of this policy debate when they are only granted 90 seconds to speak, it is important to recognize the complexity of the issue. An additional layer of complexity, which I did not even address in this post, but which is included in Glasmeier’s data, is that the living wage also depends on your marital status and whether or not you have children. The data used in my maps is only for a single person without children, but the minimum wage is the same across the board regardless of if that is the case.

Although last weekend’s debate was fairly clear cut as $12 versus $15, in order to have a productive conversation about this issue on the national level, more nuance and murkiness must enter the conversation. It is hard to say that, across the board, $15 is a living wage or that $12 is a living wage, when really it depends on where you are. Although little will likely change about the rhetoric of the Democratic candidates, we can at least hope that when actual policy is hammered out, lawmakers take advantage of the data available, such as Glasmeier’s, in order to make more informed policy.

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