In Iowa, Bernie Sanders didn't expand the electorate and had no crossover appeal

Bernie Sanders has belatedly declared victory in Iowa:


Yesterday the Associated Press said it was unable to declare a victor in the race because of irregularities and DNC Chair Tom Perez called for a recanvass. As it stands now the race is essentially a dead heat between Sanders and Buttigieg with each able to claim victory depending on which metric is used. Here’s how Philip Bump as the Post summed it up this morning:

As it stands, with all of the precincts in, Sanders leads on two metrics — support after the first alignment and support after the second alignment — and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg leads on the state-delegate equivalent metric.

Buttigieg put an emphasis on counties where the county delegates were worth more state-delegate equivalents, and it seems to have paid off. Only barely, though. He currently leads by a 564.02-to-562.44 margin, fewer than two state-delegate equivalents. That narrow lead is in part a function of how the party interpreted the satellite caucus rules. Incidentally, Sanders’s campaign put a focus on organizing those.

Even if Sanders didn’t quite win when it comes to state-delegate equivalents, he still had a good night.

Or did he?

Over at NBC News, Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann have a piece suggesting that the outcome of Iowa actually contained some bad news for Sanders.


Turnout was lower than expected. And the entrance poll showed him with limited crossover appeal outside of his young, very liberal base.

Sanders got just 8 percent support from Iowa caucus-goers 45 and older. And among seniors 65-plus, it was just 4 percent.

While he overperformed among “very liberal” Iowa Dems (43 percent), he underperformed among “somewhat liberals” (19 percent) and moderates (12 percent).

He got just 12 percent support from white women college graduates — arguably the heart of the Dem resistance against Trump.

And maybe most concerning of all for Sanders, he won more than half of the Iowa caucus-goers who said they supported him in 2016. But he barely registered (7 percent) among the 54 percent of all Iowa caucus-goers who said they backed Hillary Clinton four years ago.

To see why this matters, you have to consider the context. The left wing of the Democratic Party has been arguing, really for years, that nominating moderates was a mistake. They believed there were a lot of potential voters who simply didn’t turn out when the nominee was a relative moderate like Hillary Clinton. And the promise was that if you had a real progressive nominee like Sanders, suddenly there would be a big influx of new people going to the polls to support the bold progressive candidate. In fact, Sanders’ Iowa state director made exactly this case just before the caucuses:


“What we believe is that the only way we defeat Donald Trump is through people,” said Sanders’ Iowa State Director Misty Rebik in an interview with ABC News. “The way we strength the Democratic Party – to not only defeat Donald Trump or win back the senate and do all the other ambitious goal we need to do to transform this country – is to expand the electorate and that includes talking directly to working class people and meeting them where they are.”…

“We have been trying to create new entry points into the political process this entire time. We’ll see if it works,” Rebik added.

Now that the results are in, it looks like Sanders failed to expand the electorate. From NPR:

Late Monday night, the party’s communications director, Mandy McClure, said, “Early data indicates turnout is on pace for 2016.”

With 71% of precincts reporting at this point, that estimate looks like it is still on track. Some 239,000 caucused in 2008’s record-setting year. In 2016, it was the second-highest, but just 171,000.

That’s disappointing for Democrats. They were hoping, with their first contest of the nominating season, to show they had a high level of enthusiasm and that they are, to borrow a phrase, fired up and ready to go defeat President Trump.

In fact, it’s worse than that. Not only was the overall turnout modest, there was a dip in first time voters:


The entrance poll showed just about a third of voters — 35 percent — caucusing this year are first-timers, a lower level than in 2016, when first-timers made up 44 percent of the Hawkeye State’s Democratic caucusgoers.

And this year’s level of new participants is well shy of that in 2008, when a whopping 57 percent of Democrats said they had never caucused before.

None of that means that Sanders can’t win the Democratic nomination. But, unless something changes, he’s not expanding the electorate in a way that will make up for all the moderate and swing voters he’s turning off with his far-left agenda. So when it comes to the general election, he could become America’s Jeremy Corbyn. And that brings us to Jonathan Chait who has written a sequel to his previous post saying that nominating Sanders would be an act of insanity:

It is always darkest, John McCain used to say, before it gets totally black. So it is for the American center-left right now. Bernie Sanders is currently favored to win the nomination, a prospect that would make Donald Trump a heavy favorite to win reelection, and open the possibility of a Corbyn-esque wipeout. While Sanders has not expanded beyond a minority of the party, he has consolidated support of the party’s left wing, and while its mainstream liberal wing is split between numerous contenders, it is hard to see how the situation is likely to improve soon. Indeed, it could get worse, much worse…

At the moment, the party is melting down over a vote-reporting fiasco in Iowa. In time, we liberals may look back at this moment as a high point.


This kind of doom and gloom is catnip for conservatives but the important point is that it’s not coming from conservatives, it’s coming from Democrats. Hillary Clinton said pretty much the same thing yesterday. Again, the caveat here is that Iowa is only one state and things could change. But as a first test of Sanders’ promise to expand the electorate, Iowa was a failure.

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