Let me begin by saying that I bear no ill will towards Mr. Sanders. Nothing that follows should be misconstrued as an attack on his policies, his track record, his electability in November or his character. I’m not a corporate media crony, or a plant from a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. I’m just a guy who believes in the predictive power of cold, hard data.
And the unsexy truth is that, barring some catastrophic news event, Sanders will not win the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. In fact, most past candidates in Sanders’s position dropped out long before this point in the race, and those who stayed in made little pretense of winning. (The Sanders campaign, which announced Wednesday it was laying off a ton of staff, may be recognizing this.)
Historically speaking, Democratic primary races do not have many twists and turns. Rather, the eventual winner tends to take an early lead — on or before Super Tuesday — and stay there. Runner-ups can kick for a while, but they tend to concede the race by February or early March.
As it stands, Sanders is firmly in runner-up territory. He is losing 9 million to 12 million among those who have already voted, and polls show him lagging by an average of 8.8 percentage points in the states yet to vote. Sanders has gained substantially in national polls but is still the less popular candidate (outside of the Bernietopia that is social media).
To be kind to the Sanders camp, I ignored superdelegates and demographics.
The result is pretty striking: After the early days of the campaign, no underdog has ever won the Democratic nomination. A true come-from-behind victory would show up on this chart as a green line (winners) wandering above the 50 percent line (falling behind) before crossing back over (catching up) and veering toward the bottom of the chart. Instead, after the mad scramble for the first 10 percent of delegates, no candidate ever crosses over the 50 percent line. That is, the king stay the king. (Of course, there haven’t been that many Democratic primaries in the modern era, so I wouldn’t interpret this data as some type of iron-clad rule.)
The reason for this is pretty simple: Proportional allocation of delegates makes comebacks really, really hard. You can’t just notch wins in a string of states, as Sanders did in late March and early April. You have to start consistently trouncing your opponent by large margins in every contest. You need, well, a political revolution.
But what about Obama? Sanders supporters have compared their candidate’s current deficit to Obama’s in 2008, but at this point in that election Obama was actually winning by 143 pledged delegates — enough that Clinton, despite still holding a lead in superdelegates, was receiving pressure to drop out of the race. In fact, Obama was at no point in 2008 actually behind Clinton in pledged delegates. It’s just that the media usually included superdelegates in their counts in 2008, and the DNC has instructed them not to this time around. That’s because we’ve learned our lesson: Superdelegates can change their mind. Unfortunately for Sanders, pledged delegates can’t.