Who’s really winning the Democratic nomination race?
A win is a win. Or is it? Of all the platitudes issued by pundits and the candidates themselves, this is among the shallowest of content and the dizziest of spin. Yes, when it comes to a horse race and the import is who takes home the winner’s purse, a win is a win. When the question is viability of a candidacy, or accumulation of proportionally allocated delegates, the phrase edges towards obfuscation. Its intent, more than to elucidate, is to discourage voters or to persuade them that their loyalties are misplaced. It is, in short, part of the psychological warfare of the campaign— to be expected perhaps from the candidates, but otherwise a disappointing tell of media bias.
Consider the first three competitions in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Is Clinton’s 0.3% margin of victory in Iowa really comparable to Sanders’s 22.4% margin in New Hampshire? In terms of support levels and delegates taken, it’s clear that a win is not a win. In Nevada, where Clinton secured a modest 5% better margin than in Iowa, CNN called it a “decisive win,” and Chuck Todd of NBC said that it restored “the air of inevitability” to Clinton; Salon ran a headline “Bernie, you’re done.”
Before going any further with this Clinton triumphalism, we need to look at the actual results of the race so far.
Yes, that’s right, Clinton’s inevitability and Sanders’s death knell are being sounded on the basis of an exact tie in delegates won! Yet in the broadcast coverage I’ve watched, and in searches online, I have yet to find one headline noting this incredibly relevant fact. In fact, in a Google search of “democratic nomination delegate count” on February 22nd, the very first result is the New York Times trumpeting “Delegate Count Leaving Bernie Sanders With Steep Climb.”
This is not an arithmetic error on the part of the Times; they are adding Clinton’s unpledged superdelegates to her total. For those who haven’t caught on yet, those delegates represent the undemocratic part of the Democratic nomination procedure. In the words of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz, “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.” To be fair, with regard to “running,” she was probably referring not to the party nomination but to the party elite attending the convention as delegates.
In reality though, it is unlikely that the superdelegates would stay pledged to Clinton if Sanders is able to achieve more than a marginal victory in pledged delegates. For one, it would severely hamper the Democrats’ chance of success in a general election if Sanders supporters felt betrayed by the party and if Republicans could level the criticism that Clinton was the choice of the party establishment, not the people.
One would have to forgive an ordinary voter for reading a headline like the Times’s and thinking that Sanders is losing, but the bias evinced by the Times is less forgivable. That little fact about the race being tied on the basis of elected delegates is buried squarely in the middle of the article.
So put away your shovels and your party hats, this race has a long way to go, and Sanders has amply demonstrated his viability and competitiveness. Even if Clinton pulls ahead due to demographics on Super Tuesday, Sanders by no means should be counted out. Nationwide polling has shown Sanders growing ever stronger since he entered this race, even pulling ahead for the first time in a Fox News poll last week. Despite the best efforts of the party establishment and the media, the people may still demonstrate their commitment to Sanders’s political revolution.