Bernie Sanders lodged large victories in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington on March 26. With his victories come a torrent of new pledged delegates, closing Hillary Clinton’s lead and refusing his campaign with a shot of momentum. But do his wins change the delegate math; can Bernie Sanders win the nomination?
To the first question, no; to the second, it still remains unlikely.
Alaska and Washington – two caucus states with low African American populations (with whom Clinton fares well) – represent states Sanders should have handily won (and, to be fair, he exceeded expectations). Washington, furthermore, is very liberal: Seattle is the third most liberal city in America and as the predominant (pro-Sanders) force in the state, helped Sanders rack up a large margin of victory. Sanders also spent substantial time in the state knowing that if his campaign had even the slimmest hope of notching 2383 delegates, Washington was a must-win. Its demographics also were favorable to Sanders – a high white population coupled with a small African American subset played into Sanders’ strengths. There’s a reason 538’s delegate target model showed a high Sanders target. Sanders did what he needed to do (and then some).
On the other hand, winning Alaska is fairly meaningless, as expressed by the below tweet from Washington Post reporter Philip Bump:
The state has just 16 delegates at stake and even though Sanders overwhelmingly won the state, he netted few delegates over Clinton. A strong victory in a small state is more than offset by Clinton’s strength in large, diverse primaries – winning numerous Alaskas does not help Sanders win the nomination. And once more, demographics favored Sanders: though home to many minorities, few African Americans (Clinton’s best demographic) reside in the state. Alaska’s average age is also fairly young, another boon to Sanders. He won a favorable state, hardly a reason to believe the race has flipped, though, to his credit, Sanders surpassed expectations.
Hawaii was a wildcard. Its unique demographics made the state difficult to predict, though our model still favored Sanders. Again, Hawaii is very small with only 25 delegates up for grabs. His strong showing here, as in Alaska, netted Sanders a small amount of delegates, far from the amount needed to overcome his 300 delegate hole (which does not take into account his superdelegate deficit). The Alaskan paragraph more or less translates to Hawaii.
Winning small states, as Sanders has easily done, provides a morale boost but not a game change. The Democrats allocate delegates on a proportional basis, so even a huge victory in a small state results in single or low double digit delegate wins. Sanders has yet been able to expand his small state victories to large, diverse electorates. Those states hold large number of delegates and through those states the path to the nomination weaves. Yes, Saturday closes Sanders’ delegate gap, but he comes out of these contests still trailing by around 250 delegates. That can only be scaled with large-state victories.
Sanders needs to break serve; he’s winning the states in which he’s favored (beating expectations in those states), but these states are small and delegate poor. He needs to pull upsets in large, diverse states, the likes of which have eluded thus far. His Michigan upset needs to happen again to keep Sanders competitive.
So, can Bernie Sanders win the nomination? Not unless he can translate these victories to momentum and poll movement, winning the Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington caucuses amounts to kicking a field goal when trailing by 18 in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.