Our model gave Bernie Sanders a 58 percent change of winning the Wisconsin primary and estimated he would earn 53 percent of the vote, thus carrying 46 delegates. The actual results? 57-43 in favor of Sanders, leading to his taking 48 delegates (to Hillary Clinton’s 38). He clearly beat our expectations, though at the same time, a large victory in an 82 percent white state (with a small African American population) is not necessarily shocking. Regardless, the victory is sure to lead to another influx of hard money into the Sanders campaign coffers and will serve as a springboard into New York and other Northeastern primaries.
That said, Bernie Sander’s performance in Wisconsin still leaves much to be desired: He’s still losing African-Americans by a lot (69-31). The upcoming states have decent African American populations that can make or break Sanders’ attempts to close the delegate gap. This problem isn’t new – a failure to connect with African Americans has plagued the Sanders campaign since its inception and is the prime cause for Clinton’s large delegate lead. Her sweep of Southern states, many by shockingly large numbers, rendered Sanders’ victories in small caucus states and his close upset in Michigan meaningless. And though Clinton could not best Sanders in Wisconsin, the demographics of the upcoming states and her continued strength with African Americans (though she’s not as strong with minorities as a whole, winning them in Wisconsin 57-43) should portend well for her.
Sanders supporters will naturally counter with two arguments. The first would be that Sanders is narrowing his gap among African Americans. Compared to the opening days of the campaign, that is indubitably true. Sanders lost African Americans in South Carolina by a whopping 72 points, 86-14. Compare that to Wisconsin and it’s easy to claim that significant inroads have been made. However, we’re not seeing any current movement. In Michigan, his most significant upset, Sanders lost African Americans 28-68; similarly, in Illinois a week later, he lost the minority 30-70. Numbers have hardly changed since the middle of March despite Sanders’ win streak and supposed momentum. As of yet, he’s simply not changing numbers.
The other argument Sanders supporters would advance revolves around momentum. Sanders is on a large winning streak and that’s giving his campaign renewed hope and his supporters renewed faith in ultimate victory. With this momentum has come millions of dollars – $44 million in March alone. Can Sanders translate momentum into votes? There lies the make-or-break question. If Sanders can translate momentum – a seemingly overrated and overplayed buzzword – and his cash windfall into votes and support among minority communities, the upcoming states might become competitive and maybe, just maybe, he could close the delegate gap.
Is Wisconsin a turning point in the race? Not in itself. It’s a state Sanders needed to win and did; he achieved the necessary. Only if Sanders can compete in New York will race be altered.