The overwhelming majority of the voting data accumulated thus far in the Democratic primaries contradicts the media narrative suggesting Bernie Sanders doesn't perform well in states with diverse populations.
While the fact that Sanders yesterday swept "Western Saturday" (with votes in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington) is a part of the analysis -- as is the fact that, in just a few hours of voting, Sanders managed to eliminate 22.5% of Hillary Clinton's 296-delegate lead -- it isn't the greater part. I'm not even focusing here on the fact that, after weeks of being told how staggeringly far ahead Clinton is in the pledged delegate race, her monumental margin ends up, as of today, being no more than 54.9% to 45.1%.
A single-digit lead.
With 1,750 pledged delegates -- nearly 45% of all pledged delegates -- yet to be awarded, across 22 future nominating contests.
So: those are some pretty eye-popping numbers.
Still, far more important to undercutting the specious media narrative about Bernie Sanders and diverse electorates is a somewhat broader observation: that thus far, six of the ten most diverse states in America have held Democratic nominating contests, and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have won three of these contests.
In two of her three wins in ultra-diverse states, Clinton won with relatively slim majorities: in Arizona she pulled 57.6% of the vote, and in Nevada, 52.6%.
In both states, Clinton substantially underperformed pre-election polling. The RCP polling average in Arizona predicted a 30-point victory; instead, Clinton won by 17.7%, and in fact she lost the live (Election Day) voting to Sanders, 52% to 48%. Meanwhile, in Nevada, Clinton met the expectations set by polls taken in the 120 hours before the caucuses, but fell dramatically short of the last poll taken prior to that period, which predicted a 23-point Clinton victory instead of the 5.5-point one she got. This enabled Sanders to claim, not unfairly, that he'd made up more than 17 points on Clinton in the eight weeks leading up to the Silver State caucuses. The New York Times, getting it right for once, called Clinton's Nevada win "narrow".
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders won his three contests in ultra-diverse states -- Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington -- with 81.6%, 69.8%, and 72.7% shares of the vote, respectively.
In all three states, Sanders exceeded expectations dramatically. Polling website FiveThirtyEight.com had predicted 8-point wins for Sanders in Hawaii and Alaska, and a more generous 17-point win in Washington.
Instead, Sanders won Alaska by 61.5 points, Hawaii by 39.8, and Washington -- the largest of the three Western Saturday states -- by a jaw-dropping 45.6 points.
(As a side note, Sanders also just won the Democrats Abroad primary -- which awards as many delegates as do Alaska, Vermont, or Wyoming -- 69% to 30%. While the demographic breakdown of Democrats Abroad voters is unknown, we do know that Sanders defeated Clinton in 167 of 170 countries -- those last four words might be worth reading twice -- and that in one of the three countries Clinton won, only five people voted. That means Sanders won among Democrats in every majority-nonwhite country in the world that has Democrats in it other than Nigeria, Singapore, and the Dominican Republic. As noted, only five people voted in Nigeria; in Singapore, Clinton's win was a relatively modest one, 58% to 42%. I won't list the 167 countries Sanders won, as I just don't have the space here.)
If you thought these four decisive Sanders wins offered the national media a pretty good opportunity to drop its ridiculous narrative about Bernie Sanders supporters -- namely, that nearly all of them are white -- you either don't understand how firmly in the Clinton camp even mainstream media organizations are, or you don't pay any attention to domestic politics at all. Most of us knew what to expect from the media after seeing months of purportedly objective "panels" on CNN and MSNBC comprised entirely of Clinton surrogates or neutral reporters; watching media outlets fail to cover even a single second of election-night speeches by Sanders; and cringing as every major media organization continued counting "super-delegates" as though these were earned and confirmed "votes," despite a DNC directive to not tally them until the summertime.
Most importantly, most of us knew what to expect after the national media had ignored entirely Sanders' strong performances in, demographically speaking, the "middle half" of U.S. states -- that is, those states ranked 13th through 38th in terms of their white population.
Sanders' record in these states is as follows (acknowledging exceedingly close results as ties):
- Wins: 6
- States: Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah.
- Delegate Count in These States: Sanders 170, Clinton 101.
- Ties: 4
- States: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri.
- Delegate Count in These States: Sanders 219, Clinton 216.
- Losses: 7
- States: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee.
- Delegate Count in These States: Clinton 326, Sanders 177.
The total delegate count for these seventeen "normative" American states?
Clinton 643, Sanders 566.
53.1% to 46.9%.
So we see here that Clinton has a very slight edge in states (1) and delegates (77), but not a dramatic one -- especially given that in one of her "win" states, North Carolina, live (Election Day) voting was essentially a tie. Meanwhile, all of Sanders' wins were by large margins.
When you add to the above seventeen states the six ultra-diverse ones referenced at the top of this article -- plus the Democrats Abroad primary -- the tally for Sanders looks like this:
- Wins: 9
- States: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington.
- Delegate Count in These States: Sanders 274, Clinton 139.
- Ties: 4
- States: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri.
- Delegate Count in These States: Sanders 219, Clinton 216.
- Losses: 10
- States: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia.
- Delegate Count in These States: Clinton 452, Sanders 256.
The total delegate count for these twenty-one diverse American states?
Clinton 807, Sanders 749.
51.8% to 48.2%.
Whereas none of the Sanders "wins" listed in this second chart were at all close, two of the wins Clinton banked were squeakers in one way or another: Nevada, because Clinton only won 52.7% to 47.2%; and North Carolina, because (again) Election Day voting there was a virtual tie.
So, is it really the case that all the voting in the nation's most diverse states (at least those that have voted thus far) comes down to Clinton beating Sanders -- in delegates -- just 51.8% to 48.2%?
What the above analysis really does is underscore how complicated questions of race are in America.
For instance, the data assessment used at the head of this article to determine the ten most diverse states in America was one that considered mixed-race voters as "non-white." For this reason, it did not include Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, or Texas -- states that would have appeared in the top ten if the question had simply been what percentage of each state's voters are Caucasian. But should that really be the measure we use to determine a state's demographic diversity? Certainly, it seems impermissibly reductive to blithely call mixed-race Americans "Caucasian."
Yet most media assessments of racial and ethnic demographics do exactly that. For this reason, I've used, in the middle of this article -- the part with the bullet-pointed lists -- a data assessment that ranks states solely by their Caucasian populations. This assessment offers no break-out for mixed-race Americans.
So if you consider mixed-race voters, as of course we should, Sanders and Clinton have indeed both won three of the ten most diverse states. And if you don't -- that is, if you look instead at "percentage-white" data only, as the national media habitually does -- the seventeen American states that are the most "normative" racially and ethnically indeed have voted just 53% to 47% in Clinton's favor.
So, somehow a 53%-47% delegate split in the seventeen most "normative" American states (demographically speaking) and a 3-3 split among the six most diverse states that have voted so far adds up to a compelling narrative about Sanders' inability to attract nonwhite voters? That's a head-scratcher for sure.
If you think I'm just having fun with numbers here, look at it this way: right now Clinton leads Sanders by 226 delegates, and 215 of that 226-delegate lead (over 95% of it) can be attributed to just four states, three of which are majority-white: Georgia (53% white), Florida (55% white), Mississippi (57% white).
Of these four states that account for almost the entirety of Clinton's lead on Sanders, only one of them -- Florida -- has any real chance of being won by the Democrats in the next four general elections.
In other words, reports of Sanders' irrelevance to the full swath of Democratic voters are not just exaggerated, but laughable.
Now, none of this is to say that Sanders performs just as well as Clinton among African-American voters, or Latino voters, though we can note that Sanders has improved his performance among both groups as time has gone on and that -- and this is perhaps the worst canard the media has perpetuated -- the fact that Clinton performs well among these two voting groups does not mean that Sanders is unpopular in these communities. Indeed, Sanders' favorability ratings wouldn't be 32 net points higher than Clinton's (+11 as compared to -21) if this were the case.
But what the above data do tell us is that "Western Saturday" was the time for the media to finally put to rest its outlandish claim that Bernie Sanders doesn't do well in states with diverse populations -- as that narrative, we can say for certain, is untrue.
Unfortunately, that sort of magnanimity from the corporate media just wasn't to be.
Amazingly, most Sanders supporters I've spoken to, skeptical as they've been about the media's coverage of the Sanders campaign, are still absolutely appalled at what unfolded after Sanders absolutely dominated Clinton on "Western Saturday" -- which was, again, if we let demographic statistics be our guide, the day on the spring election calendar in which the largest number of racially and ethnically diverse populations got to weigh in on the Democratic primary race.
But you know what? They've a right to be appalled, and even by the low standards set by news media coverage of the presidential election, it was appalling.
Here's an abbreviated list of the shocking, indeed borderline racist political analyses heard on CNN during Western Saturday:
- The claim that Hawaii is mostly white (it's majority-minority);
- the claim that Alaska is overwhelmingly white (it's the seventh-most diverse state);
- the claim that Michigan is the most diverse state Sanders has acquitted himself exceedingly well in (in fact it's the sixth-most diverse, and eighth if you count the ties in Illinois in Massachusetts); and
- the claim that Wisconsin is more diverse than any of the states that voted on Western Saturday (in fact, Wisconsin is one of the dozen whitest states in America, while the Western Saturday states are all among the ten most diverse).
I'm not including, in the list above, all the other absurd misstatements that CNN in particular filled the airwaves with -- such as Bakari Sellers stating that Clinton's 13.8% win in Ohio (after polling had predicted a victory by more than 30 points) was as miraculous a performance as Sanders' come-from-behind win in Michigan or (moreover) his making up of almost the entirety of a 42-point deficit in Illinois in just the last seven days of that campaign.
So what explains all this journalistic malpractice?
The same thing that explains the absence of Sanders surrogates or supporters on cable TV. The same thing that explains media blackouts of Sanders speeches. The same thing that explains super-delegate tallies having been used by cable news all spring -- successfully -- to influence public perception of the Clinton-Sanders race, despite their use for this purpose having been explicitly opposed by the Democratic National Committee. The same thing that explains Sanders having netted 21 delegates on "Western Tuesday" (the votes in Arizona, Idaho, and Utah) rather than losing between one and ten net delegates -- as predicted before the voting by the media -- without anyone coming on air thereafter to issue a mea culpa or even a well-done to Sanders.
In short, the national media has a false narrative in its jaws like a dog with a bone and the only thing that will dislodge it is -- apparently -- Sanders not only winning the Democratic nomination for President but, also, each member of the media being allotted one Sanders voter apiece to pinch them mercilessly on the arm.
Seth Abramson is the Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University) and the author, most recently, of DATA (BlazeVOX, 2016).