Democratic Primary Home Stretch

Woman in voting booth at polling place
Woman in voting booth at polling place

We're really in the home stretch of the Democratic primaries now, as the last few territories and the last eight states will all be voting in the upcoming weeks. Tomorrow night, Oregon and Kentucky will weigh in, and then the last six states (who, for some unfathomable reason, all decided to go last this year) will finally get a chance to vote on the seventh of June: California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Before I get to predicting tomorrow night's races, as usual I have to take a moment to update the stats. Last Tuesday, I called West Virginia for Bernie Sanders, predicting he'd win by double digits. This turned out to be true, which gives me one more in the "win" column for Democrats. As I mentioned last week, since Donald Trump is the only candidate left on the Republican side, I won't be calling any more of their races (Republicans in Oregon vote tomorrow, too), and my Republican record for the year can now be considered final.

Total correct 2016 Democratic picks: 34 for 44 -- 77%

Total correct 2016 Republican picks: 37 for 47 -- 79%

Total overall correct picks: 71 for 91 -- 78%.

Those numbers may look pretty good, but I have to say I was chagrined to learn that there is a spoof pundit out there (Carl "The Dig" Diggler) who has also been playing this game, which was intended by the people behind the prank as satire of the horserace-obsessed political press. They intentionally ignored the polls and went with gut feelings designed to poke fun at how some pundits operate. This led them to write such lines as: "Wisconsinites are mostly a simple people. They eat their three lunches, kiss their often enormous children on their often featureless faces, and go to church so they can pray for the 2 Broke Girls." Pretty funny, I have to admit, but the sobering part is that their record of predictions is astoundingly good -- a fact which shocked even the people behind the spoof. Carl "The Dig" Diggler called 87 primary races so far. He got 77 of them right, for a very impressive 89 percent correct. My own record doesn't look so good, stacked up against what was intended to be a prank. It's stories like this which keep you humble about the whole business of political prognostication.


Kentucky (Democrats)

There are two Democratic races we'll all be watching tomorrow, and neither of them has much in the way of polling to examine. Kentucky is the race which everyone is expecting to be the close one tomorrow night, but really at this point it seems like everyone is relying almost entirely on their gut feelings.

Kentucky could go either way, if you're basing predictions on how surrounding states have voted. Will Kentucky's map look more like Ohio's or West Virginia's? Or possibly neither? Nobody really knows, at this point. Hillary Clinton had a big victory in Ohio earlier in the year, and won almost every county (which I wrote about last week, complete with a map showing how tough Kentucky is to predict). Then Bernie Sanders did manage to win every county in West Virginia, just last week. But Kentucky is kind of a crossroads of different demographics, in more than one way. It is Southern, but is also the northern border of the South. It reaches into Appalachia in the east, but also touches the Mississippi River in the west. Areas of the state are dominated by the coal industry, farming, and horseracing. This all adds up to a mix of demographics that would be hard to predict even without Hillary's and Bernie's outsize wins in (respectively) Ohio and West Virginia.

Clinton has campaigned in Kentucky, which she didn't bother to do much of in West Virginia. She has also outspent Bernie 3-to-1 in advertising, showing that she thinks she's got a real chance to win. Bernie is being labeled the favorite to win tomorrow by most pundits, but I'm not really sure why they're so confident. Clinton, if West Virginia is any indication, could lose a lot of counties in the eastern parts of Kentucky, but she also may win a lot of counties in the western part of the state.

My guess -- going from just gut feelings -- is that it will be close, but not as close as some are now predicting. I'm going with the herd on this one, and predicting that Bernie Sanders pulls out a victory in the Bluegrass State. I don't feel at all confident about this prediction, and I think the county map is going to be a lot more mixed than it was in Indiana, Ohio, or West Virginia. This one could be a late night, though, as I think it'll be close enough that we'll be watching returns come in for hours before the state is called by the networks.


Oregon (Democrats)

Oregon is even harder to predict, because we actually do have poll numbers. Well, numbers from one poll, I should say. The reason this makes it harder is that these poll numbers are exactly the opposite of what everyone has long assumed about how Oregon will vote.

Oregon is Bernie country, virtually every pundit out there says, with a fair degree of confidence. It's a fairly commonsense conclusion to draw, actually. Oregon's Democrats are pretty liberal overall. They pride themselves on being more progressive than their neighbor to the south, in fact. For those unaware of West Coast politics, the easiest analogy to use is that Oregon is kind of the Vermont of the West Coast. A lot of hippies moved there a long time ago, and have now put down some long-term roots. This shifted the politics of the state in a very liberal direction. Described that way (especially the "Vermont" part), it's easy to see why the natural assumption would be that Bernie's going to win big in Oregon.

The only problem with this scenario is the poll, which appeared last week. It wasn't from one of the biggest polling firms out there, but there are no other polls around for comparison (to see if this one was a wild outlier or not). The poll showed Bernie Sanders with only 33 percent support among Democrats, and Hillary Clinton with a whopping lead of 15 points (at 48 percent). That's an astounding margin in a state where nobody is even giving her a chance to win.

Researchers took another pass at the numbers, and this time adjusted to see what would happen if turnout is high. But even this didn't solve Bernie's problem:

Researchers tested two potential turnout scenarios, to see if the race might change if turnout is higher than expected. But even in a higher turnout race, Clinton led Sanders, this time 45 percent to 38 percent.

So is something going on in Oregon that nobody in the political chattering class is now admitting? Well, we'll have the answer to that tomorrow night. Oregon is a closed primary state (independents don't get to vote in it), which so far this year has given Hillary Clinton a big edge. So her pulling an upset win here is entirely possible.

Perhaps blindly, though, I am going to go with both my own gut and the consensus opinion among other pundits, and say that Bernie easily takes Oregon. One poll with a rather high margin of error (5.6 percent) isn't enough to convince me, in other words. If Hillary does manage a win here, I will have plenty of company being very surprised, that's for sure. But I think Oregon's results will look much like Washington's results, to its north. I think Bernie will not only comfortably win the state, but also that he'll likely sweep most of the counties as well.

So those are my picks, made almost entirely from gut feelings. Bernie wins narrowly in Kentucky, and wins in a blowout in Oregon. We'll see tomorrow night whether the conventional wisdom that Bernie's the favorite in both states proves true or not. And as always, if you disagree with my picks, let me know yours down in the comments.


[Previous states' picks:]


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