Why Bernie Sanders Could Really Use 56 Percent of Tonight’s Vote

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Bernie Sanders Campaigns In NH One Day Before Primary
Photo: Andrew Burton/2016 Getty Images

Bernie Sanders is going to win the New Hampshire primary or else his campaign — along with the credibility of all public opinion polling — will be no more. Despite the creative mathematics of Hardball’s social-media team, the Democratic race is not close in the Granite State.

So the question tonight is margin of victory. Many pundits have argued that a double-digit win would mark a triumph for the socialist insurgent. But if Sanders wins by a margin of 55 to 45 percent, Hillary Clinton will walk away with an even share of New Hampshire’s delegates.

Since our nation was founded on the principle of "no taxation without an insanely convoluted process of electing representation," as long as Clinton gets above 43.8 percent of the vote, she’s entitled to half the state’s delegates. More specifically, New Hampshire’s 24 delegates are broken down into an eight-eight-eight split between the state’s two congressional delegates and its statewide allocation. If Sanders wins 56.3 percent of the vote in one district, he’ll take home five of that district’s eight delegates — if he does this in both districts, and thus achieves that margin in the statewide vote, he’ll best Clinton 15 to 9 in total delegates. (If he wins that margin in only one district and doesn’t achieve it in the statewide count, he’d end up with 13 to Clinton’s 11.)

To get more than 15 delegates out of Tuesday night’s contest, Sanders would have to win more than 68.8 percent of the vote — a circumstance far outside the window of reasonable possibilities.

Of course, at this point in the race, a handful of delegates matters less than the media narrative Wednesday morning. Ultimately, Sanders will either drastically improve his current standing among nonwhite voters or else there won’t be a race after Super Tuesday. A wave of positive press coverage would presumably get the Vermont senator moving in the right direction.  

It’s not clear how much Sanders needs to win by for the press to declare his victory a triumph. Considering the fact that Clinton led by more than 40 points in July, it’s possible that any win could spur fawning coverage. But with some polls showing the Vermont senator up by 30 points, a single-digit margin may allow the secretary of State to spin Sanders’s success as a one-off fluke — more a product of his regional ties and New Hampshire’s overwhelming whiteness than any testament to his broad appeal as a candidate.

If Sanders can win 56 percent of the vote tonight, he’ll secure an unambiguous advantage in both the spin room and the delegate tally.