A complex set of procedures and a very slow count still obscures the full picture of today’s Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada, but there’s not much question about the winner: It’s Bernie Sanders, by what looks to be a larger margin than polls predicted.
According to entrance polls (which included substantial exit-poll data from the four days of early caucusing held January 15-18), Sanders’s raw first alignment vote looks likely to fall somewhere in the high 30s, with him carrying every age category other than seniors (who favor that other late-septuagenarian, Joe Biden) while winning over half of Latinos, nearly half of self-identified independents, and running second to Biden among African-Americans. Despite a much-publicized flap with the state’s largest and most powerful union, the Culinary Workers Union, Sanders also carried the union-household vote handily, and conspicuously won several Las Vegas Strip precincts catering to the Culinary’s membership.
Early raw votes of first and final alignments put Sanders well over 40 percent, and early county delegates counts (officially what makes and break the winner according to the state party) put him over 50 percent. Those percentages will likely go down, but with Biden, Buttigieg, and Warren languishing in the teens in the raw vote, and Klobuchar and Steyer in single digits, nobody’s catching Bernie.
So the insurgent democratic socialist has, depending on how you view the Iowa results, either swept the first three contests of the nominating calendar or posted two wins and a tie. He’s done well in the High Honkyland of Iowa and New Hampshire, and in very diverse Nevada. According to the most recent polls, he was in striking distance of Joe Biden in South Carolina, whose primary electorate is majority black, even before today. Yes, of course, he has benefitted from scattered opposition; he’s nowhere near the percentages he posted in 2016 in his one-on-one battle with Hillary Clinton. But his percentage does seem to be growing, which is often the key for a candidate perceived as an ideological or “movement” vehicle.
We are all waiting to see if the slow count from Nevada reflects some structural problem with the caucuses, as in Iowa, or just a state party being very careful about it all. For the time being, it’s hard to guess the rank order of the candidates behind Sanders, though Biden may have a slight advantage overall, while Buttigieg has famously focused on piling up county delegates in the state’s rural “cow counties.” The entrance polls suggest Buttigieg and Warren did relatively well among late-deciding caucusgoers, but bad weather today and heavy early caucusing may limit the impact of late-deciders.
The ultimate significance of Sanders’s Nevada win will depend on who (if anyone) else gets a boost from the state, and whose candidacy is damaged or devastated. But it’s sure been a great week for Sanders, who performed well here after watching the candidate many thought might represent the ultimate challenge to him, Michael Bloomberg, get pummeled in the Las Vegas debate. He may, at some point soon, need to start thinking about building a solid majority of Democratic support and even convincing some of those party elites who fear him to get more comfortable with a Sanders-led ticket. Or maybe he’d prefer to conquer than to unify, as yesterday’s official tweet suggested:
Whether he’s daring that Establishment to try or not, expect a lot of excitement in the ten days between now and Super Tuesday.