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Politics /15 Mar 2016
03.15.16

Confirmation Bias And The Presumptive Nominee

In the Democratic primaries and caucuses, 1290 delegates of a possible 4763 (715 of these are super delegates) have been decided. Of the 1290, Hillary Clinton has won 762 and Bernie Sanders has won 549, which should mean, at this stage in the race, that the result is wide open, especially when we consider the trends, the geography and demographics of the remaining states and the volume of remaining delegates.

However, most major news organizations continuously report that Hillary Clinton is the ‘presumptive nominee.’ This rhetoric is designed to infiltrate our collective psyches and cause us to reject the notion that Bernie Sanders is a viable candidate.

Let’s examine how presumptive Hillary’s nomination is. So far, the majority of her 762 delegates and 7 of her 10 wins have come from southern states. Her wins above the Mason-Dixon Line came in virtual ties in Iowa, Nevada and Massachusetts. This is significant for a few reasons.

First, the vast majority of remaining delegates will be determined by northern states and populous ones at that, like New York (247 delegates), Illinois (156) and California (475). Florida is a southern state but the strange dynamics of the sunshine state could deviate from the rest of the southern pattern. So in elected delegates (and elected delegates is an important distinction here) Clinton has a lead, but only in states that exclusively vote Republican in the general election and basically in a region that is largely determined.

Being the best Democratic candidate in severely Republican states does nothing for the nominee in the general election. Alabama Democrats prefer Hillary to Bernie. So what? They ultimately will prefer the Republican come November when it’s winner take all.

The states that will determine who will be our next President, like Ohio (143), New York, Pennsylvania (189) and Indiana (83) are still in play. So far, Bernie has shown to be stronger in the north, by winning Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and essentially tying in Massachusetts, Nevada and Iowa. The only lopsided Clinton victories have been in the south, whereas Sanders has won handily in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Minnesota, Michigan, Kansas, Nebraska as well as a solid win in Oklahoma.

The Michigan win illustrates my point. It’s a northern state and was projected to be won by Clinton and by a margin of up to 20%. Instead, the late charging Sanders was able to sway voters north of the Mason-Dixon Line that he was viable and desirable. Instead of a landslide loss, or even merely narrowing the margin, Sanders won Michigan by 3%. The three percent victory is not a big as the 23% swing. This is the perfect example of how the presumptive nominee bias gets exposed by real election results as the process plays out, assuming the narrative doesn’t keep Sanders supporters home.

Most states have yet to hold a primary, and among remaining states is the delegate rich and liberal California (475) Illinois (156) where Sanders established himself as a Civil Rights leader, Ohio (143) where their Democratic leanings tend to mirror Michigan because of the makeup of their economy, and New York (247), Bernie’s birth state, and Florida (214) where retirees and northeastern transplants reflect a large block of voters similar to the northeast and a large population on Social Security. Social Security is an important variable because Sanders is the champion of Social Security and senior citizens vote in higher percentages than any other demographic.

So with 72% of the delegates remaining and most of those delegates in northern states, it is ridiculous to continue the narrative that Hillary is the presumptive favorite. Yet news source after news source continues to label her as such. She is the favorite due largely to an early start, name recognition and branding from 2008. But the presumptive narrative kicks the process in the crotch.

Part of this narrative is fostered by the shenanigans involving super delegates. Often news outlets report a super delegate count even though these delegates are merely pledged and won’t count until the convention. Historically super delegates change to the victor of the elected delegates by the convention. They do, however, provide a psychological impact along the way. People begin to buy into the ‘inevitability’ of a candidate and don’t want to ‘waste their vote.’

As an example, The New York Times, along with most media, reports that Hillary has a lead over Bernie Sanders of 1221 to 571, even though only 1311 delegates have been determined. In 2008 a similar scenario played out, where Hillary Clinton had a sizable lead over Obama early in the race, but once Obama closed the gap and then surpassed her in elected delegates, the pledged super delegates began to switch. The truth is that no party wants to face the torches and pitchforks that would be mobilized if the popular candidate lost due to party elites’ foul play. So the super delegates swing to the will of the popular delegates, but they affect the popular delegates by providing the narratives that the party elites want.

One main reason for this narrative, besides creating a confirmation bias among voters, is to keep the Democratic platform centered. Party officials feel that Clinton must run centric to win the general election, but Sanders is forcing her to stay left. Dr. Lara Brown, Director George Washington School of Political Management explains, “What Bernie Sanders did is basically tell the Clintons you can’t go right. In fact, you have to go left, because the people who are most disaffected with Barack Obama’s presidency aren’t the Republicans who never gave him a chance. It’s the progressives who turned out in record numbers in 2008 and feel tremendously let down.”

This ‘inevitability’ narrative is the critical reason why these numbers must be illuminated. The race to nominate the Democratic presidential candidate is far from over. And if people stay at home or vote for the ‘presumptive’ winner to get behind the party, the process becomes tainted and the candidate doesn’t represent the people’s will.