What We Learned From Nevada's Democratic Caucus

By Doctor Comrade

The Nevada Democratic Caucus was supposed to be Bernie Sanders's first real test: Nevada is a state that is not nearly as white as New Hampshire or Iowa, and the results seem to indicate that Hillary Clinton maintained her support from people of color, and specifically African Americans. According to NBC's polling data, Sanders won a slight majority of white voters, and Clinton won a slight majority of non-white voters (however, it looks like Sanders won a small majority of Latinos, which is significant).

What did we learn? Almost nothing. Hillary Clinton was expected to win Nevada. What was surprising was how narrowly she won, and that's significant for the rest of the campaign.

Despite having the entirety of the Democratic Establishment supporting her, and despite an overwhelming majority of superdelegates, Hillary Clinton has proved unable to fend off a serious challenge from an independent and crotchety Senator from Vermont.

Nevada demonstrates how tenuous Clinton's lead truly is. She was expected to crush Sanders: according to FiveThirtyEight's polls average, as late as February 9, Clinton had a 50-28 lead in Nevada.

More importantly, Nevada has a closed caucus, meaning only registered Democrats are allowed to participate. So Hillary Clinton, whose final victory was merely 52.6-47.3, could only muster a slim majority of registered Democrats. Even with the DNC, Wall Street donors, Super PACs, name recognition, superdelegates, and every other advantage, in a state where she was supposed to dominate the final results, Clinton could only get 52.6% of registered Democrats to caucus for her. Even though she won huge margins with older voters, who tend to participate at much higher rates than younger voters, her victory was tiny.

This is why some media outlets have characterized Nevada as a win, or at least progress, for the plucky Vermont independent and not for Clinton. Some choice excerpts:

"In the most diverse state to vote so far, Sanders pieced together a coalition that draws on both demography and ideology to show he can and likely will challenge Clinton for months to come." - ABC News

"And yet with all these organisational advantages, [Clinton] still only eked out a narrow win... A five-point loss in an ethnically diverse state that mirrors many of the contests to come should give the Sanders faithful some hope that he'll be competitive in the slate of southern and western primaries to come in the next few weeks." - BBC

"But in some ways Sanders has already won something: The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 is more liberal than the one that turned out in the party’s last competitive primary eight years ago. Democratic voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada this year were far more likely to describe themselves as liberal than they were in 2008." - FiveThirtyEight

We also may have learned that Clinton's lead with Latino voters has probably evaporated. Some polling suggests Sanders won a majority of Latino voters, despite losing the heavily Latino precincts. However, Sanders did not succeed in eroding Clinton's lead with African Americans, which spells trouble for the next few contests, especially in South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, and Virginia. The electoral map looks much better for Clinton than it does for Sanders.

Overall, however, we continue to see an evolving electorate that does not believe in the Democratic Party. People under 44 favored Sanders 72-25. People under 29 favored Sanders 82-14. Even the leftist publication Jacobin thinks Sanders is the most electable candidate: he is viewed more favorably by Americans, especially so by a generation of post-Cold War young people who no longer believe the anti-socialist propaganda that permeated the ideologies of previous generations. It should come as no surprise then that Clinton is winning older voters by huge margins. The Baby Boomers remember the atomic bomb drills, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Wall, the missile gap, Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-banging incident, Nixon's kitchen, etc. Even if their opposition to Sanders is visceral and subconscious, that fear is not present in my generation, which has followed in the footsteps of many other generations who felt disillusioned by the political machines and sought charismatic reform candidates.

Unfortunately, because Nevada has gotten the exalted title of "First in the West," and because it represents the first demographically diverse contest, its results are often overblown. However, this should be taken as a scary sign for Clinton, who will be looking to capture Sanders supporters when she wins the nomination. A 52% majority of registered Democrats in a diverse state is not a win for her. If everything had gone according to plan in Nevada, the establishment and their establishment candidate needed not worry about the general. But as Clinton learned in her virtual tie in Iowa and resounding loss in New Hampshire, this election is far from decided, with the tides of change coming in against her.

Sanders will need to prove that he can win more than whites and young people. Clinton will need to prove that her coalition won't continue to erode. Nevada demonstrates trouble for both candidates.

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