What Endorsements Matter Most In The Democratic Primary?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): Here at FiveThirtyEight, we’re interested in tracking presidential endorsements as they’re often a good indicator of which candidates the party is rallying behind.

So today let’s talk about the Democratic Party’s Kingmakers — or those endorsers that can make or break a candidate. First of all, who are they? And then second, what does a winning strategy in the endorsement primary look like? Should candidates prioritize endorsements from early-voting primary states? Does the type of office an endorser holds/held matter? Or is it all about the constituencies an endorser can bring to the table?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): What’s interesting to me is how few people have endorsed! I guess it’s still very early, but the clearest example I can point to of the endorsement primary already being underway is when all the candidates (or so it seemed) headed to Jim Clyburn’s South Carolina fish fry in June.

He, of course, is a big deal in the national party as well as in an early primary state.

And I think the fight over Clyburn is demonstrative of the battle over important black endorsers. In fact, between Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Joe Biden, I’d say there is already a pretty big push to win endorsements from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Yeah, a Clyburn endorsement would definitely be in my top five or 10. But the thing about this year is that since Everybody’s Running, the endorsements you probably want the most are actually from the other candidates. In particular, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Biden, who all command large, loyal constituencies.

clare.malone: Very true, though the big candidate endorsements likely won’t happen until next summer, right?

Or next spring, if things shake out neatly.

galen (Galen Druke, podcast producer and reporter): At this point, it seems like a lot of these candidates are going to have enough money to keep them going well into the primary season, so I’m not holding my breath on those endorsements happening anytime soon.

clare.malone: Maybe, though some candidates might see the writing on the wall and they’ll want to have their endorsement actually matter.

Speaking of a BIG endorsement — and a new one at that — who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decides to back is going to be big. My guess is it will come down to Warren or Sanders, but she’s said that she wants to wait to endorse, so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what she does.

galen: An endorsement from AOC would definitely confer progressive bona fides on a candidate, so it’ll be important to see who she endorses. And as we talk about endorsers, it’s important that we keep in mind what they represent: a demographic group, an ideological wing of the party, a certain state, or say, a figurehead like Obama.

natesilver: I mean, Obama is THE kingmaker.

But I don’t know if he’s going to endorse.

If does though, he’s like 10x more important than any other endorsement.

sarahf: But will Obama endorse?!

galen: NO

Unless it is Biden vs. Marianne Williamson at the end.

natesilver: I could see some circumstances where he would.

Especially if, like, a candidate he liked was ahead, but it seemed like Democrats were headed toward a contested convention, and he wanted to avoid that.

clare.malone: Yeah, Obama could endorse by early summer next year if things are still looking very crowded.

There will certainly come a point in the primary season where people start writing think pieces along the lines of “Have Democrats learned any lessons from the GOP’s disastrous 2016 primary??”

People will CLICK on those.

sarahf: But to the point Nate made earlier about people dropping out of the race and how their endorsements could be some of the most important endorsements this cycle … I have a question: How come their endorsements don’t get extra points in our tracker?

I, for one, would think they’d have a higher point value based on what we’ve discussed so far.

But I digress!

galen: Agree. I don’t understand why we give former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton the same number of points as Obama in the tracker.

So … explain that.

natesilver: I don’t think we should be thinking about this stuff in terms of the tracker.

The tracker tracks everyone, and we’re asking here if there are endorsements that carry SYMBOLIC and SUBSTANTIVE importance beyond that.

The value of endorsements isn’t in like “ohhh, Random Senator X endorsed Candidate Y,” it’s more that it’s a proxy for the “party deciding.” But some endorsements, e.g. Obama’s, really might persuade voters to think differently about the race.

sarahf: OK, so who are some other Democrats that might fall into this category, the “big names,” if you will?

We’ve got Obama, AOC and Clyburn.

galen: Apart from Barack, there is Michelle. Do you think the Obamas endorse together?

clare.malone: I think I disagree with Galen’s point about the weight of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton’s endorsements.

Clinton’s endorsement might be toxic in today’s party, but Carter is still seen as a moral leader.

galen: I agree with that, but I still don’t think his endorsement is as powerful as Obama’s.

clare.malone: No.

natesilver: HiLlArY ClInToN

sarahf: Oooh, I know Clare was talking about Bill Clinton’s endorsement being toxic, but I’m not so sure Hillary Clinton’s endorsement would be much better.

natesilver: Oh, you guys are totally wrong, the Clinton endorsements would still be a big deal.

clare.malone: Well, Hillary’s endorsement would certainly carry more weight than Bill’s at this juncture. Even if Bill still resonates with some communities, his sins (that were kinda forgiven in the past) are viewed very differently today by party elites.

galen: I honestly couldn’t tell you how this would play out, but I think candidates will play it safe and just try to keep the Clintons out of the conversation.

It is worth remembering that as of the 2018 midterms, Hillary Clinton’s approval rating among the broader public was still in the mid-30s.

natesilver: But Clinton won the primary by a WIDE margin four years ago! And a lot of Democrats like her! They didn’t want her to run again, but they still like her!

clare.malone: I don’t think she’ll endorse until there’s a named nominee.

Though, who knows–she might want to make waves! She does seem to occasionally throw bombs.

galen: Who of the top four would actively seek her endorsement?

natesilver: I think Harris and Warren, in particular, would seek her endorsement.

clare.malone: Harris for sure.

Warren I’m less sure about, though you could be right, Nate.

sarahf: OK, last call for the heavyweights. Who else?

natesilver: NaNcY PeLoSi

galen: Proxies for heavy hitters also matter — Valerie Jarrett, Eric Holder, for example.

natesilver: Ohhhh I totally disagree on the proxies.

clare.malone: I like the idea of proxies…

Why, Nate?

natesilver: Because who the hell cares who, say, Valerie Jarrett endorses. Nobody knows who she is.

galen: But party people know who she is and they might take it as a sign of what “Obama world” is thinking.

And that matters.

natesilver: ZZZZZ

clare.malone: Oh, I have one.

Pod Save America.

If they endorsed, they would be decently influential as a group.

galen: Hooo boy

clare.malone: I’m serious.

They’re a big platform for a core slice of the party.

natesilver: WHAT ABOUT CHAPO

sarahf: Hold on, I think Galen has a point about proxies, especially if many of these heavyweight endorsers won’t endorse until later. Sure, many people might not know who Valerie Jarrett is (she’s one of Obama’s longest-serving advisors), but say she and others from “Obama world” come out in support of one candidate. That matters, no?

Or at least political journalists (aka us) will write about it.

clare.malone: It would drive mini news cycles (maybe…)

natesilver: It matters in the “party decides” sense but not in the “kingmaker” sense. And we’re debating king- and queenmakers today.

sarahf: 👑

clare.malone: WHO IS MICHAEL DUKAKIS ENDORSING??????

sarahf: Warren. So that’s one heavyweight(?) down …

galen: Speaking of past presidential nominees … didn’t Walter Mondale endorse Amy Klobuchar?

natesilver: Mondale is for the Klob, yeah.

clare.malone: “The Klob” is the worst nickname ever.

Congrats.

sarahf: OK, let’s move away from who the heavyweights are (or aren’t) and back to the different endorsement strategies candidates should be using.

If a lot of these heavyweights are off the table, what lower-level king- and queenmakers should candidates be trying to win over now? Does it make sense to concentrate on just one state? Or maybe a state-specific strategy doesn’t matter?

galen: STATE KINGMAKERS

clare.malone: In Iowa, at least, you want people with a history of activism who drive people to the caucuses–so state lawmakers really matter there.

That’s why people always talk about the importance of courting activist types in those early states–it’s very retail politics driven.

galen: The upper Midwest just elected some new Democratic governors in 2018, who could make the argument that they know how to win those states as Democrats, and that they have a good sense for who should be the nominee.

I’m thinking Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan) or Tony Evers (Wisconsin).

natesilver: Yeah, Michigan seems like it’s a state that could be up for grabs.

galen: What if the Democratic governors of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania all endorsed together??

That could be kinda interesting

clare.malone: I don’t think it would happen, but sure! Interesting!

sarahf: What is a smart on-the-ground endorsement strategy at this point to win over these state kingmakers?

natesilver: Is there any strategy apart from kissing people’s asses a lot?

clare.malone: In the early states, a lot of national candidates go to local elected officials’ events, which makes the officials seem more high profile, in return for getting their on-the-ground/word-of-mouth push to voters.

So, yeah, ass kissing.

natesilver: Look, even Al Sharpton is getting a fair among of ass-kissing. That’s what this process involves.

clare.malone: What do you mean “even” Al Sharpton, Nate?

He’s a big name in Democratic politics.

natesilver: I mean that he’s pretty unpopular outside of narrow circles. Even in NYC, his favorability ratings are quite meh.

sarahf: So does this mean that candidates looking to have a strong performance in the early-voting states should concentrate their on-the-ground efforts there? Because I have to say, for all the talk of Iowa and New Hampshire as the first caucus and primary in the nation, it’s not exactly clear to me who the kingmakers are?

galen: Well, we know Clyburn is the kingmaker in South Carolina.

Perhaps Harry Reid is a kingmaker in Nevada?

And maybe there just fewer high-profile Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire at this point?

clare.malone: Unions are big in the Nevada caucuses, too.

In 2016, Clinton heavily courted Latino members of unions, for instance.

So maybe in Nevada things are more organized around unions.

natesilver: Nevada is also sort of a machine state, so I think Reid is one of those endorsements that could matter a lot in a very direct sense.

Nevada is a pretty hard one to figure out otherwise.

clare.malone: I think in Iowa, at least, there are clearer kingmakers in the GOP primary — for instance, Steve King and conservative family organizations have tended to be very influential.

sarahf: And there doesn’t seem to be the same Democratic equivalent, right?

But maybe that’s because the endorsement primary in these early states works differently and involves a much broader array of endorsers, including state legislators, labor unions, interest groups and even celebrities.

And so, say, the union vote matters more than anyone prominent individual.

Or at least this is the “party decides” view.

galen: Can we talk about endorsements from #NeverTrump Republicans? Does anyone think that these endorsements could matter?

natesilver: WHO WILL BRET STEPHENS ENDORSE?!?!?!?!

WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE OBAMA’S ENDORSEMENT OR BRET STEPHENS’S?

clare.malone: Bret Stephens will endorse Bill Weld or something.

OR…MARK SANFORD!!!

I’m so excited about Mark Sanford running (potentially).

Never forget the Appalachian Trail.

natesilver: I tend to think the media will overrate the importance of those cross-partisan endorsements. But I also think they COULD matter. In many states, the primaries are open to independents and Republicans, or there isn’t party registration at all.

sarahf: I don’t think we’re going to see anyone making explicit appeals to Never Trumpers in the primary, though.

clare.malone: Yeah, I don’t think Biden would seek out John Kasich’s endorsements in the primary, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt in the general.

natesilver: If Biden were to win the primary, I think it’s probably going to be a big part of his message.

sarahf: So it seems as if when it comes to the endorsement primary, there are two parts of it: 1) You want to build a broad coalition of support in the early states amid core constituencies whether that’s activists, unions or the like. 2) But you also want that extra boost from king- and queenmakers, except they often wait until very late in the process to make their endorsement … so how do you set yourself up for success there?

galen: Promise cabinet positions and ambassadorships.

I’m joking.

clare.malone: …. but are you?

galen: Yeah, I might not be joking.

Because what else can you do? You can make them feel special by wining and dining them and offer them something for their endorsement, or you can start winning so that people feel like they are on the winning team when they endorse you.

The first is easier to do. Winning is harder.

natesilver: I think it’s maybe more idiosyncratic and random than that. These are famous people with big egos. You build relationships, network, ass-kiss and yeah, maybe you can promise a few people a cabinet job or ambassadorship or even (!!!!!!!) the vice presidency (!!!!!!!!!). But there’s not THAT much you can do beyond that.

To the extent you’re spending more time in X state, it’s for all sorts of reasons — mostly that you think you can win that state — and not to gain more endorsements there.

clare.malone: And you as the candidate don’t need to make promises of jobs–people will assume they have your ear/a shot at influence, etc.

People like to think that their support for you will matter if you win.

natesilver: And they also like to endorse winners.

Sometimes the endorsements that matter the most are the unexpected ones. Like, if Beto O’Rourke were to get a big, unexpected endorsement, that might help him quite a bit right now because he’s sort of sucking wind otherwise.

Or if Bernie were to get Hillary Clinton’s endorsement, that would shake things up!

galen: Is anyone willing to argue that endorsements don’t matter anymore in Trump’s America?

natesilver: IN TRUMP’S AMERICA ONLY WHITE WORKING CLASS VOTERS AT TRUCK STOPS IN YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO MATTER. WHO ARE THEY ENDORSING?

clare.malone: No, because here’s the thing: People like it when other people help them navigate the political process.

And I don’t mean this condescendingly–there is A LOT going on in this election and people have A LOT going on in their lives. So they form bonds of trust in people/institutions and use those to guide their decisions. It’s the same way a lot of us make big decisions.

In politics as in life, endorsements matter.

natesilver: Yeah, I really … endorse that comment from Clare.

Voters aren’t able to pay as much attention to the race as we reporter-editor-journo-analysts might because they Actually Have Lives. So having a trusted person or institution endorse a candidate matters a lot.

galen: I also agree with Clare. The lesson from 2016 was not that the party can’t decide, but that the party wasn’t coordinated enough to decide, at least on the GOP side.

natesilver: We wrote about this a lot when we launched our endorsement tracker.

There’s plenty of reason to think endorsements still matter.

Also, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT BECAUSE TRUMP is generally bad analysis, sorry, Galen.

galen: THAT WASN’T MY TAKE

natesilver: I JUST WANTED TO GET SOMEONE ELSE TO TALK IN ALL CAPS

clare.malone: I LOVE IT WHEN WE FIGHT

natesilver: IT WAS LONELY HERE

How Bernie’s 2020 Map Might Change Without The #NeverHillary Vote

Bernie Sanders picked up support in some unusual places during his 2016 campaign to be the Democratic presidential nominee. The self-described democratic socialist won states such as Oklahoma and Nebraska that are typically associated with right-of-center policy views. He also did surprisingly well with self-described conservative voters — granted, a small-ish part9 of the Democratic primary electorate — picking up almost a third of their votes. Perhaps less surprisingly given that Sanders isn’t technically a Democrat, he performed really well with independent voters, winning them by roughly a 2:1 margin over Hillary Clinton.

So as Sanders launches his 2020 campaign as a candidate with both formidable strengths and serious challenges, his biggest problem might seem to be that there’s more competition for his base this time around, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others also competing for the leftmost part of the Democratic electorate. An equally big problem for Sanders, however, is that voters this time around have more alternatives to Hillary Clinton — left, right and center — to choose from.

Roughly one-quarter of Sanders’s support in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016 came from #NeverHillary voters: people who didn’t vote for Clinton in the 2016 general election and who had no intention of doing so. (The #NeverHillary label is a little snarky, but it’s also quite literal: These are people who never voted for Clinton despite being given two opportunities to do so, in the primary and the general election.) This finding comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a poll of more than 50,000 voters conducted by YouGov in conjunction with Harvard University. The CCES asked voters who they voted for in both the primaries and the general election; it also asked voters who didn’t vote in the general election who they would have chosen if they had voted. Here’s the overall breakdown of what Sanders primary voters did in November 2016.10

What Bernie Sanders primary voters did in November 2016
Voted for Hillary Clinton 74.3%
Voted for Donald Trump 12.0
Voted for Gary Johnson 3.2
Voted for Jill Stein 4.5
Voted for other candidates or voted but didn’t recall 2.5
Didn’t vote but said they would have voted for Clinton 1.6
Didn’t vote and didn’t say they would have voted Clinton 1.9

Voters in shaded categories are #NeverHillary voters.

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

About 74 percent of Sanders’s primary voters also voted for Clinton in November 2016. Another 2 percent didn’t vote but said on the CCES that they would have voted for Clinton if they had voted; it doesn’t seem fair to consider them anti-Clinton voters, so we won’t include them in the #NeverHillary camp. The remaining 24 percent of Sanders voters were #NeverHillary in the general election, however. Of these, about half voted for Trump, while the remaining half voted for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, another third-party candidate or didn’t vote.11

Overall, Sanders won 43 percent of the popular vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016. If 24 percent of that 43 percent were #NeverHillary voters, that means Sanders’s real base was more like 33 percent of the overall Democratic electorate. That isn’t nothing — it could easily carry the plurality in a divided field — and there were plenty of Clinton voters who liked Sanders, so he could pick up some of their votes too. But it does jibe with polls showing that Sanders and Warren together have around 30 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in 2020 and not the 43 percent that Sanders got in 2016.

You might be tempted to think that these #NeverHillary voters are leftists who thought Clinton was too much of pro-corporate, warmongering centrist. But relatively few of them were. Less than a fifth of them voted for Stein, for example. Instead, these voters were disproportionately likely to describe themselves as moderate or conservative. Among the 31 percent of self-described conservatives who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primaries, more than half were #NeverHillary voters, for example. A large minority of the independents and Republicans who supported Sanders were #NeverHillary voters as well.

#NeverHillary voters were conservative, not super liberal

The ideological and partisan breakdown of #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries

Sanders Voters
Group Clinton Sanders Pro-Sanders** #NeverHillary
Very liberal 45.2% 54.6% 46.9% 7.7%
Liberal 55.6 43.7 39.4 4.3
Somewhat liberal 59.4 40.2 32.7 7.5
Middle-of-the-road 60.2 38.7 24.9 13.8
Conservative* 66.5 31.3 14.9 16.4
Sanders Voters
Group Clinton Sanders Pro-Sanders #NeverHillary
Democrats 66.2% 32.9% 28.8% 4.1%
Independents and Republicans 33.6 65.0 37.9 27.1

* Includes voters who described themselves as “conservative,” “somewhat conservative” or “very conservative.“
** Sanders voters who voted for Clinton in the general election or didn’t vote but said they would have voted for Clinton.

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

A more complicated way to characterize the #NeverHillary vote is via regression analysis. Using the CCES — which permits fairly intricate regression model designs because of its large sample size — I took all of Sanders’s primary voters in 2016 and evaluated a host of variables to see what predicted whether they were #NeverHillary in the general election.

The most significant variables were, first, whether the voter was a Democrat, and second and third, two policy questions that have proven to be highly predictive of voter preferences in the past: whether the voter thinks that white people benefit from their race and whether the voter wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Non-Democrats, voters who didn’t think whites benefited from their race, and voters who wanted to repeal the ACA were much more likely to be #NeverHillary voters. Voters who were rural, poor, who lived in the South or the Northeast, who were born-again Christians, who were conservatives, and who were military veterans were also somewhat more likely to be #NeverHillary, other factors held equal. Black people, Hispanics, women, liberals, millennials, union members and voters with four-year college degrees were less likely to be #NeverHillary voters.

In addition, some factors related to the primary calendar affected the #NeverHillary vote. After Trump won the Indiana primary, effectively wrapping up the Republican nomination, more anti-Clinton voters filtered into the Democratic primaries. And the #NeverHillary vote was lower in states where an open Republican primary or caucus was held on the same date as the Democratic one. This implies that a fair number of #NeverHillary voters would actually have prefered to vote in the Republican primary. But if they couldn’t, because the Republican primary was closed or wasn’t held on the same date, they voted in the Democratic primary (for Sanders or another Democrat and against Clinton) instead.

We can also evaluate the geographic breakdown of the #NeverHillary vote. In each state, we can estimate the anti-Clinton vote in two ways, either by directly measuring it (e.g., 19 percent of Sanders voters the CCES surveyed in Illinois were #NeverHillary) or through the regression technique that I used above (which is similar to an MRP analysis). Without getting too much into the weeds, I used a blend of the two methods in each state based on the sample size of Sanders voters there; the direct measurement is more reliable in states with a large sample, while the regression method is better in states with a smaller one. The table below shows where the largest share of Sanders voters (as well as voters who chose another Democratic candidate apart from Clinton and Sanders12) were anti-Clinton voters:

Sanders benefited from #NeverHillary voters in red states

The breakdown of Sanders and #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries

#NeverHillary
State Sanders’s Share of pop. vote share of Sanders voters who were #NeverHillary voted sanders Other Total
Alaska 79.6% 49.8% 39.7% 0.1% 39.7%
W.Va. 51.4 45.2 23.2 7.1 30.4
Okla. 51.9 42.3 21.9 3.7 25.6
Vt. 86.0 28.3 24.3 0.2 24.5
Idaho 78.0 30.4 23.8 0.4 24.2
Neb. 57.1 42.0 24.0 0.0 24.0
Utah 79.2 29.6 23.4 0.3 23.7
Ky. 46.3 37.9 17.6 3.9 21.4
Ore. 56.2 32.1 18.1 1.0 19.0
R.I. 54.7 32.1 17.6 1.2 18.8
Mont. 51.6 31.8 16.4 2.4 18.8
N.D. 64.2 19.6 12.6 5.7 18.3
Hawaii 69.8 25.9 18.1 0.1 18.2
Maine 64.3 28.0 18.0 0.1 18.1
Kan. 67.7 26.4 17.9 0.0 17.9
N.H. 60.1 27.5 16.6 1.2 17.8
S.D. 49.0 34.8 17.1 0.0 17.1
Nev. 47.3 35.1 16.6 0.0 16.6
Del. 39.2 36.8 14.4 0.6 15.0
Wash. 72.7 19.3 14.0 0.1 14.1
Mo. 49.4 25.8 12.7 0.6 13.3
Md. 33.8 31.4 10.6 2.0 12.7
Mass. 48.5 24.4 11.8 0.9 12.7
La. 23.2 40.8 9.4 3.2 12.6
Calif. 46.0 24.2 11.1 0.5 11.6
Ind. 52.5 22.2 11.6 0.0 11.6
Mich. 49.7 21.1 10.5 1.2 11.6
Pa. 43.5 25.1 10.9 0.5 11.4
Ariz. 41.4 24.2 10.0 1.3 11.3
N.C. 40.9 20.9 8.5 2.6 11.1
Minn. 61.7 17.5 10.8 0.0 10.8
Wis. 56.6 18.6 10.5 0.2 10.7
Conn. 46.4 20.8 9.6 1.0 10.6
N.Y. 42.0 25.1 10.5 0.0 10.5
N.M. 48.5 20.8 10.1 0.0 10.1
Ark. 30.0 23.9 7.2 2.2 9.4
Ill. 48.6 18.4 8.9 0.5 9.4
Fla. 33.3 23.8 7.9 1.3 9.2
N.J. 36.6 24.2 8.8 0.1 9.0
Ohio 43.1 19.5 8.4 0.4 8.8
Tenn. 32.5 22.7 7.4 0.8 8.2
Iowa 49.6 15.4 7.6 0.3 8.0
S.C. 26.0 28.8 7.5 0.3 7.8
Va. 35.2 21.3 7.5 0.3 7.8
Colo. 59.0 11.7 6.9 0.4 7.3
Texas 33.2 19.0 6.3 0.9 7.2
Ala. 19.2 25.5 4.9 1.7 6.5
D.C. 20.8 28.0 5.8 0.4 6.2
Ga. 28.2 19.4 5.5 0.3 5.7
Wyo. 56.7 9.3 5.3 0.1 5.4
Miss. 16.6 14.8 2.5 0.5 3.0

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

The largest number of #NeverHillary voters, as a share of the Democratic primary electorate, were in Alaska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Vermont, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Kentucky. Other than in Vermont, where extreme loyalty to Sanders generated a large number of write-in votes for Sanders and other candidates in the general election, those are obviously really red and largely rural states. Apart from Kentucky, they were also all states won by Sanders in the primaries.

Although there may have been something of a market for a populist candidate in these states, it’s also likely that Sanders benefited from being the only alternative to Clinton. In fact, there are several states where the #NeverHillary vote pushed Sanders over the top and where the pro-Sanders vote alone wouldn’t have been enough for him to win. These are Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

The good news for Sanders is that the states where he benefited the most from the #NeverHillary vote — especially in Appalachia and in the Interior West — have relatively low delegate tallies. So they’re places that he can potentially afford to lose. It does mean, however, that Sanders will have to hit his mark in his other strong regions, including New England (where Warren will provide fierce competition), the Upper Midwest (where Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota could create problems in her home state and Wisconsin) and the Pacific Northwest (where Sanders would prefer that candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper not enter the race).

It also means that Sanders won’t just be competing against other progressives but also against relatively moderate candidates. If #NeverHillary voters from 2016 are again looking for an anti-establishment candidate, Sanders could still fit the bill. If they want a moderate instead, however, they’ll have a lot more choices than they did in 2016 in the form of candidates like Klobuchar and (if they enter the race) Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke. It’s also possible that #NeverHillary voters were mostly motivated by sexism, in which case any of the male candidates could stand to benefit.

None of this dooms Sanders by any means. On balance, he probably benefits from a divided field, in fact, wherein his extremely loyal base gives him a high floor of support. But a multi-way race is way different than a two-way one, so Sanders’s coalition may not be all that similar to what we saw in 2016.


From ABC News: