Bernie Sanders Appears to Be Fading, Not Surging by Larry C Johnson–UPDATE 27 Feb 2020

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The notion that Bernie Sanders is heading up an electoral, unstoppable juggernaut is total nonsense. It is political spin not paying attention to the cold hard facts emerging from the first three Democrat contests. I believe in numbers.

On the good news front (for Democrats that is), there are more Democrat voters turning out for the 2020 contests than showed up in 2016. It is an increase of over 150,000 voters compared to 2016 (574,945 compared to 428,330). So Democrats can be happy about that. But that is about all the good news.

Bernie Sanders has some big problems. He will not get enough delegates on his own to win the nomination. In fact, the changes to the delegate selection process advocated by Sanders in the aftermath of the 2016 contest are likely to work against him. Instead of hoping to snare all delegates in a winner take all state, Bernie will be saddled with getting a proportional share. And here is the problem.

In 2016 in Iowa, Bernie split the votes with Hillary, racking up 50% of the votes in the caucuses. In 2020? Bernie only garnered 27%. Forty eight thousand three voters turned out for him in 2016. That number dropped to 45,831 in 2020 while the number voting for other Democrats increased by 78,000.

The results in New Hampshire in 2020 told a similar story. In 2016 Bernie took the state by storm with 61% of the voters siding with him. The 2020 turnout for Bernie in New Hampshire was a disaster–only 76,352 voted for him out of 300,742. Instead of 61% of the vote, Bernie eked out 27% this year.

And then there was Nevada. Bernie won 47% of the vote in 2016 but lost out to Hillary. Total votes for Bernie–39,732. Bernie’s “win” in 2020 was described by some news outlets as a “landslide.” Not quite. Bernie did win a few more votes in 2020–41,075. But his percentage of the vote fell to 40%. Sixty percent of the Democrats voted for someone else.

At this point in the primary season, Bernie Sanders is anything but a juggernaut. He may be the most entertaining but his support, compared to 2016, is declining, not surging. Watch carefully the numbers that emerge from the upcoming contests.


In 2016, Bernie Sanders received 96,498 votes, which accounted for 26% of the total in the South Carolina Democratic Primary. Anyone want to guess how many votes he gets this go round?

I do not discount the possibility that Republicans will turn out and boost Bernie’s numbers. But I do not think that will dramatically change Saturday’s outcome, which means a first win for Sleepy Joe.

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26 Responses to Bernie Sanders Appears to Be Fading, Not Surging by Larry C Johnson–UPDATE 27 Feb 2020

  1. D says:

    Bernie can keep getting his leading pluralities; but he still has more voting against him than for him for the DNC nomination.
    Pelosi is now claiming she will support Sanders if he is the DNC choice.
    Which can mean several things:
    (1) she knows Sanders will not be the final DNC choice;
    (2 )she knows it is a lost cause in 2020, so sacrifice Bernie and get rid of VP Warren at the same time;
    (3) she promised she would only be a one-term party leader in 2018 so she may well be retiring anyway.;
    (4) she wants socialism to be put on the table and rejected once and for all while she retires to her California vineyards and her wealthy husband’s rewards of capitalism.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Yes, it’s puzzling unless you assume that the media are pulling for him.
    He hasn’t won a majority in any caucus or primary so far and seems unlikely to do so.

  3. MK says:

    Great comparison of 2016 v. 2020 on Bernie’s numbers.
    I’d even go slightly further and argue that since there were only 2 candidates in 2016, vs. 7-8 or more in each 2020 primary (at least through Super Tuesday), a meaningful number of people who voted for Bernie last time have switched their vote to another candidate.
    Since he won’t get 50% + 1 for the convention(unless every other candidate drops out after Super Tuesday, including Bloomie) it’s even more likely Bloomie can buy off enough super delegates to get nominated.
    Even if Bernie is the nominee in November, how many of the voters who voted for him in 2016, BUT DID NOT in 2020 primaries, ‘come home’ to him in November?

  4. Leonardo says:

    I see your point when you say that Bernie Sanders might be in trouble because he will not be able to get enough delegates on his own, but comparing the percentage of preferences obtained by Sanders in 2020 with those he obtained in 2016 doesn’t make much sense, from a mathematical perspective.
    In 2016 there were basically two (viable) candidates: Clinton and Sanders. In 2020 between five and six (viable) candidates are competing. It is to be expected for votes to be much less concentrated than in 2016.
    And if it’s true that the delegates might end up deciding to choose someone else rather than Sanders, they will also have to take into account that by sidelining Sanders they might also end up alienating an important part of the democratic voters, that Sanders was able to mobilize.

  5. Jack says:

    You’re spot on that Bernie is underperforming relative to 2016. Additionally, there’s no way he’s going to get the majority of the pledged delegates.
    We’ll have to see how he does in South Carolina where he lost decisively to Hillary in 2016 and Super Tuesday.
    The question is who the Democrats super delegates and the other candidates delegates move towards on the second ballot at the convention? Either way it’s not gonna look good for Democrat unity. Unless the stock market leaks considerably by November, Trump should feel good about his re-election prospect.

  6. Leonardo,
    You clearly do not see the point. This is not about mathematical theory. Take the case of Bernie’s performance in New Hampshire in 2016–150,000 plus votes. In 2020, 76,000. This has nothing to do with only “two” viable candidates.
    You must be a Bernie supporter and are trying to conjure up an excuse for why he is slipping. His percentages in both Iowa and Nevada were down significantly. But keep deluding yourself.

  7. Sam Iam says:

    Bernie’s overall votes were in fact down from 2016, but if you agree there are (roughly) two factions, Progressives and Moderates, take look at New Hampshire, and add up Bernie + Warren (for the Progressive side), and Klobachar, Pete, & Biden, the Progressive wing is still numerically superior. Its hard to deny that the Progressives occupy a significant amount of popularity within the Dem party.

  8. Upstate NY'er says:

    “Yes, it’s puzzling unless you assume that the media are pulling for him.”
    You bet they are.
    Sanders is the voice of their agenda.
    BUT, they are like the rest of the Democrat-media party.
    Terrified that the mask they’ve worn for so long is being ripped off by Sanders and their “true’ thoughts are being exposed to the chump voters.
    The difference between Sanders and the rest of the Democrats is a millimeter;he’s just too stupid to hide it.
    How did he continually get elected in Vermont?
    Guilty trust funders (bloviating about “white privilege”, BTW), hippy spawn and childish transplants who want to be hippy spawn.
    In such a small state, it doesn’t take a lot of determined people
    to take an election.

  9. blue peacock says:

    In the 2016 Republican primary, which was also a multi-candidate race initially, Trump was garnering between 21-49% of the votes in the early primary states. Of course by the time of the convention all the other candidates had dropped out and endorsed Trump. There’s a possibility that could happen in this years Democratic primary too. The last man standing decision.
    This time in the Democratic primary however, it looks like Bloomberg’s strategy is to buy the nomination on the second ballot. This could work unless of course Warren, Amy, Joe and Pete drop out after Super Tuesday.
    The situation is still very fluid until we get the results from Super Tuesday with the giant states like California and Texas reporting. Then we’ll know who is gonna drop out and who plans to duke it out with Bernie in the later states.

  10. turcopolier says:

    Yes, Vermont is a lot like Delaware. In Delaware you can know enough people to make elections a personal matter.

  11. Leonardo says:

    Like I said, I see your point. I just don’t agree with it. If you have five candidates that are sharing approximatley the same total number of votes, each one of them will likely get less than he would get if the voters were only allowed two choices.
    And yet, Sanders is leading right now. Which means that more democratic voters appear to be favoring him over any of the other candidates.
    I’m not questioning that the support he gets might prove insufficient to get the nomination.
    I’m questioning an evaluation about Sanders’ performance based on a comparison of data resulting from two very different situations.
    I don’t think there is any “unstoppable juggernaut” in the democratic primaries right now. But Sanders is doing better than his competitors in a highly polarized environment that is offering a wider array of choices to democratic voters, making any comparison with the 2016 primaries much harder to get right.
    I won’t deny that I sympathize with Sanders and share some of his political ideas, but I’m not a US citizen, so in the end I don’t even have a stake in these elections. I don’t think I have anything to delude myself about. I’m mostly just looking at what is happening out of curiosity.

  12. D says:

    Can’t compare GOP primaries to Dem primaries, since GOP are winner take all delegate allocations. That creates a ‘winner” a lot earlier in the game, well before the RNC.
    Dems award proportional delegates meaning it can remain an open field right up to the DNC. Keeps the GOP from tearing each other – badly- apart right up to the opening of the RNC. Trump and Cruz were still sparring in 2016, but that quickly died down. No threat of a 3P movement for the loser of that 11th hour showdown.
    DNC’s biggest liability if they go to a second ballot, can they snatch an apparent leading Sanders victory away with their super-delegate votes? Even if those are the party rules, what will playing by the rules do to this “ban the electoral college” Sanders crowd.

  13. Jack says:

    If this California poll turns out to be accurate it could give Bernie a massive number of delegates as he would get all the state wide delegates. If this also matches the results from each congressional district then he’ll get it all.

    #California @PBlankPolitical Poll (2/23-25):
    Sanders 34%
    Warren 13%
    Bloomberg 11%
    Biden 11%
    Buttigieg 9%
    Klobuchar 4%
    Steyer 3%
    Gabbard 2%

  14. Petrel says:

    ” On the good news front (for Democrats that is), there are more Democrat voters turning out for the 2020 contests than showed up in 2016. ”
    Larry, the ‘good news’ might be misleading if some Republicans voted ‘Democrat’ for primary purposes, with no intention of voting for anyone other than Donald Trump in November.

  15. Petrel,
    Very valid point. You may be right.

  16. Walrus says:

    I still expect HRC will come out as the nominee in a brokered convention, maybe with Buttigieg as VP.
    She will be sold as a centrist character who will unite the party, protecting it from Bernie’s excesses but still an agent for change towards more caring sharing policies. A person with more bite than Biden, more worldly than Warren, more trusted than Tulsi, blooded unlike Bloomberg and importantly more balanced than Bernie. Buttigeig blends with Hilary his military, millennial and metrosexual gay experience.
    Pelosi gets Secretary of State for organising this.

  17. Walrus,
    An interesting prediction. Time will tell. You are on the record with this prediction and will merit praise for your prognostication skills if you’re right.

  18. different clue says:

    HRC? Really? If the DemParty brokers its convention to give us HRC all over again, then I’m voting for Trump all over again. If they give it to HRC, HRC should make Chamelea Harris her VP. It would all be just too perfect.

  19. Terence Gore says:

    backgrounder on Mayor Pete
    from the article
    “In an NBC report with findings similar to the one cited above, Elizabeth Arsenault, a professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, chalked up the trend to fears among intelligence operatives that Trump could seriously damage the US-led world order.
    “The wave of former intelligence officials running as Democrats is new,” she said.
    Indeed, the alliance between Democrats and a vocal segment of the NatSec establishment reflects looming mutual distrust and ongoing battles inside and outside of government between the Trump White House and components of the vast intelligence community. Nonetheless, the flipping of the normal order, where Republicans were historically closer to the “military-industrial complex” while Democrats viewed it warily, is apparent in many ways.”

  20. Fred says:

    Professor Arsenault has already forgotten Elissa Slotkin? How’s she doing in her reelection bid, her first time out Russia, Russia, Russia was a deciding factor in a narrow win. But more important is the detail about Mr Wilson, formerly the political director of the Clinton controlled DLC. Is he a mentor to “mayor Pete”? Given the Clinton connection I understand why walrus thinks he might be a Hilary vp pick.

  21. different clue says:

    If the SanderBackers want to get Sanders nominated at Dem Con 2020, they just have to know that they will have to win on the first ballot. As Yoda would say . . . ” First ballot or first ballot not! There is no second ballot.”
    So if Sandergroup loses that first ballot, I hope they hang tough and make the Conventioneers vote over and over and over again. Make the Clintobamas suffer. Make them hurt. Make them pay. I hope the Sanderistas can make the DemConventioneers have to stay there and sit there and suffer through hundreds and hundreds of rounds of balloting. Weeks and weeks and weeks in beautiful downtown Milwaukee.

  22. Terence says:

    My bet Hillary would be Cheneyesque with Pete as the flak attractor

  23. Bernard says:

    If someone other than Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, you’ll never get the young vote. Sandernistas won’t vote for the Party Democrats who have made their lives horrible. the youth have no Hope with anyone but Sanders. Obama made sure the Youth Vote/Hope and Change BS, was screwed with the Wall St. Bail out. Biden insures the youth can’t file Educational loans Bankruptcy. i’m sure some low knowledge voters will follow the Pelosi capitalist/Blue Dog Democrats, but it won’t be enough to stop Trump. Choices!!
    this sure will be interesting to follow how things fall.

  24. different clue says:

    I can not know what “will happen” if “this happens” or “that happens”. What will happen if Sanders does not get the nomination? If he is clearly defeated within the rules . . . without any smell of fraud or cheating . . . the Sanderfolk will grieve and then decide what to do next. IF! it were to happen that way, Sanders himself would support any nominee except maybe Bloomberg and would try convincing all his supporters that Trump “must be defeated”. It would then be interesting to see how many or how few of his supporters care about “defeating Trump” in this scenario.
    If the Sandervoters feel strongly that they have been cheated or defrauded out of their Sanders, then I don’t know what will happen. Here is what I HOPE would happen. I would HOPE that 50 separate bunches of Bitter Berners would take it upon themselves to put Sanders’s separate and independent name on all 50 of the State Ballots, with or withOUT Sanders’s permission. Then we would get to see if the DemParty would lose enough Bernievotes to assure a Trump re-election.

  25. Larry, it’s great to see that you are still blogging. I used to follow your blog with much interest.
    I hope you are correct, as I am afraid that running against a socialist/communist who promises people ‘free’ is a tough act. I realize that most educated Americans can see ‘Democratic Socialism’ for what it is, but plenty of young people who have never been forced to earn a living think that what Bernie is offering is the best thing on earth.
    I am just hoping that Bernie is once again robbed of the nomination and that his devoted followers fail to vote for the DNC choice.
    We shall see.
    Best to you.

  26. D says:

    Reminder: if anyone is going to get anything for free, it will take a Democrat House and a Democrat Senate to send the bills for all the free stuff to POTUS Breadline Bernie to sign.
    Don’t even lose sight that down tickets races are equally important to win if one wants to finally see a clear agenda for anyone who makes it to the top of the ticket.
    If we learned anything after 2016, the power of the phone and pen of just the POTUS alone is very, very limited when it comes to getting appropriations for campaign promises.

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