First things first. Let’s just admit that Bernie Sanders got thumped last Tuesday. Well and truly thumped. So yesterday morning I contributed another US$20 to his campaign.
Why? Because I support most of his positions. Because he represents the direction I’d like to see this nation take in the future. Because it’s important to continue to support Bernie’s campaign all the way to the convention. Because that’s how we impress on the Democratic National Committee the simple fact that eventually Democratic voters won’t be satisfied with incremental changes to a system that’s largely broken.
But I’m not donating money in the belief that Bernie can still win the nomination. It’s still mathematically possible for him to win, but it’s highly improbable. I don’t say that because I’ve lost faith in Bernie; I say it because math is an unflinching, heartless, unforgiving bastard. And I’m saying it because I’m seeing a lot of this:
This chart and the one below are accurate for the dates given. But they’re also misleading. Here’s why: they suggest that because Bernie is only a few hundred delegates shy of Hillary, and because there are still a couple thousand delegates left, that all Bernie needs to do to catch her is win a few large states. But that’s just not true.
The Democratic primaries operate on proportional delegate allocation rules. That means the candidates win delegates in proportion to their vote share in a given state’s primary or caucus. So it’s not just a matter of winning a primary; it’s the size of the win that matters. If a candidate wins by a large margin, the winner gets proportionately more delegates than the loser. If a candidate wins a primary in a close race, the winner may only get one or two more delegates than the loser.
Take Bernie’s big win in Michigan — and make no mistake, it was a big win for Bernie. But more in terms of emotion and enthusiasm than in terms of delegates. Because it was a fairly narrow win, Bernie only earned seven more delegates than Hillary.
Another example: next Tuesday is the Arizona primary. Arizona will allocate 85 delegates. Let’s say Bernie wins the primary with 60% of the vote. That means he’ll gain 60% of the 85 delegates. That’s 51 delegates. But Hillary will win 34. That’s only a difference of 17 delegates. Using the chart above, Bernie would then have 869 delegates; Hillary would have 1166. That’s still a sizable lead.
What this means in practice is this: in order for Bernie to catch or surpass Hillary in the delegate count, he not only has to win primaries, but he has to win them in a big way. He has to win by a large enough margin to gain significantly more delegates than she gets. In order to gain the nomination, Bernie will have to win almost every single remaining primary by nearly a 60-40 margin. Those are landslide margins.
Is that possible? Yes, it is. Is it very likely? Sadly, no.
When the news media refers to Hillary as the presumptive nominee, they’re not lying; they’re just looking at the math. And math has no mercy.
That said, I’m still supporting Bernie. I’m still giving him money. I’m still telling people to vote for him and caucus for him. Because the effort itself has value. Because even if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination I want him to show up with a large number of delegates, because he can help shape the party platform. I’m still supporting Bernie because this nation needs his movement and the passion he’s inspired. We need it to shape the 2018 Congressional elections.
There is — or should be — more to this movement than Bernie Sanders. If we seriously want the profound systemic change he offers, then we can’t stop working until that change takes place. We can’t quit. Even if the math is against us.