US presidential race 2016
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both the most strongly disliked presidential candidates for decades, according to this analysis by fivethirtyeight.com. It helps to explain why Bernie Sanders seems like such a nice guy. Soon we are likely to see if he is a nice guy who will be graceful in defeat.
At this stage of the primary race, most pundits rate his chances of winning the Democratic nomination as somewhere between slim to non-existent. The main arguments can be summarised thus: it is no longer possible for Sanders to win the popular vote from pledged delegates that are decided in primary voting; most of the super-delegates favour Clinton; and super-delegates have never voted against the popular vote.
All of this is true but, while it is unlikely Sanders will emerge triumphant from the Democratic National Convention in late July, it is not impossible. This TestTube News video does a good job of explaining what super-delegates are and why they favour Clinton. However, super-delegates don't actually vote until the Convention. So far all we know is how they intend to vote and the past has shown they can change their minds.
Early on in 2008, for example, most were for Clinton. As the popular vote started to swing Barack Obama's way, many super-delegates changed their preference. One of those who did was Elaine Kamarch, a Brookings senior fellow and author of Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know About How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates. In this video, she runs down a few myths about super-delegates. She cautions that while super-delegates have not previously gone against the popular vote, they could, and uses John Edwards as an example of an event that could prompt such a change of heart.
John Edwards of course, was the North Carolina Senator running for the Democratic nomination whose campaign was derailed when an ex-martial affair came to light.
This is what Kamarch has to say:
What we now know … is that during the primary season John Edwards was involved in a very explosive scandal. If he had done better, that story would have come out in May or June of 2008, not in August of 2008. I can probably guess a lot of super-delegates … would have gone to the Convention and said ‘he looked good in January or February. But I am not going to vote for him now’.
So, could the FBI's investigation of Clinton's sloppy email habits during her time as a Secretary of State become a similarly impactful scandal? If you have lost track of where that's up to, The Atlantic has just published this handy summary of the email situation (memorably described as a 'many headed hydra'). The Atlantic notes there has been no evidence that Clinton broke the law but goes on to state:
The emails have become a classic Clinton scandal. Even though investigations have found no wrongdoing on her part with respect to the Benghazi attacks themselves, Clinton’s private-email use and concerns about whether she sent classified information have become huge stories unto themselves. This is a pattern with the Clinton family, which has been in the public spotlight since Bill Clinton’s first run for office, in 1974: Something that appears potentially scandalous on its face turns out to be innocuous, but an investigation into it reveals different questionable behavior.
Fascinating as it is, this aspect of the Bill-Hillary history is unlikely to be enough to get super-delegates to go against the popular vote. Short of the FBI investigation suddenly blowing up, Hillary Clinton looks set to hold on to those votes. That would make it all but impossible for Sanders to win. And what would he do then? Well, Sanders said this week, he will support Clinton:
Donald Trump represents a whole lot that I passionately hate and ... if I am not the candidate I will do everything I can to make sure Donald Trump does not become the president of the United States.
Will Sanders be able to convince his supporters to do the same?
Trump has boasted he can win them over. However some polling suggests otherwise. A CNN poll of Sanders supporters found they prefer Clinton to Trump by an 86-to-10 margin. The poll is cited in this Vox article which quotes Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz:
The reality of staring at Donald Trump over there as the Republican nominee, now that that's settled, I think will do wonders to concentrate the minds of Democrats.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Phil Roeder