Bernie Sanders’ stunning win in Michigan primary has brought into sharp focus the inaccuracies of presidential polls carried out by media outlets, none of which predicted the Vermont senator to win the contest.
In fact, Hillary Clinton was such an overwhelming favorite in Michigan that media outlets have had to swallow their own words, and as FiveThirtyEight put it rather bluntly, Bernie Sanders’s unexpected win made reporters “eat a stack of humble pie.”
According to Patch, Bernie Sanders cut into Clinton’s support among African-American and blue collar workers in the Rust Belt, dealing Clinton the heaviest blow yet in her presidential campaign. Although Sanders beat Clinton only marginally, 50 percent to 48 percent, the victory could be symbolic in the sense that it could alone be enough to propel Sanders into giving Clinton a tougher fight for the Democratic nomination than many expected. It is no wonder, then, that news organizations have described Sanders’ win in Michigan as nothing short of “stunning,” “key,” and even “historic.”
But before we even begin to analyze what the victory could mean for Bernie Sanders and his campaign, there is a simpler conclusion to be drawn from the results, and it is this: you cannot trust the polls.
Of all the polls that pitched Clinton and Sanders against each other in Michigan over the course of the last month, not a single one had Clinton leading by less than five percentage points. Some polls even went so far as to suggest that Clinton will win the state primary by a landslide, giving her margins of between 11 and 37 points over Sanders, according to the Huffington Post.
In the famous New Hampshire upset in '08, Clinton trailed Obama by 8 points. Big upset. But today, Sanders trailed Clinton by *21* and won.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 9, 2016
So what were the reasons that the exit polls were so wide off the mark?
There could be any number of reasons, of course, but there are some that are quite obvious, even at this early stage.
For one, there were very few polls conducted a week before Michigan went to vote, meaning that Sanders’ late surge on Saturday was not taken into account. In fact, not even a single poll released its results after the Democratic debate Sunday in Flint, Michigan, where, it could be contested, Sanders put concerted efforts to swing the Democratic voters in the state.
Second, if there is one state that has suffered the brunt of economic collapse more powerfully than others, it is Michigan. In fact, Democratic voters in the state, reeling under the Flint water crisis, could not but hope for a presidential nominee who would directly take on the establishment, and Bernie Sanders appears to be that man.
Millennials and young voters also make for a major percentage of the Michigan electorate (20 percent according to NBC/Wall Street Journal poll), who have been rooting for Sanders throughout this presidential campaign, and it could have helped the Vermont senator cut into Clinton’s anticipated lead. As noted earlier in the article, there is also little doubt that Sanders had major support among minorities in Michigan than elsewhere, which inevitably helped him in winning over the state.
Another palpable reason for Sanders’ performance in Michigan could be his campaign’s decision to outspend Hillary Clinton on ads. Sanders spent $3.6 million in ads compared to Clinton’s $2.6 million.
Moreover, a high voter turnout in Michigan could be the most important reason that Sanders could manage a win, something he has reiterated since the beginning of his campaign.
ALERT: Michigan has surpassed @MichSOS's 2 million voter turnout projection in both primaries with 85% of precincts reporting statewide.— Chad Livengood (@ChadLivengood) March 9, 2016
In retrospect, while these reasons are plain for anyone to see, they were missed by each and every poll that pitted Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton. A last-minute sway in voter mindsets could not be held accountable for the great surprise, and it is quite evident that, if the Michigan primary is anything to go by, exit polls cannot be taken at face value.
But what could this mean for Bernie Sanders’ campaign?
With voting due in Illinois and Ohio next, both of which Hillary Clinton is expected to win, according to exit polls, Sanders would try to make sure that Michigan does not remain a mere fluke. The momentum that the midwestern state has given Sanders is too valuable not to be used.
California, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are states with large delegate prizes, and if Sanders can give Clinton a tough fight in these states, then nothing definitive could yet be said about the race. Michigan has already pointed out that to us.
With the southern states already behind him, Bernie Sanders’ campaign will believe the victory in Michigan has come at just the right time.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]