Bernie Sanders Michigan Upset Victory: How He Beat The Polls — Now He Needs To Do It Again, But Can He?

Bernie Sanders’ stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the Michigan Democratic primary was the biggest upset in a primary election since 1984 — judged by comparing pre-election polls to the final result — but now Sanders is faced with the daunting task of repeating his remarkable achievement if he has any hope of catching Clinton in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.

Can he get the job done?

In fact, merely getting the job done will not be enough, according to multiple studies of the “delegate math” that could lead to a Bernie Sanders nomination. Sanders will need not only to continue winning victories in delegate-rich states where he trails by large margins in current polling, he will need to win those states by large margins due to the primary system of awarding delegates on a proportional basis.

Sanders was trailing by 20 points in many recent polls in Michigan, but ended up winning a razor-close victory there by 1.5 percent — 18,327 votes out of 1,194,643 cast statewide.

Watch Bernie Sanders’ impromptu victory speech in the video below.

According to data crunched by statistician Nate Cohn of the New York Times, even if Sanders continues to outperform his polls by Michigan-level proportions throughout the remainder of the primaries, he is already so far behind in the delegate count that he will lose to Clinton anyway — by a healthy margin.

Those calculations do not include the so-called “super delegates,” who give Clinton an even larger advantage. But unless Bernie Sanders can repeat his Michigan performance not just once but in every state between now and June 14 when the primary campaign concludes, he will fail to defeat Clinton with or without super delegates.

Bernie Sanders Michigan Upset Victory How He Did It
Bernie Sanders was thrilled with his Michigan victory on Tuesday (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Nonetheless, his Michigan victory breathes new life in the Sanders campaign, which would have effectively been dealt a knockout blow in Michigan if the polls were even in the ballpark. And the upset win has certainly given new hope to his supporters, many of whom now say that polling cannot be trusted.

But the real reasons behind how Bernie Sanders pulled off his Michigan miracle suggest that Sanders cannot simply count on the unreliability of polling. In fact, on the Republican side in Michigan, and in Missouri, the pre-election polls were extremely accurate in predicting the final result.

According to an analysis by Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight — a site whose projections gave Clinton a 99 percent chance of winning the Michigan primary — one of the reasons the polls may have been as woefully incorrect in Michigan as they were was simply that no polls were taken after Sunday night’s Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan.


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In that debate, Sanders hammered Clinton on free trade deals she had supported, deals that are widely seen as responsible for economic devastation and job losses in Michigan over the past two decades. Sanders’ debate performance may have swayed voters in Michigan — but if so, that change was not reflected in polling because none was taken.

Bernie Sanders, despite losing black voters in Michigan by a 2-1 margin, did better with that voting bloc there than in any other state with a significant black population so far in the primary season. In southern states, that margin was typically closer to 4-1.

Pollsters, according to Bialik, were also overly biased toward surveying self-proclaimed Democrats in their polls — badly underestimating the number of Michigan independents who would vote in the Democratic primary.

If that assessment is accurate, it may be bad news for Sanders. On March 15, the biggest state up for grabs — Florida with 246 delegates — is a “closed” primary, meaning that only registered Democrats may cast ballots. Florida’s delegate total is exceeded by New York, with 291 delegates and which holds it primary on April 19. New York’s primary is also closed.

Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders Michigan Upset Victory
Hillary Clinton remains in control of the Democratic primary despite the Bernie Sanders victory in Michigan (Photo By Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

Bialik also says that pollsters guessed low on the turnout of youth voters, who support Sanders by wide margins. Exit polls showed that 19 percent of all voters in the Michigan Democratic primary were under 30 years old,.

But the New York Times‘ Nate Cohn disputes those numbers, saying that exit polls were biased to show a higher youth turnout.

With five states holding Democratic primaries on Tuesday, March 15, that date becomes crucial on the Bernie Sanders campaign calendar, as a definitive test of whether his shocking Michigan upset victory over Hillary Clinton proved that, as Sanders says in the video above, his “political revolution” is for real — or whether the Michigan result was just a fluke.

[Featured PhotoBy Alan Diaz / Associated Press]