Just before the polls closed in Michigan Tuesday, renowned pollster and political analyst Nate Silver gave Hillary Clinton a “99 percent chance of winning” the Michigan primary. She was leading by double-digits in all the polls—a 21.3 percent lead in the fivethirtyeight.com average of polls. Hillary had the endorsements of nearly all Democratic officials in the state. Hours later when the votes were counted, Bernie Sanders won Michigan. In fact, Sanders led all night.
As the results were coming in, Silver posted: “I had an intuition Sanders could beat his polling in Michigan tonight, but I didn’t expect things to be quite so close. If Sanders winds up winning in Michigan, in fact, it will count as among the greatest polling errors in primary history.” As it turns out, Michigan was one of the greatest polling errors in primary history. Silver and nearly every pundit got it wrong. Perhaps their enthusiasm for Hillary clouded their objectivity.
Bernie Sanders won Colorado, in a record-breaking turnout, and he won in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska last week. Still, nearly all pundits and cable news commentators were setting up the Michigan primary as Bernie Sanders last hurrah. They were certain that Sanders would drop out of the race after Michigan so that Hillary could get on with her campaign against Republicans. Clinton herself said that in Election Day campaign events. Michigan voters, however, had something to say about the matter.
Wednesday, highly-paid pundits and analysts are trying to figure out how they got it so wrong. Pundits, the Clinton campaign, and the Super Delegates failed to understand the mood of the Democratic voters in states outside the solid south. Like Republicans, Democratic voters are dissatisfied with the establishment and the status quo. In places that were destroyed by the flight of jobs overseas and the Great Recession, people are angry. They are no longer content with the status quo.
Something else happened. It appears that Sanders’ performance in the Sunday night debate may have changed many hearts and minds—particularly among African-American voters. The DNC chose Flint, Michigan as the site of the pre-primary debate. It was thought that in Flint, Hillary Clinton would have an advantage given her strong support among African-American voters and her endorsement of Flint’s mayor.
Clinton sought to put the stake in Bernie’s heart by attacking him on the auto bailout. She mischaracterized his voting record in a surprise attack. There is evidence that her strategy backfired. Sanders countered her attack by pointing out that Clinton supported the trade deals that resulted in the closing of factories in states like Michigan. In the end, voters agreed. In voters’ minds, that is worse than a nuanced argument about the auto bailout.
Exit polls give more clues to why the pundits were so wrong. Voters concerned with jobs favored Sanders by large numbers. Voters who felt that trade deals are the reason for the loss of jobs, went for Sanders. The Vermont senator continued to win big among voters under 45, beating Clinton 2-1 in that demographic. He won white voters, especially male white voters, who have abandoned the Democratic Party in recent elections. And, he won 70 percent of Independent voters.
As in nearly all the primaries thus far, an overwhelming number of Democratic voters (80 percent) feel Bernie Sanders is honest and trust worthy. Only about half the voters felt that about Secretary Clinton. A large majority of the voters in the exit polls said that Bernie shared their values.
There was yet another factor according to Nate Silver. Sanders improved his standing among various voter groups he had previously lost to Clinton. “Part of what’s going on, if the exit polls are to be believed, is that Sanders is losing black voters by only 32 percentage points,” Silver said. “That’s not all of it, though. He’s also holding his own in the wealthier suburban counties around Detroit, such as Macomb and Oakland. In previous contests, Clinton did quite well with wealthier white voters,”
The Clinton campaign is dismissive about Michigan. Pundits are also dismissing Michigan saying that Sanders can’t overcome Clinton’s delegate advantage among Super Delegates. If Sanders can duplicate his Michigan performance in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other rust-belt states, the dynamics of the race could change. One thing is certain. Hillary Clinton will not get her wish to see Bernie Sanders drop out of the race anytime soon.