What Clinton’s victory in the Nevada caucuses means

What Clinton’s victory in the Nevada caucuses means

Hillary Clinton’s 6-point victory in the Nevada caucuses seems to be a turning point for the Democratic presidential candidate. Some observers contend that since Sanders was unable to beat Clinton in his first test in an ethnically diverse state it will break his momentum. It is also contended that since Hillary’s firewall held in Nevada she will appear more attractive to super delegates who remain uncommitted.

Since forecasts prior to the caucuses had the two sides even, and Clinton’s actual victory margin was relatively small the characterization of this race as a turning point is premature. There are however serious lessons to be learned from the outcome.

Primary among these is that Sanders should have reached out to the African-American community far earlier in the campaign. The overwhelming preference for Hillary in this community, among those over 45 generally, and particularly among older women explains most of this victory.

Concerns about Sanders’ appeal to diverse populations was not fully warranted. He did terribly among Blacks, but won strongly among Hispanics. His victory margin among young voters was also quite high. In a nutshell Sanders lost because the numbers of Hispanics and young people voting were relatively low.

One problem could stem from the caucus format since voters had to attend at a fixed time on Saturday and stay at caucus site for a lengthy time while preference groups were organized and votes tallied. Getting this time free was often difficult for casino or hotel workers with shifts or work hours that precluded their attendance. Since many of these workers are young or Hispanic it’s not surprising that these numbers were low.

Clinton’s support among key groups has shifted significantly since 2008. Among Hispanics in 2008 Clinton received 64% of the vote in comparison to Barack Obama’s small 26% share. This time Clinton got 45% of the Hispanic vote in comparison to Sanders’ 53%. Among young voters under 30 Clinton received 33% of the vote in 2008 and only 12% this year.

Nevada’s same-day registration requirement opened the Democratic caucus to new voters who could declare themselves as Democrats although they could be Independents or even Republicans. Among those who identified as Independents Hillary received 33% of the vote in 2008 but dropped to only 23% of the vote this time. By contrast Sanders received 70% of this group’s vote.


Support received by each candidate in major voting groups (CBS exit poll data):


Additional findings

NBC exit polls found similar levels in these groups but included additional groups. Sanders won among males 53% to 44%, among Whites by 49% to 47%, among those with some college or an associate degree by 49% to 48%, and among college graduates 51% to 46%.

Whites without college degrees favored Sanders 52% to 44%.

Total family income figures were interesting since Sanders won by 50%-49% among those making $30,000 to $49,000 but Clinton carried those with incomes both below and above this group. She led Sanders 51% to 46% among those making below $30,000; 50% to 46% among those making $50,000 to $99,999; and by 54% to 43% for those making $100,000 or more. Clinton also won among those with graduate degrees by a whopping 62% to 35%.

Looking ahead

First off, it should be noted that Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in Nevada 51% to 45% which was nearly identical to her victory against Sanders. However her 2008 victories in New Hampshire as well as Nevada did not preclude Obama’s eventual victory nationwide.

What is different this time is that while Sanders draws from the young just as Obama did, Obama had far greater support than Sanders now has with African-Americans. Should Clinton’s support among African-Americans hold in the Southern states through Super Tuesday Clinton is likely to win many of these races.

This won’t preclude Sanders winning in future races but it will likely brunt his momentum. Moreover, in later races Clinton’s victories will draw more voters to her since people like to go with a perceived winner.

The key to the next set of primaries can really be found with the African-American vote if Clinton can reproduce the high levels of support she just demonstrated in Nevada.

There’s certainly reason to believe she may because of the deep support Bill Clinton had in the Black community. The iconic Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina demonstrated some of this affinity by trying to put his finger on the scales for Clinton recently.

Another civil rights icon, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, said that he saw both Bill and Hillary Clinton in 60’s civil rights demonstrations but he never saw Sanders. It was a nice attempt on behalf of friends but it really doesn’t hold up.

Hillary was certainly committed to civil rights over time, but it’s unlikely that she would have worked as a Republican on Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and suddenly shifted to direct action in civil rights demonstrations in the South by 1965 or ’66. Moreover, the Chicago Tribune just published a picture of Sanders being arrested in a civil rights protest in Chicago in the early sixties. The judge hearing the case fined Sanders and three others as leaders of the movement while not fining their followers.

While it’s hard for any candidate to overcome all the benefits that the Clintons provided to minorities during Bill’s presidency, Sanders’ commitment to this group appears to be real. It’s up to him and his staff to identify potential minority leaders and communal organizations that may be open to him. It was certainly a coup for Sanders to be endorsed by Harry Belafonte in his native Harlem. A scheduled February  “March For Bernie” in Atlanta also seems like a good move.

To gain more support among older Democrats with higher incomes or graduate degrees it might also help Sanders to give more specificity to his social welfare and foreign policy proposals. Part of Bill Clinton’s support with this group was based on being a strong policy wonk. Sanders should follow suit.

Categories: North America, Politics

About Author

Lawrence Katzenstein

Lawrence Katzenstein has taught at the University of New Orleans and the University of Minnesota. Through an affiliation with the Humphrey Institute he was one of the trainers for the initial Chinese WTO delegation. He has been an exchange professor at the Consolidated Universities of Shandong Province and an embedded social scientist with the U.S. Army in Iraq. He earned a B.A. in political science from CCNY and an M.A. and Ph.D in political science from Rutgers University. While at the University of Minnesota he also completed a teaching post doc in International Business.