Democrats counting their troubles

The Americans’ love for diverse and unusual voting methods, instead of reliable pencil and paper, caused trouble again this week. Results from the Nevada Democrat caucuses, held on Saturday evening, trickled out only slowly during Sunday and were not finalised until well into Monday (Tuesday morning, Australian time).

Kaleigh Rogers at FiveThirtyEight explains the problem:

Iowa and Nevada Democrats responded by adding technology to their caucuses in the hopes of improving transparency, increasing participation and speeding up how quickly results could be reported. Seemed straightforward enough.

But there’s one thing Democrats probably weren’t expecting tech would do: highlight so much of what was already wrong with caucuses. Even if the new technology worked flawlessly, the need for these digital tools only underscored the many problems with caucuses, nearly none of which could be solved with an app.

In the end, it didn’t matter much. The final results were sufficiently similar to the early figures as not to change the narrative. Bernie Sanders won a very convincing victory by any measure: 34.0% of the primary vote, 40.5% on the second round, 46.8% of county-level delegates and two-thirds of the real prize, the delegates to the national convention in July.

But it could easily have been different, at least as far as optics were concerned. Joe Biden looked a clear second in early counting, but with half the vote counted Pete Buttigieg had narrowly overtaken him (in votes, not delegates). Yesterday, however, Biden drew away from him, 17.6% to 15.4% on the primary vote and more convincingly in delegates.

That was a long way behind Sanders, but it was at least some consolation for both of them: Biden’s second was a big improvement on fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, and Buttigieg solidified his position as the leader among the under-75s.

There was no such encouragement for anyone further back. Elizabeth Warren’s 12.8% on primaries was respectable, but it yielded only 9.7% of the county delegate tally and no national delegates. Early counting had her within striking distance of Buttigieg, but it wasn’t sustained.

Amy Klobuchar (9.6% primaries) and Tom Steyer (9.1%) could not even make double figures, and it’s hard to see any future for them in the race. If they were not so far back, the fact that Steyer won more county delegates despite having fewer votes might have been important; as it is it’s just a minor curiosity in an already discredited process.

The same cast now moves on to the South Carolina primary on Saturday (Sunday morning in Australia). Mike Bloomberg, who will again join them for the debate (this time with Steyer as well), is still not on the ballot; the disarray in the anti-Sanders camp is all to the good for him, but there’s no real hint in the polls that he will do any better against Sanders than the others have.

At least from now on it’s almost exclusively primaries, not caucuses. With any luck, the Democrat establishment will be able to stop worrying about logistics and concentrate its collective mind on the problem of Sanders running away with the nomination.

But it may already be too late to do much about that. And that may be a good thing; even if Sanders is not the vote-winner that his supporters claim, he will probably do better if he is quickly endorsed as the nominee than he – or anyone else – will after a long bruising primary fight or a contested convention.

Biden and the others, of course, are not ready to see it that way just yet. And with only a small fraction of delegates chosen so far, there’s certainly still time for Sanders to stumble. At the moment, however, he’s showing no sign of it.

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