It’s time to accept a harsh truth: Bernie Sanders is not going to win the Democratic nomination to be President of the United States.
If you live in the world of politics, this may come as no surprise. But lots of people might still be confused about this. After all, Sanders is still in the race while all the candidates but Donald Trump have dropped out on the Republican side.
Sanders himself might be part of the reason about 40 percent of his supporters don’t think Hillary Clinton is the most likely person to become the Democratic Party’s nominee. He keeps saying things like the “campaign is going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia,” and that the race “is not yet over.”
Of course, it’s technically possible for Sanders to still get the nomination. But what he would have to do would take some Herculean efforts. He would have to pull off multiple landslide victories — not just in the handful of states coming up in the next couple weeks, but also in massive, diverse states like California and New Jersey (where Clinton currently has big polling leads) — to overcome his current deficit in the pledged delegates chosen by the voters.
Sanders is behind by about 300 delegates. That is a lot. Because of the Democrats’ proportional allocation rules, he’ll need to win every state by 65 percent or more to overcome that deficit. These are margins of victory he hasn’t seen in any primary except for his home state of Vermont.
To put the odds in perspective: Sanders’s fans celebrated after he crushed Hillary Clinton in West Virginia last week. It seemed like a hopeful moment for Sanders’s campaign — until you realize that he only beat Clinton there by a 51 to 36 margin, or by far less than what he needs to win by to cut into her delegate advantage. (Clinton won 11 delegates from West Virginia to Sanders’s 18.)
Winning West Virginia by 15 points, in other words, may have demonstrated Sanders’s strength in that state. But in terms of the actual contest, it actually set Sanders further behind what he needed to close Clinton’s lead.
Sanders’s long odds have nothing to do with the superdelegates — but those are also bad for him
By all metrics, Sanders is losing at the ballot box — his roughly 300 pledged delegate shortfall is the result of his approximately 2.5 million vote deficit in the Democratic primary’s popular vote, according to the Washington Post. (This number accounts for Sanders’s vote share in caucuses, which are left out of some tallies.)
Sanders’s campaign has taken to saying that the superdelegates will determine the nomination, because neither candidate will have enough votes to get the nomination on his or her own.
In a narrow and technical sense, they’re right: Clinton is not going to get enough of the pledged delegates to clinch the nomination outright, so she will need the votes of the superdelegates to push her over the edge for the nomination.
But the superdelegates are supporting Clinton as she’s winning the pledged delegate and popular vote totals, just as they did with Barack Obama in 2008.
Sanders has been saying that the superdelegates should support him because of his advantage over Donald Trump in general election polling — in other words, that they should give him the nomination despite the results at the ballot box.
So when some Sanders supporters say he’s losing because of the superdelegates — as one Wall Street Journal op-ed did this week — it’s worth noting that they’re implicitly calling for the superdelegates to reject the democratic outcome of the race.
Don’t let Bernie’s upcoming state wins confuse you from the underlying delegate math
Sanders has plenty of reasons to stay in the race that have nothing to do with winning the nomination, including a spotlight for his message and more delegates to push for reform at the national convention in Philadelphia. He also has the means to do so, thanks to a huge army of small dollar donors that have powered his campaign.
Sanders will likely get a few symbolic wins over the next few weeks in states like Kentucky and Oregon, which vote on Tuesday, and later in North Dakota and South Dakota. Every time he wins a state, a rush of stories will come out that give the impression Bernie is building momentum in the race.
Don’t let them confuse you: Just because Bernie is still running doesn’t mean he’s still in the running. It’s time our national conversation reflected that reality.