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12/14/19

Get involved and Bernie wins. Don't, and he'll lose.

I'll be direct: the Sanders campaign needs your help. Specifically, it needs you to volunteer - to make the calls, send the texts, organize events, and even travel to early states if you can. Because Bernie has a real shot at winning this, but if something doesn't change, the most likely outcome is that this campaign will end in the next seven months.


To date, national polling for the primary candidates looks something like this. (I've smoothed away some of the largely artificial fluctuations that have been introduced by some quirks of RCP's aggregation, which is why this looks a little different from what you'll find on the site.)

There have been plenty of microdramas here (for example with the rise and fall of Kamala Harris), but the basic story is pretty simple:
  • Biden briefly surged to the high thirties after his campaign launch, but has mostly hovered around the high twenties.
  • Sanders briefly surged to the mid-twenties after his campaign launch, but has mostly hovered around the high teens.
  • Even if Biden and Sanders hold their ground, both are well within striking distance of the other candidates. But Warren has demonstrated their great weakness: voters outside of the Biden and Sanders coalitions are extremely fickle.
In other words, the primary is playing out much as it seemed like it would as soon as Biden announced. He is an extremely weak front-runner, but if his opponents don't rally around someone he is likely to default to victory. And though other candidates have had their surges, Bernie Sanders remains the logical rallying point: he has the highest floor and the hardest support.

It has to be stressed that a lot can change between now and the convention. For perspective, here's how some other candidates were polling at this point in their primaries:


From here, I see three arguable paths to victory.

PATH 1: Delegate pooling
RATING: Ridiculously implausible

Remarkably - and really, think about this - no one has formally laid out how this scheme would actually work. We get plenty of casual references to some delegate pooling scenario (usually with Warren), as if this is some routine procedure that we're all familiar with, but no one has actually laid out how this would proceed. I suspect this is because everyone who has put much thought into this has noticed how implausible it is. A few simple problems:
1. Bernie loses, obviously, if anyone else wins an outright majority of delegates.  2. Bernie loses if he is excluded from any delegate-pooling arrangement. This is entirely possible even if he wins a plurality of delegates.3. Bernie loses if he has fewer delegates than his partner. In that case the obvious deal will be for him to extract some concessions in exchange for giving away his delegates. 4. Bernie loses if the introduction of superdelegates in the second voting round creates outcomes (1), (2), or (3). 5. Bernie loses if faithless delegates who refuse to buy into a delegate pooling arrangement creates outcomes (1), (2), or (3). This would be a breach of norms, but it is technically permitted as far as I can tell and Sanders supporters would do well not to put their faith in norms at a contested convention. 6. On that note, Bernie loses if some unforeseeable episode of procedural ratfuckery gives someone else the nomination. Again, the reason few people have written about this plan in detail, and the reason most mainstream coverage of a contested convention uses phrases like "uncharted territory," is that there just aren't many historical precedents that tell us what is possible and what people can try to get away with. 7. Finally, Bernie loses if some combination of all of these things - vote-pooling politics, superdelegates, faithless delegates, and procedural ratfuckery - gives someone else the nomination.
I would be absolutely shocked if somehow this strategy were to actually win Sanders the nomination. Too many things have to go just right, and there are too many people in positions of power who will do everything they possibly can to make them go wrong. And as I noted elsewhere, talk of a coalition usually has more to do with trying to discredit the Sanders campaign than with trying to strike up some kind of deal.


PATH 2: Early state momentum
RATING: Possible, but unreliable

Sanders may be coasting in second nationally, but he's fighting for first in Iowa and New Hampshire. And this has led some people to speculate: what if wins in those early states lifts his polling elsewhere and turns his campaign into a runaway train? Victories in those states could put him over the top in Nevada and South Carolina (against Biden, who could place third or even fourth in the first two states); from there, he could conceivably come into Super Tuesday with three or four victories under his belt.

Superficially, history would seem to be on Bernie's side. No candidate in modern history has won the first two primary states and gone on to lose the election; conversely, only Bill Clinton has lost them and gone on to win. 

But this is an absolute best-case scenario. Unless things change, it is just as likely that Bernie will only win Iowa or New Hampshire; that this mixed-outcome won't be enough to put him over the top in Nevada or South Carolina; and that he'll come into Super Tuesday with only one or two wins and an uphill fight ahead of him. He could very well be a Carter, a Gore, or a John Kerry by mid-February; but he could also be a Gephardt, or a Tsongas...or a Bernie 2016.


PATH 3: The base
RATING: Bernie's best shot.

Bernie Sanders has already won a record-breaking 4 million individual donations, and though comparisons on this point are difficult, typical estimates have him blowing other candidates out of the water. He consistently has the most committed supporters, with 48% reporting that they have already made their minds up - compared with 46% for Joe Biden, 31% for Elizabeth Warren, and 19% for Pete Buttigieg. As Nick Coltraine reports, Bernie's strength is where it's always been - in his base.
"Sanders folks, I always believed would run through walls (for him), so they're going to go through walls," [Iowa political strategist Norm] Sterzenbach said. "It's a good place to be in. I'd rather be in that place than some others. His challenge is growth, whereas the challenge for a (U.S. Sen. Elizabeth) Warren or a Buttigieg is about shoring up support."
The Sanders campaign already has a small army of devoted staff and volunteers - and an even larger movement of enthusiastic but disengaged supporters. The latter group, by the way, appears to include a significant majority of his supporters online: people who have consistently voiced their support, and who have even donated to his campaign, but who have not yet volunteered.

So I will say this as clearly as I can: if you get involved with this campaign this week, today, or even now, Bernie Sanders has an extremely good chance of winning this. He can do what so many other candidates have done and begin his climb to the top as election year begins; he can build big leads in the early states and barrel through Super Tuesday and before anyone can do anything about it he will suddenly have an outright majority of delegates and leave Milwaukee as the nominee. This is not some moonshot, and it is not even historically or statistically unlikely: Bernie is well within striking distance, but he needs you to put him over the finish line.

You can do it right now:

  • Sign up to volunteer. It's a simple three-minute form, all you're doing is giving your contact information and marking stuff you might be interested in doing (like knocking on doors, or making calls, or coming into your local headquarters).
  • Find an event near you - or host one. Just look at the map.
  • Make calls. This page walks you through everything: it gives you a training video, a step-by-step guide, a script for the calls. There's even a Slack that you can join immediately. A lot of people find it easier to meet up with friends and make calls together, so consider setting a date.

It's really this simple: if all you do is post and send in the occasional donation, we're looking at four more years of saying "Bernie would have won." Get involved, and you'll be able to say, "he did."

50 days until Iowa.