A diverse support base is Bernie Sanders’ trump card in the battle for the White House

The nomination race has a long way to go, but the other candidates will be worried about Sanders’ momentum

Chris Stevenson
Sunday 23 February 2020 12:41 GMT
Bernie Sanders wins Nevada primary

“In Nevada we had just put together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada, it’s going to sweep this country.”

Those were the words of Bernie Sanders on Saturday night, aware of the significance of the results coming in. In one sense, the Nevada caucus has changed nothing; Sanders’ win has inched up his delegate count, but nobody has dropped out. And yet, it has changed everything.

While the first two states in the Democratic presidential nomination race are highly significant, they are vastly white. Nevada, on the other hand, is the first state to be more representative of the country as a whole, with significant Latinx and black populations. Sanders lost the state 53-47 to Hillary Clinton four years ago, but with a much larger field, he is currently running at more than 45 per cent with around half of precincts reporting. His nearest challenger, Joe Biden, is on about 20.

The Sanders campaign has spent significant time since 2016 reaching out to voters of colour, with Clinton getting a larger proportion of their support last time around. The Sanders campaign knows it didn’t create a diverse enough coalition of voters in 2016 and has worked to ensure the same mistake is not made in 2020. So much so, that a significant number of Latinx voters now refer to him fondly as their tio, or uncle.

The strategy worked on Saturday. Sanders was the choice of 54 per cent of Hispanic caucusers, according to an NBC entrance poll, with Biden the only other candidate to make double digits. Sanders also picked up a significant proportion of the youth vote, as he did in 2016.

Biden’s campaign has made much of his support among black voters, making the next state, South Carolina, make-or-break. Biden will be encouraged by what looks like second place in Nevada – even if Sanders has steamrolled his way to victory – but South Carolina is key as the contest moves towards the “Super Tuesday” states, which include Texas.

But Sanders is gaining on the former vice president in that regard. Biden led Sanders 34 per cent to 28 per cent among black caucus-goers in Nevada, according to the NBC entrance poll, with both being significantly clear of third-place billionaire Tom Steyer on 17 per cent. Nationally, Sanders has closed the gap with Biden among black Democrat primary voters, securing 31 per cent against Biden’s 29 according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (although that poll has a high margin of error).

Pete Buttigieg warns against Bernie Sanders’ nomination

Perhaps more significantly, polling in South Carolina has also closed up. Biden was regularly polling at more than 20 percentage points ahead of all his rivals in October and November. The gap between him and second-placed Sanders is now down to between 2 and 5 per cent – with one recent poll putting the two candidates in a statistical tie.

Sanders still faces issues: centrist candidates Biden and Pete Buttigieg hit out at him for his democratic socialist label in the wake of the Nevada vote. Both argued they would be better at bringing the party together, although Sanders will take heart in the fact that the majority of Nevada caucus-goers saw healthcare – one of Sanders’ strongest policy areas – as a major issue in upcoming election.

One of the biggest questions for Sanders before the campaign kicked off was whether he would be able to attract a broader base of supporters than he did in 2016. He has a long way to go, but Nevada suggests he could make it.

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