The 2020 primary election continues to be discussed on social media, and I personally believe this is a good thing. Joe Biden and the rest of his caucus seriously under performed in November, and we cannot afford to under perform again in 2024. We need to understand what really happened, and what needs to change in order to make certain that the Democratic nominee in 2024 will win the general election.
Lessons from the Primary
The Primary election was extremely crowded. Not only were there a lot of candidates, but many of them also had strong experience which made them viable. With one former Vice President, 3 sitting senators, and a former mayor of New York running at the same time, it is no surprise that no candidate was going to get a majority of the votes in such a crowded field.
First thing, the progressive vote was definitely split. Warren had the lead in the polls before the Iowa caucus, but after Iowa when Bernie outperformed her I believe a lot of would-be Warren voters voted for Bernie instead. This is a symptom of first past the post, and it means it is impossible to get an accurate measure of what people actually want from the polls. The best we can do are the ranked voting polls which FairVote did which in September and February. These two polls make it very clear that a lot of voters moved from Warren to Sanders after Sanders outperformed Warren in a couple of small states. The strategic move then is to move from the 3rd place candidate to the second place candidate. We need to sovle this problem by having all elections on a single day and have the vote be done with ranked choice voting.
Second thing, Bernie Sanders dropped out early. Warren dropped out on March 5th and Sanders dropped out on April 8th.
Most of the country had not voted yet. No major swing states had voted yet, namely Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania the only state with a significant number of votes which Bwhich the nominee absolutely had to win in order to become President. No Democrat has won the Presidency without Michigan since 1940, Pennsylvania since 1948, or Wisconsin since 1968.
If we look again at the map after Warren dropped out, Bernie’s chances did not improve.
There were three crucial swing states which voted after Warren dropped out and before Bernie dropped out. Biden won all three of them. Bernie Sanders had won both Wisconsin and Michigan in the 2016 primary, and with Biden cleaning Bernie out of the upper Midwest with a clear majority, Bernie Sanders did not have a realistic path to victory, and this is when it was a two horse race.
Because of this fact that even without a spoiler Bernie Sanders was failing to get voters to vote for him, and his campaign was unable to convince Warren voters in Washington State to switch over to Bernie Sanders even after she dropped out, it was very clear to the Sanders campaign that the election was over. Washington was the only significant state which Biden did not win. No offense North Dakota, but you just don’t have enough votes to make a meaningful difference.
So, to all the people who say that Bernie Sanders would have won if Elizabeth Warren had only stayed in the kitchen, they are not just sexist, but completely incorrect. Bernie Sanders underperformed his 2016 performance even after Warren had dropped out. He failed to get a clear lead at any point in the primary, and was in third place in the polls before Iowa. Instead of just sowing more division he decided to drop out, and endorsed Biden one month after Warren dropped. This was before New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio even voted.
That has nothing to do with Senator Warren.
There are still deep divisions within the Democratic Party. There are still big questions regarding whether a ranked voting system and a single day for the election would have given Biden a victory. It is very clear from the available data that Biden would not have won in a landslide, and that makes it too close to call.
The Democratic Party needs to reform the primary system before 2024 to ensure that it can get an accurate measure of what Americans want. This is the only way to guarantee that they can get a popular candidate who not only will win the general election but also carry their success down ballot. The consequence of not doing this will at best be the lack of a trifecta in 2025, or at worst a repeat of 2016.
Let’s not repeat 2016.
Let’s have an election which is accurate.
After the clear lessons of the 2016 and 2020 elections, the Democratic Party needs to endorse FairVote and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This will make a fair election.