“We could lose Wisconsin,” read the email from Hillary for America, mass-dispersed the night before the primary. Well, you did, Hillary. And not because I didn’t chip in $1.
I was admittedly surprised by the shock of Clinton supporters when Sen. Bernie Sanders took Wisconsin. Going into the primary, I can’t say I harbored much optimism — anyone who took a close look at the state could have predicted it. As CNN Politics so succinctly put it, “Wisconsin was the kind of state … that Sanders had to win.”
Here’s the deal on the buzzing Sanders victory: Wisconsin is a state with the demographic makeup of Sanders’ dreams. It incorporates an open primary with a swarm of independents, it’s predominantly white and its second-and-third-largest age groups fall into Sanders’ classically faithful 18-to-35-year-old target demographic. Marking the sixth victory in seven consecutive races, it appears that Sanders is successfully maintaining his fierce momentum. But April 19 is approaching, and New York looks poised and ready to deposit hundreds of delegates into Clinton’s camp. Couple that with the rest of the Clinton-leaning East Coast, and Sanders needs to fight hard to keep his winning streak. Otherwise, if he lets it go before the 19th, the chances of a recovery are doubtful. The objective right now is simple: Sanders needs to expand his appeal to Clinton’s target demographic to win Wyoming. If he loses, he forfeits his momentum just when he needs it — and the game is over.
An open primary — as opposed to a closed one — is a primary in which those without an official party affiliation can still participate. The decision to hold an open or closed primary lies with the state. Wisconsin has previously been considered a swing state for its large population of independent voters, and Sanders happily claimed that demographic for himself, winning independents by a whopping 71-29 percent margin.
We could speculate about why this happened. Loyal Democrats might prefer a longtime member of the party; Sanders has historically been independent despite clearly liberal leanings and independents might shy away from traditional party politics in favor of a non-establishment outsider. Regardless, the independent vote skyrocketed Sanders to a fighting chance.
As previously stated, the second-and-third-largest voter-eligible age groups in the state of Wisconsin fall into Sanders’ loyal youngster division, and this time, Sanders won young people by an even higher margin than usual. He comfortably secured the youth demographic with a 60-point margin, 20 points higher than his average margin with young voters, which clocks in at 40. Sanders’ momentum in the previous election is clearly a contributing factor; historically speaking, the turnout of a millennial crowd can be heavily influenced by the energy of a campaign.
Most importantly, Wisconsin is a state that is heavily white. This is significant particularly because Clinton is highly popular among people of color, who were, for the most part, not represented in this primary.
So kudos to Sanders for his victory — although, to be frank, it should have been a lot more comfortable than it was. Given all of the above Bern-inducing factors, Sanders still only topped Clinton by a 13-point margin — and his delegate allotment exceeds hers by only 10, small in the face of her 250-odd lead (in pledged delegates alone; not to mention the 469 super delegates in her camp, compared to Sanders’ 31).
New York is a state with a large block of loyal, registered Democrats, and one that has already elected Clinton as its senator — not to mention voted for her in her last primary in 2008. Clinton clearly knows how to win New York. Another important note: New York is a closed primary, which means that unregistered young voters and independents — Sanders’ loyal supporters — will not be able to vote unless they formally register with the Democratic party. Couple that with an older population of politically educated, loyal Democrats plus the presence of a powerful and dominant finance industry and it seems highly unlikely that the SUNY kids and a few hopeful Democrats can put 283 delegates in Sanders’ lap.
In order to have a hope of taking New York — or putting a dent in that delegate count — Sanders needs to maintain the momentum he has accrued through his recent victories. Therefore, he needs to take Wyoming on Saturday. Failing to do so might be a fatal mistake. In order to do so, Sanders needs to take to the offensive: Rather than relying on a few bases, he needs to start appealing to those groups that would traditionally vote for Clinton — the affluent white base and the African-American base. In order to keep his foot in the door, he needs to fight — hard.
Lily Vaughan is a freshman majoring in history and political science. Her column, “Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.