Bernie Sanders’ extraordinary win in Michigan yesterday, Tuesday, was described by a respected analyst as “one of the greatest shockers in presidential primary history”.
Harry Enten added, “any thought that Sanders would exit this race in the foreseeable future has been put to rest by a stunning victory.”
Just days before polls had shown the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton 21 percentage points ahead.
After last night’s results, Bernie Sanders has won four of the last six Democratic Party primaries or caucuses to decide the party’s presidential candidate.
It shows that Sanders, who calls himself a socialist, is far from finished—despite the media’s confident predictions that Clinton was now certain to win. And in Michigan Sanders did better among black voters than he had in other contests.
Exit polls suggested he had won half of black voters under 45. As in previous contests, he won a huge majority among young people.
The enthusiasm for Sanders saw a record turnout in the primary.
Another highlight of Sanders’ victory was that he won the Arab-American vote. This shocked much of the media who believed such voters would not back a Jew. In Dearborn, whose population is 40 percent Arab-Americans, Sanders secured 7,100 votes to Clinton’s 4,700 votes.
The day before the primary, Sanders spoke at a big rally that included many Muslims. Sat behind him as he spoke were several women wearing the hijab
Sanders made clear his total opposition to racism and has spoken out against Islamophobia—in a country where Islamophobia is official and routine.
Last weekend Sanders won contests in Kansas by 68 percent to 32 percent, in Nebraska by 55 percent to 45 percent and in Maine by 64 percent to 36 percent.
Sanders’ Michigan victory by 51 percent to 49 percent was undoubtedly assisted by anger at the water poisoning scandal in Flint, which is in the state.
At a debate in Flint two days before the vote, Sanders and Clinton clashed sharply. Sanders said, “I have to tell you what I heard, and what I saw literally shattered me. And it was beyond belief that children in Flint, Michigan, in the United States of America in the year 2016 are being poisoned.”
Clinton tried to attack Sanders for not supporting the bailouts of the banks and the giant auto firms in 2008 but he responded by denouncing the crisis “where some of your friends destroyed this economy”.
Some of Sanders’ real weaknesses were also on display as he repeatedly blamed bosses for exporting production abroad rather than focusing on their profiteering in general.
Clinton is expected to do well in the five states voting on 15 March—although after Michigan Sanders will now have stronger hopes in Ohio and Illinois. But according to analyst Nate Silver, “the calendar turns very friendly for Sanders in late March and early April”.
Clinton remains the favourite, not least because she has a mountainous lead of 460 to 23 among the 717 unelected “superdelgates”—over 230 are yet to declare.
But Sanders’ continuing appeal confirms that he is partly reflecting the exciting radicalisation in the US in recent times from Occupy Wall Street, to Black Lives Matter to the climate change movement to the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage to teachers’ strikes and stirrings of revolt among steel workers and auto workers. He taps into a deep bitterness in US society.
In many ways this is of far greater long term significance than the Sanders campaign itself.
The crushing frustration is that instead of giving it further momentum, he is on course to lead it back into the dead end of the Democratic Party.
How are US presidents elected?
The US presidential election takes place every four years, and the next one is scheduled for 8 November.
The Republicans and the Democrats choose their candidate through a long process of primaries and caucuses.
Primaries are ballots open to all of the party’s supporters in a particular state. Caucuses are more like party meetings.
They both elect delegates to party conventions, who vote on the candidate. But there are also unelected delegates called “super delegates”.
The precise process differs between parties and states.
The next round is on 15 March in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio.