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The Urban Problem of Bernie

Bernie Sanders proved he had support in Iowa when he won the popular vote in the caucuses, even with the dysfunctional count. He’s expected to win New Hampshire pretty easily also, but that’s really his backyard, shared only by Elizabeth Warren. But when you break down his numbers in Iowa, you find a problem in his support. It seems to be mostly focused in the urban areas of the state, much like it was in 2016. Even though he won the popular vote after the final alignment, the delegate system gave the razor thin advantage to Pete Buttigieg. This should be a warning sign for Democrats.

The reason Buttigieg scored the tiny victory was how delegates are awarded. Each precinct has a certain number of delegates that can be awarded. The delegates are allocated based on what percentage of the overall vote total a candidate scores. If there are 10 delegates available for a precinct and a candidate gets 30% of the vote, that candidate gets 3 delegates.

Where things get frustrating for some candidates is that regardless how many people come out to support you, you can never get more delegates than the precinct is allocated. If 30 people support you out of 100, you get 3 delegates. If 300 people support you out of 1,000, you get three delegates. You might increase your delegate count by flooding a precinct, but the ceiling is the precinct’s allocated county.

If this sounds familiar, it should because it’s very similar to the Electoral College. The only difference between the two is that in almost all states the EC operates with a winner-take-all compared with the caucus delegate process which allocates delegates based on popular vote. But, in the end neither rewards more votes beyond what is allocated should a campaign really turn out the popular vote.

Urban areas are known for voting more progressive than rural areas. The recent shifting tides in Texas are due to a migration to the urban centers from other progressive areas of the country. Job opportunities brought on by the tech boom have given us a migration of tech workers from more progressive states like California and Washington to Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, and other red states. All of this migration has shifted to the urban centers.

That does improve Democratic chances in those states as it starts to redistribute the progressive voter base which had sort of bunched up in the east and west coasts. But for this election, it won’t be enough to flip a state like Texas or Georgia blue. With winner-take-all, the voter redistribution does absolutely nothing for Democrats.

But let’s drop back to the primaries. While the EC is still pretty much on a winner-take-all model, the nominating primaries are on a delegate allocation model. What that means is that someone like Sanders can come in an blitz an urban center to distort the delegate distribution, but doesn’t provide a path to victory for Democrats. If anything, it hinders their ability to compete across the nation.

This is why a more moderate candidate is needed to help provide independents a better choice. These voters are not on board with Medicare For All, free college tuition, universal basic income, or any of the other extremely progressive ideas floated by some Democratic candidates.

Bernie may win the nomination this year, but based on what we saw in Iowa he doesn’t stand a chance in hell of winning the presidency.

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