Bernie Wins MI — Wait Whut?

Apparently my state gave Bernie Sanders the most unexpected of wins last night, winning a close race that only one poll even got close (but still predicted a narrow Hillary win). Most polls predicted she’d win it by 20%.

I’m going to spend the day looking at the results. But here’s what I understand to have happened:

  • Hillary won African-Americans, but not by as much as she had in the south. That’s probably consistent with MA’s results, the exit poll for which didn’t break down people of color, but as far as I know no one did the granular analysis of the MA results to figure that out.
  • MI’s Muslims voted for the elderly Polish Jew, by wide margins. That’s not a huge population, but it is big enough to have accounted for much of the differential between Hillary and Bernie. Keith Ellison, one of Sanders’ few Congressional backers, has close ties to the Muslim community here in MI and did some events for him in the last week.
  • Independents turned out in big numbers, and they voted for Sanders by big margins. MI has a completely open voting process, which means independents — who might normally be considered less likely primary voters — can (and apparently did) turn out in big numbers. I suspect, though haven’t yet confirmed it, that support for Bernie outside of SE MI was much higher in terms of numbers; usually when people analyze Democratic contests in this state they just blow off the areas outside of SE MI, because the latter is such a population center of Democratic voters. That may be what pollsters missed. Update: Adding, the Democratic party in my part of the state is pretty dysfunctional, even though there’s a population that should be turning increasingly Democratic. This is where Bernie picked up the numbers to offset Hillary’s SE MI numbers. That suggests he basically created a Democratic infrastructure that doesn’t exist (as Chris Savage pointed out, Bernie set up offices here and in other cities so had more field organizers throughout the state, save Detroit, than Hillary).
  • Students voted, and not just in Ann Arbor. Because of the way they suppress student turnout, University of Michigan is the school at which it is hardest for college students to vote (because they’re more likely to be out of state and/or from all over the state, which means if there’s a registration problem they’ll have harder time going “home” to vote). Bernie did events at EMU, MSU, GVSU, and only then U of M, and while those students are more likely to be dispersed than UM students, they appear to have turned out. Bernie continued to win young people by enormous margins.
  • Hillary underperformed in the rich suburbs. Hillary only won Oakland County, which is the second largest county and is the kind of affluent county Hillary has done really well in this year, by about 4.6%. I thought she’d win by 5 to 7%. I’m not sure why that is — again, it’s always possible cross-over voting is affecting the Democratic side. But had she gotten the numbers in Oakland I would have expected she likely would have won the state. The same is true of Detroit, but turnout in Detroit is less reliable than in Oakland.

There was a lot of talk last night about Hillary’s cynical auto bailout attack misfiring. Apparently, some top UAW people got quite pissed about it and were communicating about it among themselves.

It may be that Michiganders realized that was a dishonest attack, but I think it just as likely they responded to Sanders’ comments about Hillary’s trade record (curiously, he never even hammered on KORUS, where her involvement is much more direct than some of the other trade agreements she has supported, and which has had a clear impact on MI jobs). I’ve been predicting for some time that Hillary’s record on trade would hurt her in the state. Exit polls showed that those who think trade agreements have cost MI jobs voted in fairly big numbers for Bernie.

Update: One more point. I’m hearing a lot of talk about Hillary voters crossing over to vote for Kasich or Rubio to slow Trump’s momentum. I doubt that explains Hillary’s loss. First, any talk of that is anecdotal: there was no big discussion about how to strategize a cross-over vote. Second, the Kasich and Rubio numbers just don’t show any big swing, except perhaps in Washtenaw (Ann Arbor), but the Democratic results are about what we’d expect there. Third, the only people I heard talk about this were Sanders voters, so to the extent it did happen, it likely happened, in small numbers, among both Bernie and Hillary voters. Finally, while crossover voting is quite common here, it’s less common among party insiders than more independent voters (in part, because what ballot you pull does get recorded, so it shows in the voting rolls), so you’d think fewer of Hillary’s supporters would even consider it.

Update 2: I know that exit polls showed 7% of Dems crossed over compared to 3% of Republicans. I actually suspect those numbers are lower than what happened in other states and mostly stems from Democrats voting for Trump. Indeed, it’s possible that those who wanted to vote for a populist in MI felt like Bernie was a viable choice here (which would be consistent with where he got his biggest margins) as compared to places in the south where Trump was a more attractive populist to vote for.

28 replies
  1. scribe says:

    HRC supporters crossing over to Kasich or Rubio make no sense from any direction.
    Right now, the easiest opponent for HRC in the general is Trump. She beats him by larger margins than she does Rubio or Kasich. She wants the easiest-to-beat, so why support anyone other than Trump?

    Indeed, if they were crossing over, it’d make more sense for them to vote Hair rather than “Sane”.

    But what do I know?

  2. martin says:

    quote”Bernie Wins MI”unquote

    Yahoooeee! Go Bern!
    Don’t care about reasons.
    F**k Hillary
    F**k GOP

  3. orionATL says:

    turnout trumps (there’s that word again) polls any time.

    +- 20 point loss by the polls is a big loss,


    clinton gets half of the delegates and sanders gets half of the delegates.

    the only way sanders comes out ahead from this mi win is if his campaign catches fire in other states, which could happen.

    next wednesday we’ll have more data on this possibility.

  4. Jay says:

    MA = Massachusetts
    ME = Maine
    What does MA mean in section 1 of this article? Is that a typo? Why would you compare MA results w/ MI results?

    • emptywheel says:

      Not a typo.

      Discussions of the Dem contest have settled on a truism: Hillary kills Bernie among “minorities.” In fact, that easy claim has always hidden that Sanders doesn’t do badly among Latinos in some places, and does quite well among Native Americans. And, if last night was any indication, also does great among Muslims/Arabs.

      But even where that claim is true, among African Americans, observers (and, given Hillary’s actions in MI, even Hillary’s own people) have been sloppy. Hillary does far better with southern blacks. But the numbers in MA only make sense if Bernie either did really well among Latinos and Asians (the latter is likely, the former is not) or if he did less poorly with African Americans. I think that’s the case: it was probably 35/65 there, as it was last night. There are likely a number of reasons for that.

      But one of Hillary’s clear assumptions, given her actions in MI (and it wasn’t a bad assumption, except for misreading the differences between northern and souther African Americans) was that 75%+ voting from African Americans would win it for her.

  5. lefty665 says:

    Independents may turn out to be the story in Michigan. Polling nationally has consistently shown indys to be anti-Clinton by significant majorities, like in the 60%+ neighborhood. They find her to be untrustworthy and a liar. Not traits they value in a president although apparently attractive to some Dems. Clinton’s auto bailout sleaze Sunday night may have put a fine point on that. Dem party establishment pressure doesn’t have much impact on indys.
    The calendar is not Sanders friend through the Ides of March, but Michigan may have an impact in Ohio or Illinois. The landscape changes dramatically after that, the Confederate states will be done voting for her. California on June 7th may really be what decides it.

    • cynthia kouril says:

      Have you considered that the reason s the indies all go for Bernie may have to do with the reason they are indies in the first place? Most of the indies I know, don’t belong to a party b/c they think the GOP and Dems are two sides of the same corrupt coin. So, of course they would be feeling the Bern!

  6. Ed Walker says:

    It’s really great to see that Bernie did well among the African-American population and among the Arab population. Maybe that means that his campaign is getting the economic message across, and that he has learned from the BLM people that economic justice and social justice are connected, and both have to be targets of change.

    • emptywheel says:

      He didn’t do WELL with African Americans. Just less poorly than he did in the south. But he DID do well with Muslims (which obviously has a big crossover with Muslims, though I’m not sure if anyone has tracked that).

  7. Dennis says:

    Its actually pretty shocking how well Sanders did among Arab Americans considering his foreign policy specialist is a vehement Islamophobe. Chalk that down to Clinton choosing not to destroy a ‘leading young light’ in the DNC after they anointed a bigot.

  8. RUKidding says:

    It’s hard to imagine that many Ds crossing over to vote for Rubio and Kasich, and thus, lowering HRC’s numbers. I don’t buy it. I think citizens in MI saw Clinton for a fraud and voted for Sanders. JMHO, of course. It will be interesting to see what happens next week. I expect the so-called “liberal media” to continue hyping up Clinton while either ignoring Sanders (if they possibly can) or downgrading everything he’s done. It’s clear that the media – owned by big corporations – is in the bag for Clinton.
    Go, Sanders. Not the hugest fan, but IMO, Sanders is providing a valuable public service at attempting to really educate citizens about how things work and what’s going on. Plus, detractions to the contrary, he has offered viable solutions that can work. Like minds may disagree about Sanders’ solutions, but they are realistic and fantasies. Let the man speak and educate for as long as possible. Can’t hurt, and who knows? Sanders could make it to the GE. Time will tell. This is not “in the bag” for Clinton no matter how much she might want it to be.

    • martin says:

      quote”I think citizens in MI saw Clinton for a fraud and voted for Sanders. JMHO, of course.”unquote

      Me too. And I live in Michigan. However, on the other side of the coin, there must be an equal contingent of Michigan voters who think the GOP status quo is a fraud, and therefore support Trump, as he supposedly, albeit with flourishes of racism and Barnum level grandstanding, “tells things like it is”. JMHO, of course. But that’s not the only reason. I think this guy pretty well sums up Trump’s appeal..

      What bothers me though, is, while I understand those reasons, how anyone can ignore, if not embrace Trumps blatant racism, narcissistic bravado, and bloody sexual innuendo as a Presidential candidate. I mean, this dude is not only crude, ugly and cruel, he’s as much presidential material as a cockroach sucking from a cesspool. JMHO, of course.

  9. felonious says:

    Marcy, I thought you had a level-headed skepticism over the pre-primary narrative and the results bear witness. Sanders still has his work cut out for him but if the process continues to incorporate the heretofore disenfranchised and also pours a healthy dose of cold water on the institutional reporting on political campaigns then he truly has accomplished something. Clinton really doesn’t have a lot to offer but the party stamp but as this unwinds the bigger story is the lack of impact the party flags have this year.

  10. Nell says:

    Marcy, now that all results are in, does it seem as if Dem turnout was higher than in 2008? I know R was way up from 2008, and total TO beat the 1972 record, but haven’t found a simple vote total chart (admittedly not looking too hard, but thought you’d have ’em to hand).

    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah, much higher (but then we haven’t had a real primary as you know for years, so there’s not much to compare with). I’ll keep looking for the exact number or, barring that, actually do the math myself.

  11. Peterr says:

    Having seen what happened in MI last night and in neighboring KS last week, the folks here in MO are getting excited that their primary will have some kind of impact on the race. My church is a polling place, and the county expects a very heavy turnout, per KMBC:

    In 2008, eastern Jackson County had more than 43 percent of registered voters turn out to vote. In 2012, the turnout dropped to barely 9 percent.
    This year, officials said they’re ordered enough ballots for a 50 percent turnout.

    Looks like we can expect a lot of folks coming through the doors on Tuesday.
    Bernie has had a couple of swings through the area, but the Clinton campaign not so much. Bill was supposed to fly in for a big rally in KC the other day, but at the last minute diverted his campaign plane to St. Louis instead. The campaign said it was because of weather (thunderstorms rolled through just when he was scheduled to arrive, and a likely very tight schedule didn’t have time for circling for 30 minutes to wait for the weather to clear), but conservative wags are spreading the story that because the space where the KC rally was happening was only half full, Bill went to St. Louis where he could speak to a full house. I’m more inclined to believe the campaign on this one, but the rumors are out there.
    Hillary has the endorsements from a lot of the African-American Democratic leaders — folks like KC Mayor Sly James and US Rep Emanuel Cleaver — but Bernie has the energy, especially among young voters. [Claire McCaskill has endorsed Hillary, but I haven’t seen much of her in the last few weeks voicing that support around the state, likely because of her ongoing cancer treatments in St. Louis.] The MO young voters saw what young voters could do last week in the KS caucuses, and they are heavily motivated to outdo their KS friends to get out the vote for Bernie in the primary here next week.

  12. Casual Observer says:

    We need polls to be accurate–otherwise, how will we ever know when they’re being stolen? They intuitively must also have some impact on election results, by encouraging some voters (Clinton in this case) while discouraging others (Sanders).

    In these horrible MI polls, two things have popped up–first, are Independents being properly covered, and second, is there a land-line bias in certain polls? I think independents are going Bernie at about 3:1 since and including Iowa. Polling that only covers registered Dems in open primary states would thus have significant bias. Don’t know if this is the case or not–but seems to me Sanders appeal among Indys is being overlooked by many.

    Landline bias, which some heavily-weighted polls may have had, would likely seriously bias results against the under-30 demographic that comes out so heavily for Sanders, so there’s that possibility as well. Thanks EW.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yes, I think most people believe landline bias was one of the problems with the polling. I also think they just didn’t properly count W MI, and I suspect that may stem from treating it as the conservative bastion it used to be, and not accounting for the number of non-student millennials who now live here (and who don’t have landlines). For years (even before I moved here) Dems in W MI have been insisting they have enough population to counter the far bigger Dem populations in SE MI. Last night that began to happen (though it was exacerbated because so many of the people who voted Bernie wouldn’t self-ID as Dems, perhaps because they don’t have landlines).

  13. Bay State Librul says:

    Did Hill piss off the UAW?

    Charlie Pierce says “The UAW members I talked to clearly considered HRC’s use of the auto bailout against Sanders to be at best a half-truth, and a cynical attempt to win their support, and they were offended by what they saw as a glib attempt to turn the state’s economic devastation into a campaign weapon. These were people who watched the auto industry flee this city and this state, and they knew full well how close the country’s remaining auto industry came to falling apart completely in 2008 and 2009. They knew this issue because they’d lived it, and they saw through what the HRC campaign was trying to do with the issue. I have no data to support how decisive this feeling was in Tuesday night’s returns, but it seems to me to be one of the more interesting examples of unintended consequences that I’d heard in a while.”

  14. Denis says:

    The biggest loser last night was Nate Silver. He had RHC picked at >99% odds. His guess was off by 50% more than the worst of the polls he relies on.
    His super-duper algorithm for weighting the polls actually magnified their bullshit. It’s a bullshit magnifier algorithm.
    It’s all fun & chuckles ™, but it makes no difference. Hil is road-kill walking. The real significance of Hil piling up delegates is that the DNC can give them to Biden or some other non-Bernie establishment shill when the indictments are filed.

  15. Cujo359 says:

    With something like half the eligible voters never voting, I suspect polling is difficult to do well in America. When a Sanders or a Trump appeals top people outside the usual group of people who vote in primaries, we should probably expect to be surprised again.

    • emptywheel says:

      Amending what I wrote above about students, I think one of the problems may be that models have not adjusted for population shifts within Michigan.

      Bernie won with turnout around Grand Rapids, which as I’ve noted, most people just write off as conservative land (it’s true that between all the GOPers, they won the area, but Bernie got more votes than Cruz, who won my county, in the county).

      GR is where a lot of young kids are moving. SO they’re no longer students (and wouldn’t be concentrated in a college town, though GR does have its own student population). But they are in the millennial bracket that is going for Sanders are much higher rates.

      • orionATL says:

        i too have had some second thoughts about my #23.

        that is: if michigan is an open primary, would it not be almost certainly the case that the error in the original polling predictions lay in their being uniformly far too heavily weighted far toward registered dem party voters. that would explain the original 65-35 (clinton-sanders) prediction.

        but looking for an explanation for why those predictions were so incredibly off, we learn:

        “Independents turned out in big numbers, and they voted for Sanders by big margins. MI has a completely open voting process, which means independents — who might normally be considered less likely primary voters — can (and apparently did) turn out in big numbers… ”

        the final difference between the two was +- 20k votes. i don’t know the numbers of independents who actually voted, but a mere 40k, split 3-1, would be 30k for sanders and 10k for clinton, for example. the more independents voting given some similar large split, the more independents would chew into the “registered dem party voters” advantage reflected in the polls.

        i’m minimizing the importance of students in sanders support, they are “mobile”, influencable, and highly socially connected. messages among them can spread like a virus; that’s part of the potential of social messaging of any kind.

        it’s just that i suspect the polls were “lazy” in being complacent about guessing registered dem turnout vs independent turnout in an open primary.

        anyhow, with all the numbers now in, some realiable political demographics of the vote would allow for a convincing autopsy.

        • orionATL says:


          “i’m minimizing the importance of students in sanders support,.. ”

          should read

          ” i’m NOT minimizing the importance of students in sanders support,… “

  16. Casual Observer says:

    Looked into this a bit more, and feel landline bias in polling may be the major factor. The midwest has more cellphone-only households than other parts of the country. And roughly 75% of young voters are cellphone-only. While some polls do specify their breakdown of landline/cell respondents, many don’t, and some appear to be heavily biased towards landlines. Because landline polling can be automated and is thus cheaper for pollsters, there is some incentive to use it as heavily as possible. Obviously this would under-sample the highly-motivated demographic most supportive of Sanders.

    Add this to EW’s point about faulty geographic sampling, and maybe you get these whopping errors.

    Significantly, as 538 suggests, we should be now looking at other state polling, especially the biggies coming up in Midwest. With the same polling companies and methods in play, I think there is a good chance that they too are significantly off, perhaps 10-15 pts bias towards HRC and away from Sanders.

    How’s that for wishful thinking.

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