The Slatest

Bernie Sanders Claims Big Win in Wisconsin, Faces Tough Road Ahead

Bernie Sanders sings Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” during a campaign rally at the Wisconsin Convention Center on Tuesday in Milwaukee. 

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Vermont senator and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders won the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday.

The victory was expected, with Sanders coming into the evening with a nearly 3 percent lead over Democratic presidential primary front-runner Hillary Clinton in an average of recent polls. But the speed with which NBC and Fox News called it for Sanders was surprising and indicates that his margin of victory will surpass what even the most promising latest polls had indicated.

As in past contests, Sanders dominated with younger voters, beating Clinton 73 percent to 26 among voters 18–44-years-old according to CNN’s exit polls. This time, though, he also kept his deficit relatively low among the older voters that made up the greater share of the electorate, losing 45 and older voters 56 percent to 43.

Sanders has now won six of the past seven Democratic nominating contests and heads into the next two contests on a high note. He will likely continue his momentum in this Saturday’s Wyoming caucus before a crucial primary in two weeks in New York.

In his victory speech to supporters in Wyoming ahead of that caucus, Sanders emphasized the theme of his “momentum.” (He also began his speech by touching on a familiar subject of media-bashing.)

“Momentum is starting this campaign 11 months ago and the media determining we were a fringe candidacy. Momentum is starting the campaign 60 to 70 points behind Secretary Clinton,” Sanders said.

“Momentum is that within the last couple of weeks there have been [multiple] national polls that have had as us one point up or one point down.”

Sanders also cited recent polling that had him leading Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who suffered his own embarrassing loss in Wisconsin on Tuesday, by larger margins than Clinton did as another indicator of his momentum. He limited attacks against Clinton during the speech but did seem to take one veiled shot at the establishment candidate.

“[The American people] understand that real change never, ever takes place from the top on down, it always takes place from the bottom on up,” Sanders said.

Still, even with Tuesday’s victory and all that momentum, Sanders’ delegate deficit is nearly insurmountable, with him needing to win a significant percentage of the remaining delegates in order to overtake Clinton in the pledged-delegate race and have an argument that superdelegates should tip the scale to him at the Democratic National Convention. And his struggles with minority voters continued on Tuesday with him losing black voters 74 percent to 26 according to CNN’s exit-poll results and nonwhite voters 60 percent to 39 percent. 

Minority voters are not a monolith, of course, but if those numbers hold up in future contests that include larger proportions of minority voters than Wisconsin that are crucial to Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination—such as California and New York—then it’s hard to see him surpassing Clinton in the individual contests he needs to win, much less the overall delegate count. CNN reported that black voters made up just 9 percent of Wisconsin Democratic primary voters and nonwhite voters made up just 17 percent.

In fact, even with the big win in Wisconsin, Sanders is just doing the baseline of what he needs to do in order to maintain the level of catch-up he requires in order to beat Clinton. The excellent site Polichart has crunched the numbers around each remaining contest to determine what Sanders might need to do in order to overtake Clinton’s pledged-delegate lead of more than 200 heading into the night. It estimated that he needed to win 57 percent of the vote in Wisconsin to continue cutting into Clinton’s lead to a sufficient degree. With about half of the vote reporting at the time of this story’s publication, Sanders led Clinton by about 55 percent to 45 percent. 

In other words, it’s another big win for him Tuesday night, but he’s not winning. 

This story has been updated with additional information.

Read more Slate coverage of the Democratic primary.