Hillary Clinton will officially become the Democratic nominee for president this week, at which point we’ll finally close the chapter on the 2016 primaries. But when we look back on the 2016 race, how should we think of it, as a close call or as a blowout? Could a few small changes have made Sanders the nominee — and could a higher-profile candidate such as Elizabeth Warren have beaten Clinton, when Sanders didn’t?
My view is that the race wasn’t really all that close and that Sanders never really had that much of a chance at winning. From a purely horse-race standpoint, in fact, the media probably exaggerated the competitiveness of the race. But that’s not to diminish Sanders’s accomplishments in terms of what they mean for the Democratic Party after 2016. It’s significant that Sanders in particular — and not Warren or Joe Biden or Martin O’Malley — finished in second place.
There’s no agreed-upon standard for determining whether a nomination campaign was close or lopsided. Delegates might seem like the logical starting point; Clinton beat Sanders by 359 pledged delegates, and 884 delegates overall (counting superdelegates). But delegates don’t make for easy historical comparisons because the rules for delegate allocation change from party to party and election to election. As FiveThirtyEight contributor Daniel Nichanian pointed out, Clinton would have had a gargantuan win in pledged delegates — perhaps in excess of 1,000 delegates more than Sanders — if the Democratic nomination had been contested under Republican primary rules, which are winner take all or winner take most in many states. There’s also that sticky question of how to count superdelegates.
An alternative is to look at the aggregate popular vote, which makes for easier comparisons to past elections. According to The Green Papers, Clinton won …