Bernie Sanders Has a Big Florida Problem

Sanders rallied supporters in Miami yesterday, but it might be too late.
Sanders rallied supporters in Miami yesterday, but it might be too late.
Photo by Ian Witlen

Last night, Bernie Sanders pulled off a historic upset over Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary, but to capture the nomination, he'll have to score a few more of those magical results. A strong showing in Florida, the state with the fourth most Democratic delegates, next week would be huge for the Sanders campaign. Polling, however, indicates that feat might be next to impossible for the Democratic socialist senator from Vermont. 

See, the blueprint for a Sanders victory usually includes pulling huge margins among men, whites, and younger voters. The general consensus is that he has to do more outreach to Hispanic and African-American voters. 

But according to three separate polls in Florida over the past two days, Sanders isn't even winning among the groups he's supposed to best in the Sunshine State. Never mind minority outreach — Sanders has to shore up the groups that have pulled him to victory in other states if he even wants a strong showing here. 

A CNN/ORC poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Florida 61-34. Quinnipiac gives Clinton a 62-32 lead. A News 13/Survey USA poll has Clinton up 61-30. 

Dig a little deeper into the crosstabs of those three polls, and Sanders leads among only a single demographic group in all of the three polls. He's up 57-27 among independents in the SurveyUSA poll. Because Florida is a closed primary state, those voters presumably re-registered as Democrats to vote in the primary. 

In the Quinnipiac poll, Clinton and Sanders are tied among voters 18-44, at 49 percent each. 

In every other demographic, it's a Clinton massacre. 

She leads men 51-43 in the Q poll and 57-33 in the SurveyUSA poll. 

Among whites, Clinton leads 57-37 in the CNN poll and 57-35 in the SurveyUSA poll. She also holds leads among those who identify as "very liberal," and the SurveyUSA poll actually shows Clinton up 50-45 among voters 18 to 34 years of age. 

In other words, it doesn't look good for Sanders.

So what's going on? 

A snapshot of the SurveyUSA poll shows just how badly Sanders is lagging in Florida.
A snapshot of the SurveyUSA poll shows just how badly Sanders is lagging in Florida.

Well, Florida is a swing state, and Florida voters certainly know it. Though those in solidly blue states may think their vote in a primary may have more impact on the presidential race than their general election vote, that isn't the case in Florida. We all still certainly remember 2000. 

Eighty-two percent of Florida Democrats think Hillary has the best chance of winning in November according to the CNN poll, and their vote certainly seems to indicate that. Indeed, a Public Policy Polling survey from last week was the last to test Sanders and Clinton against the Republicans in head-to-head matchups in the state. Clinton and Sanders perform about the same against the three main remaining Republicans in the state, though Clinton has slightly better margins against Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (but those margins are within the poll's margin of error). 

Clinton, of course, has been the target of political attacks for more than two decades and still remains relatively popular. Sanders has so far avoided the worst of dirty politicking and attack ads. Florida voters know how nasty general election attack ads can get. 

Clinton is also well known and beloved among Florida Democrats. She easily won the primary in 2008 and has put in more campaigning legwork in the state than Sanders. His first trip to the state this election cycle was only yesterday.

There are also a few other intangibles working against Sanders. He's already broken the golden rule of politics in the state's largest county: H has said nice things about Fidel Castro and once tried to meet the dictator in 1989. Miami-Dade voters are well aware of that fact. 

His online supporters have also turned Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz into something of a political villain. That might not help in the state, considering Wasserman-Schultz represents a heavily Democratic district that includes parts of Broward and Miami-Dade and is quite popular here. 

His message of free college tuition at public universities may resonate less here as well. Florida already has the fourth-lowest average in-state tuition in the nation, and the Bright Futures scholarship already provides free in-state tuition to the best and brightest students. Ninety-eight percent of incoming in-state University of Florida students are covered by the award, for example. 

Florida, as noted above, is also a closed primary state, meaning independent voters are shut out of the primary system here, and Republican voters can't cross over to cast a vote on the Democratic side. There's also no day-of voter registration or party changes in Florida. All voters had to be registered with their party by February 16. 

Early voting has also begun in Florida, and Democrats tend to vote in huge numbers during that period. Most voters in the polls also say they've already made up their minds. 

In other words, it's not looking great for Sanders in the Sunshine State. 


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