Why Elizabeth Warren’s withdrawal is not the silver bullet Bernie Sanders is hoping for

Fewer than half of Warren’s supporters may defect to the second-placed senator. 

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The results of the Super Tuesday Democratic primaries have transformed Joe Biden into the presidential frontrunner once more and raised doubts over Bernie Sanders’ chances. But Elizabeth Warren’s decision to withdraw from the campaign following her poor performance (she won 64 delegates to Biden’s 627 and Sanders’ 551) has fuelled hopes among Sanders supporters that the socialist senator may yet defeat Biden.

The similarities between Sanders and Warren’s policy platforms have led many, quite understandably, to claim that the Massachusetts senator is “splitting” the progressive vote and allowing the moderate Biden to sneak in through the middle. Had Warren withdrawn from the contest earlier, and had all her supporters defected to Sanders, Biden would have won just five states, rather than 10. 

This is, however, a risky assumption to make and the reality is more complicated. Warren’s voters are, like Sanders’, liberal, young, and predominantly white, but also more affluent. The only demographic among which Warren beat Sanders was those making more than $100,000 a year, a group which Sanders repeatedly struggled with when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

This variation in support by wealth may be the key factor in explaining the final major difference between supporters of Sanders and Warren: their second preferences. The most recent Morning Consult survey, taken before the slew of candidate withdrawals, polled voters on who their second-choice candidate would be. When this question was put to Warren’s supporters, Sanders came top with 40 per cent, while Biden and Pete Buttigieg won 16 per cent, and Amy Klobuchar won 12 per cent. 

These findings demonstrate Warren’s supporters don’t universally favour Sanders and may be less willing than the senator herself to endorse him. To state that Warren’s presence splits the progressive vote, and allows Biden to win, is too simplistic. An endorsement of Sanders by Warren might, of course, prompt more than 40 per cent of her supporters to defect, but no one should assume this is the silver bullet the Sanders campaign is hoping for. 

 Ben Walker is a data journalist at the New Statesman

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