Spurned Bern? Sanders Underperforms at Home in Vermont | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Spurned Bern? Sanders Underperforms at Home in Vermont


Bernie Sanders speaking to reporters outside the polls in Burlington on Tuesday - FILE: DEREK BROUWER
  • File: Derek Brouwer
  • Bernie Sanders speaking to reporters outside the polls in Burlington on Tuesday
When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) first ran for president in 2016, he won an astounding 86 percent of the Democratic vote in his home state of Vermont. Four years later, he barely eked out a majority — winning just 50.6 percent.

Though nearly 23,000 more Vermonters cast ballots in the Democratic primary on Tuesday than in 2016, roughly 36,000 fewer cast ballots for Sanders.

"I think we had a little bit of the new shiny toy phenomenon in 2016 ... It was exciting for Vermont," said Rich Clark, a pollster and Castleton University political science professor. "The bloom is off the rose, to some extent."

To be sure, Sanders still did remarkably well in Vermont. He won nearly 2.5 times as many votes as former vice president Joe Biden, who collected 22 percent, and more than four times as many votes as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who picked up just 12.5 percent. (Warren, meanwhile, came in a devastating third place in her home state of Massachusetts.)
Sanders won a plurality in every town and city in Vermont, except two. In Dorset, he and Biden each won 208 of 621 votes. And in the tiny Northeast Kingdom town of Brunswick, he and Biden each won seven of 20 votes.

But Sanders' inability to keep all of his rivals below the 15 percent "viability" threshold dramatically changed the delegate math in Vermont. According to Vermont Democratic Party chair Terje Anderson, Sanders will likely pick up 11 of the state's 16 pledged delegates, while Biden will take the remaining five.

Four years ago, Sanders shut out former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Vermont and claimed all 16 delegates.
According to Secretary of State Jim Condos, unofficial results suggest that more Vermonters voted in Tuesday's presidential primaries than ever before — though barely. In 2016, 197,012 people cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary. This time around, 197,101 did. 

But because the GOP primary was far less competitive this year than in 2016, participation in the Republican primary dropped by 22,579 votes — roughly one-third of the total — and participation in the Democratic primary increased by about the same amount.
It's possible that some of those swing voters were less inclined to support Sanders. According to exit polls conducted by Edison Research, 40 percent of Vermonters who described themselves as moderates supported Sanders, compared with 28 percent for Biden and 19 percent for former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Among "very liberal" voters, 68 percent backed Sanders, compared with 7 percent for Biden and 1 percent for Bloomberg.

Sanders, however, fared better with independents in Vermont than with Democrats.
The exit polls show that demographic differences between supporters of the various candidates mirrored national trends. Younger and less educated Vermonters were more inclined to back Sanders. Those 65 and older split nearly evenly between Biden and Sanders.

Vermonters looking for a candidate who could "unite the country" favored Biden, while those seeking a candidate who "cares about people like me" sided with Sanders. Voters hoping to "return to [former president Barack] Obama's policies" backed Biden, his former vice president. Those who preferred policies "more liberal than Obama's" broke for Sanders.

Biden appears to have surged in Vermont only recently, while support for Sanders has held steady. A poll conducted by Clark for Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS found that, just days before the New Hampshire primary last month, 51 percent of Vermonters were planning to vote for Sanders — the same percentage that ended up doing so on Tuesday.

"We found Sanders voters were pretty damn certain," Clark said. "Everybody else was a little uncertain. And it really seemed to have broken that way."

Many of those who favored other candidates at the time of the poll — including the 13 percent that backed former mayor Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out earlier this week and endorsed Biden — appear to have shifted their support to Biden. According to the exit polls, 45 percent of Vermonters who made up their minds in the "last few days" before Super Tuesday voted for Biden, compared with 29 percent for Sanders.
There were significant regional variations throughout Vermont, according to data collected by the Secretary of State's Office. Sanders won the greatest proportion of the vote (79 percent) in the Addison County town of Hancock, where 48 of 61 voters chose him. He picked up a significant number of votes (62 percent) in Burlington, the city he once ran, as well as in the neighboring city of Winooski (63 percent).

Sanders fared poorly in the state's richest towns: Norwich (33 percent), Shelburne (36 percent), Manchester (38 percent), Charlotte (40 percent) and Stowe (40 percent).

Biden did best in traditionally conservative municipalities, such as Rutland Town (35 percent), Manchester (34 percent) and Dorset (33 percent). Warren outperformed her average in wealthy, educated locales such as Norwich (23 percent), Montpelier (22 percent) and Middlebury (22 percent).

Bloomberg, one of the richest people in the country, made headlines on Super Tuesday for winning several enclaves of the rich and famous, including Napa County, Calif.; Park City, Utah; and Aspen, Colo. That trend held up in Vermont, where Bloomberg's best showing came in the ski resort town of Killington. There, he won 21 percent of the vote.

Bloomberg dropped out of the race on Wednesday and endorsed Biden.