Prospects are bright for Hillary Clinton in closed primaries ahead

Overall, Clinton and Sanders are virtually tied. But Clinton is way ahead among Democrats, and the big primaries ahead are closed to independent voters.

Jim Bourg/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waits to speak during a Clinton campaign rally in Baltimore, Maryland April 10.

Hillary Clinton’s got one hidden advantage in her struggle to fend off Bernie Sanders and win her party’s presidential nomination: She’s more popular with Democrats.

No, this is not Ted Baxter-like dumb. (Look him up, youngsters.) The situation is more complicated than the above sentence sounds.

Former Secretary of State Clinton does better than Senator Sanders with voters who are registered Democrats. That means she performs better in closed primaries, where only registered Democrats can participate. In fact, she’s won the closed Democratic primaries so far.

The flip side of this is that Sanders does better with voters who lean Democratic, but register as Independent. He’s done particularly well in open Democratic primaries and caucuses, where any voter who chooses (even Republicans) can participate if they wish.

A recent PRRI/The Atlantic poll hints how this plays out in numbers. Overall, the survey has Clinton and Sanders virtually tied. But Clinton leads Sanders by 21 points among Democrats who are strongly attached to the party. Sanders leads Clinton 61 to 32 among Democratic-leaning independents.

This makes sense if you think about it. Clinton is a lifelong Democrat who was first lady to a Democratic president and a Democratic senator from New York. Sanders was an independent senator who reentered the Democratic Party to run for the White House.

About one-third of all independents are closet Democrats, according to political scientists. They vote as if they were Democrats, but for various reasons, including embarrassment at wearing a partisan label, they prefer to label themselves as something else. Kind of sounds like Bernie in his pre-primary days, doesn’t it?

Anyway, this split may play to Clinton’s advantage in coming weeks. Of the five biggest primaries left, four are closed.

The upcoming New York primary is closed – Democrats only, please. Pennsylvania and Maryland, also closed. New Jersey? Closed.

No wonder Clinton has been not-too-subtly mentioning Sanders’s newbie credentials.

“He’s a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I’m not even sure he is one,” said Clinton in a podcast interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush last week.

The Sanders people know the closed/open split is a problem for them. Bernie’s voter website has a cool interactive map supporters can click on to discover if, and when, they need to register as Democrats in order to vote the Bern.

If you’re outraged that closed primaries exist, and feel that every American should be able to vote for whomever they want in the primaries, tough luck. The parties are in essence private clubs and get to determine how they choose their nominees. Even if some tax dollars get spent in the process.

It’s not as if they’re actually preventing the candidate who got the most primary votes from being declared the winner. That would be truly anti-democratic, right? Right?

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