How Huge Voter Turnout Eluded Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday

BURLINGTON, Vt. — After losing most Super Tuesday states to Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a striking assessment of his campaign, acknowledging that he was “disappointed” with the results and that his crucial campaign message of inspiring young people to vote was falling short.

“Have we been as successful as I would hope in bringing young people in?” he told reporters during a hastily assembled news conference at his campaign office in Burlington, Vt. “The answer is no.”

The concession underscored a fundamental challenge for Mr. Sanders’s political revolution, one that has become increasingly clear: In state after state, there has been little evidence — at least outside California — that he has generated higher turnout among young voters. And though he has promised to deliver record turnout, it may in fact be Mr. Biden who is accomplishing that, lifted by his strong support among black voters.

In Texas, where Mr. Biden prevailed over Mr. Sanders, only 15 percent of voters were younger than 30, and nearly two-thirds were 45 or older, according to exit polls. The age breakdown was similar in California.

In no state did people younger than 30 account for more than 20 percent of the electorate, based on exit polls, and in most states they accounted for 15 percent or less.

Because so few young people voted, it did not matter that Mr. Sanders won them by huge margins, because Mr. Biden won the much more plentiful older voters.

In addition, while Mr. Sanders has succeeded in galvanizing Latino voters — he won them by about 27 percentage points over Mr. Biden in California — he has struggled to build support among black voters.

In Alabama, where black voters were half of the electorate, Mr. Sanders lost them by more than 60 points. He lost them by more than 50 points in Virginia, and by more than 40 points in Texas and North Carolina. In several states, he came in third among black voters, behind not only Mr. Biden but also Michael R. Bloomberg.

In Minnesota, Mr. Sanders had a large gender gap. He had the support of 37 percent of men, according to exit polls, very close to Mr. Biden’s 39 percent. But he only won 25 percent of women, compared with 41 percent for Mr. Biden. Mr. Sanders did do unusually well among black voters, who were a point of struggle for him in other states: He won 43 percent of them. But he only won 27 percent of white voters, who account for most of the Minnesota electorate.

Unlike in the first nominating contests, when these failures did not stop Mr. Sanders from winning, his inability to expand the electorate was crucial to his losses on Super Tuesday, when Mr. Biden beat him in 10 of 14 states, including Texas, Virginia and North Carolina.

After Mr. Sanders’s dominant performance in Nevada less than two weeks ago, his aides and advisers had operated with new swagger, cautiously optimistic about his chances even in Southern states like South Carolina that they had expected to lose. He competed especially heavily in Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Minnesota, holding big rallies that doubled as shows of force.

But as the clock ticked toward midnight on Tuesday and his losses began to pile up, the campaign’s buoyant tone shifted sharply. When Mr. Sanders took the stage at an election-night rally in Essex Junction, Vt., he was defiant, declaring that he would “win the Democratic nomination” despite a series of weaker-than-expected results. Aides and advisers insisted it was still early, and urged reporters not to jump to conclusions.

“If you turn off your television at 10 p.m. tonight, you will wake up tomorrow to a different race,” Mike Casca, a spokesman for Mr. Sanders, said at one point.

But by Wednesday morning, that optimism was gone.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Mr. Sanders said at the news conference in Burlington. “I would like to win every state by a landslide. It’s not going to happen.”

He blamed his underperformance in part on the “venom” of the “corporate media.”

As he has begun to do in recent days, he also framed the race as one between him and Mr. Biden, and drew explicit contrasts between his record and the former vice president’s.

“Joe and I have a very different voting record,” he said. “Joe and I have a very different vision for the future of this country. And Joe and I are running very different campaigns.”

“My hope is that in the coming months, we will be able to debate and discuss the very significant differences that we have,” he added.

Appearing on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC on Wednesday night, Mr. Sanders sharply criticized Mr. Biden’s record on the Iraq war, bankruptcy and Social Security.

Mr. Sanders also said that Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday, had been “decimated” by trade deals that Mr. Biden supported.

“I walked the picket lines against NAFTA,” Mr. Sanders said. “I went to Mexico to see what NAFTA would do. Joe voted for those terrible agreements.”

Some supporters of Mr. Sanders — including prominent surrogates like Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — have argued that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, by staying in the race while several moderates dropped out, was partly responsible for Mr. Sanders’s disappointing performance.

But while backers of Mr. Sanders believe many of Ms. Warren’s supporters would have migrated to him, exit polls suggested that the shift would have been too small to change the outcome in key states.

Take college-educated white women: Ms. Warren’s strongest group and one of Mr. Sanders’s weakest. If Ms. Warren had dropped out, Mr. Sanders could have benefited twice as much as Mr. Biden among those voters, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. But Maine would probably have been the only state to flip from Mr. Biden to Mr. Sanders as a result.

Mr. Biden would most likely still have won Texas, Minnesota and Massachusetts — just with somewhat smaller margins, according to Mr. Murray. Warren voters generally like Mr. Sanders, he said; “it’s just her support isn’t large enough that it would have split enough in his direction.”

In fact, based on exit polls, Mr. Bloomberg almost certainly siphoned more votes from Mr. Biden than Ms. Warren did from Mr. Sanders.

Despite Mr. Sanders’s wins or near-wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the results in those contests had already challenged his pledge to fundamentally transform the electorate and expand the Democratic base.

Turnout in Iowa was lower than expected, up 3 percent from 2016, and the increase was concentrated in well-educated areas where Mr. Sanders struggled, according to a New York Times analysis; in the precincts where he won, turnout increased by only 1 percentage point.

There was no sign of a Sanders voter surge in New Hampshire either, or in Nevada, where turnout fell well short of 2008 levels despite a decade of population growth and a new early-voting option that attracted some 75,000 voters.

There was also no clear evidence across the early states of much greater participation by young people, a typically low-turnout group that Mr. Sanders has long said he can motivate to get out to the polls. First-time Democratic voters’ share of the electorate actually decreased in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada compared with 2016.

Sydney Ember reported from Burlington, Vt., and Maggie Astor from New York. Michael Levenson contributed reporting from New York.

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