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It Gets Harder From Here For Bernie Sanders

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Bernie Sanders won and won big here on Tuesday. He earned 60 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and won nearly every town and city in the state. The size and scope of his victory should give his campaign hope, but he still has work to do.

It would be tempting to say that Sanders won here only because of latte-drinking liberal New Englanders, but he won across ideological groups. Sanders earned the same 60 percent from moderate and conservative voters as he did from liberal voters. If he can attract that share of moderates and conservatives in other states, he won’t hit a brick wall among whites in Appalachia or the South who tend to be more conservative than those in New Hampshire and Iowa. Sanders may not be able to win in the Deep South, where black voters are a majority, but he can be competitive if he can win moderate whites in southern states.

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The biggest dividing line in the Democratic race here was income. Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton by 30 percentage points among voters with a family income of less than $100,000, but won by just 7 percentage points among those making more than $100,000, according to the exit poll. That divide along income lines is an advantage for Sanders: More Democrats earn below the $100,000 threshold than above it. In 2008, just 17 percent of Democratic primary voters nationally were whites from families earning more than $100,000, compared to 43 percent who were whites from families earning less than $100,000.

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So why shouldn’t the Clinton campaign be in absolute panic? A few reasons.

The most obvious is that Sanders is from Vermont, New Hampshire’s neighbor. While it would be silly to attribute Sanders’s victory here solely to neighborly kindness, he did win 70 percent or more of the vote in many places along the Vermont border. Those wins clearly helped drive up his overall margin and may have contributed to some of the trends we saw, including the split along income lines.

It’s worth remembering that Iowa Democrats are poorer than New Hampshire Democrats, and that Clinton won in Iowa. If the income breakdowns in later contests look more like they did in Iowa, then Clinton is going to be just fine. Then again, they may look like New Hampshire instead.

Even if they do, Sanders has yet to demonstrate strength in a state whose electorate isn’t more than 90 percent white. Nevada and South Carolina, the next contests, don’t look anything like Iowa or New Hampshire. Only 65 percent of voters were white in the 2008 Democratic caucus in Nevada, and only 43 percent were in South Carolina.

Polling has indicated that Sanders trails among nonwhite voters by nearly 40 percentage points nationally. Although no reliable recent polling is available in Nevada, Clinton leads by 30 percentage points in both of our South Carolina forecasts. In the latest Marist College poll, she’s buoyed by a 74 percent to 17 percent lead among black voters. Sanders must cut into that margin if he wants to have any chance in South Carolina or anywhere in the South.

You could already see how Sanders might have problems in Nevada and South Carolina even as he was crushing Clinton in New Hampshire. Despite winning the state by more than 20 percentage points, the best Sanders could manage among registered Democrats was a tie. His large margin came from registered independents who voted in the Democratic primary. You must be a registered Democrat to vote in the Nevada caucuses, though you can register as one the day of the election. In 2008, 81 percent of Nevada caucus-goers self-identified as Democrats. Just 58 percent of New Hampshire voters on Tuesday thought of themselves as Democrats.

Most worrisome for Sanders is his 25-percentage-point loss among New Hampshire Democrats who want to continue President Obama’s policies. Obama’s current job approval rating among blacks nationally is about 90 percent. Sanders will have big problems in South Carolina if he doesn’t do better among voters who like Obama.

So the terrain ahead is friendlier for Clinton; here’s the FiveThirtyEight weighted polling average in upcoming contests (keep in mind, these averages don’t factor in any post-New Hampshire bump that Sanders might get):

2/20 Nevada 50.3 28.1
2/27 South Carolina 60.5 29.3
3/8 Michigan 59.9 29.0
3/15 Florida 61.0 26.0
3/15 North Carolina 55.9 28.3
3/15 Ohio 52.8 38.6
4/5 Wisconsin 45.6 43.4
4/26 Pennsylvania 51.4 28.0
6/7 California 46.3 32.9
FiveThirtyEight polling averages as of Feb. 9

The bottom line is that Sanders did very well in New Hampshire, and we can see the outlines of a campaign that can be competitive in the rest of the country. But there is plenty of work for him to do as we move away from the very white states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Check out the latest forecasts for the 2016 presidential primaries.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

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