Media Reinforces Myth of Clinton’s Inevitable Win

Editorial Board

After polling neck and neck with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly won all six tie-breaker coin flips in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. Some called it the Miracle Six, as the probability of six heads or tails in a row is less than two percent. After fact checking revealed that the coin flips were negligible in the decision (Clinton would have needed 47 favorable flips, not six) and that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had also won a handful of the dozen coin flips, Clinton clinching the nomination seemed like an increasingly probable outcome.

At the Nevada Democratic caucuses this past Saturday, Clinton once again pulled ahead of Sanders by a tight margin, securing two out of three of the first crucial primaries after Iowa and New Hampshire. This outcome wasn’t unexpected, given that poll results and campaign updates predicted her victory. She was polling well among Nevada’s Black and Latino voters and had a number of public endorsements. It wasn’t long before op-eds and political columns surfaced about her crucial victory. “Delegate Count Leaving Bernie Sanders With Steep Climb” was Patrick Healy’s piece for The New York Times. Slate chose the more resolute headline “Barring a Catastrophe, Hillary Clinton’s Nomination is Inevitable Again.”

Each article reiterated the typical argument for Clinton’s electability: She’s experienced, she’s professional, she’s got connections and she can get the job done by using her ties to the establishment better than Sanders’ political revolution can. Since switching to an earlier caucus in 2008, Nevada — the first state in the West to vote — has become a game-changer in the primary elections. Clinton won the 2008 Nevada caucus too, but Obama gained a 13-delegate lead over Clinton on Super Tuesday. So Clinton’s 2016 Nevada victory doesn’t necessarily mean her nomination is around the corner, despite many media outlets declaring her the obvious candidate.

Clinton is seen as the inevitable choice because every major institution, political or not, declared her as such. The Democratic National Committee, The New York Times and even The Onion — now partially owned by Univision Communications’ Haim Saban, who, along with his wife, is one of Clinton’s top financial supporters — have played into this.

Isn’t it a little foolish that, in an election that has seen so much upset and surprise, news outlets are declaring a winner already? For instance, Donald Trump, a candidate many predicted would drop out within months of launching his campaign, has won all three Republican primaries so far. Young women are increasingly abandoning Clinton for Sanders.

In a Jan. 11 blog post, The Huffington Post’s Chris Weigant declared that a Clinton win is anything but inevitable (“Clinton Not Inevitable Nominee”). Salon, too, has pushed back against inevitability rhetoric with a column by Adam Johnson. He writes that the disparity between public opinion and media depiction is seen in the representation of superdelegates. When Googled, the first result is a bar graph showing Clinton leading by an insurmountable margin: 505 delegates to Sanders’ 71. What Google and other sites fail to show, however, is that superdelegates could — given the right circumstances — change their pledged votes depending on popular public vote. Currently, Sanders and Clinton are tied with 51 won delegates each. “The impression that Clinton is the ordained favorite, the default nominee absent disaster, exists largely in the minds of pundits and party leaders,” Johnson writes. “When the voters actually get to weigh in, as we’ve seen, Clinton and Sanders are roughly just as popular.”

When the two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination are tied for delegates, that’s hardly an inevitable outcome. Yet the media’s framing of Clinton’s inevitability might make undecided voters pick her over Sanders anyway. The logic is that Clinton is going to win anyway, so what’s the point in challenging fate in the primaries?

The only real inevitability in the U.S. presidential race is that corporations, media conglomerates and millionaires with vested interests will attempt to sway public opinion in their favor. But even the GOP, with campaigns all backed by financial heavyweights, have failed to push a single unifying candidate through to the primaries in the past eight years. On Nov. 8, make no mistake — anything is possible.