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“A Brutal General Election”: Bernie Sanders’ Supporters Are Convinced He Could Win A General Election. They’re Wrong

Bernie Sanders’ rather unconventional personal style and characteristics are part of his appeal. Not some blow-dried politician who could fill in doing the weather on your local newscast, Sanders looks different from other candidates. A 74-year-old socialist with wild hair, frumpy suits, and an old-timey Brooklyn accent thicker than a pastrami sandwich, Sanders seems like the last guy who’d be able to assemble a national majority. But if that’s what you think, his supporters will tell you, you’ve got it all wrong. In fact, they say, Bernie is the only Democrat who can win in the fall. It’s only if the party screws up and nominates Hillary Clinton that Democrats are doomed.

It may be getting late in the process for arguments about electability, particularly when Clinton will almost have the nomination in hand if she wins in New York. But since Sanders supporters are so insistent on this point, it’s worth exploring.

Before we begin, we should acknowledge that all judgments about electability are imperfect, to say the least. That’s partly because politics is inherently unpredictable, and you never know what issues will emerge, what events will occur, what the other side will do, and how your candidate might screw up. It’s also because all of us have a hard time putting ourselves in the mindset of people who think differently than we do. In particular, people who care a great deal about politics and have clearly thought-out and ideologically coherent beliefs often find undecided voters positively baffling. How on earth can a person look at two candidates representing parties with profoundly different agendas and values, and say, “Gee, I just don’t know who to pick”?

But they do, and as we’ve seen before, the voting public’s judgments about candidates they don’t know much about beforehand can be radically altered by what happens in the fall campaign.

Sanders supporters, however, say not to worry. Their primary evidence for the superior electability of their candidate comes from “trial heats,” polls that ask voters whom they would choose in the general election between each Republican and each Democrat. And it’s true that in those polls, Sanders usually does better than Clinton. Trial heats show her beating Donald Trump, roughly tied with Ted Cruz, and behind John Kasich, while Sanders beats all three.

But is that much of an indication of what would happen in the general election? Clinton and Sanders come to this race with very different profiles. He was a completely novel character to most Americans, while she has been one of the country’s central political figures for over two decades. So in the eyes of most Americans — who are paying only intermittent attention to the primary campaign — Bernie Sanders seems like a kindly if eccentric uncle. He doesn’t sound like a typical politician (always a bonus), he speaks some uncomfortable truths, and he has an air of purity about him.

But what hasn’t happened yet is anyone really attacking Sanders. Clinton’s criticisms have been mild, and have largely come from the left, on those few issues like guns where she could position herself there. But you can barely get a Republican to utter an unkind word about Sanders, and that’s precisely because they know how they’d be able to go to town on him if he became the nominee.

So let’s consider the kinds of attacks Sanders would face from Republicans. They wouldn’t just call him a socialist — in fact, that’d be about the nicest thing they’d say about him. They’d say he’s coming to raise your taxes to fund big-government schemes. They’d say he wants to cripple the military. They’d say he’s advocated eliminating our intelligence capabilities. They’d say he was part of a Trotskyite party that expressed “solidarity” with the theocratic government of Iran while it was holding Americans hostage. They’d say he wants government to seize the means of production. They’d say he hates America. They’d say he’s the author of smutty rape fantasies.

These attacks would be unfair, exaggerated, distorted, dishonest — and when Sanders protests, the Republicans would laugh and keep making them. By the time they’re done with him, most Americans would think Sanders is so radical and dangerous that they wouldn’t want him running their local food co-op, let alone the United States government.

Sanders supporters tend to wave away the possibility that these attacks would hurt him in much the same way the candidate himself dispenses with questions of practicality, by saying that his revolution will be so extraordinary that it will sweep all opposition away. Millions of heretofore absent voters will turn up at the polls, Americans will see the wisdom of his ideas, this election will be different than any that came before! But there’s little reason to believe that will happen, particularly when even within the Democratic Party, Sanders hasn’t been persuasive enough to overcome Hillary Clinton, who is supposed to be so weak.

And there’s no doubt that Clinton does indeed have plenty of weaknesses as a candidate. Twenty-five years of attacks from the right have taken their toll on her public image, and she’s made plenty of her own mistakes along the way. But there’s nothing new that the GOP is going to throw at her — we know what Republicans will say, and we have a good idea of how the public will react.

On the other hand, the Democrats haven’t nominated a candidate as far to the left as Bernie Sanders since George McGovern in 1972 (and maybe not even then). I’d love to think that a candidate with his ideological profile could get through a brutal general election and still assemble a national majority. But it’s an awfully hard thing to believe.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bernie’s ‘Momentum’ Is A Farce”: Sanders Owes His Recent Winning Streak To Demographics, Not Momentum

If the prevailing media narrative is to be believed, as we head into next Tuesday’s crucial New York state primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – by virtue of winning seven of the last eight Democratic nominating contests – has gained crucial momentum, while Hillary Clinton has seen her earlier momentum slip away.

But is that true?

It’s certainly a narrative that Sanders and his supporters have tried to popularize in their recent public comments. As Sanders told George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday on “This Week“: “In the last three and a half weeks, we have reduced [Clinton’s] margin by a third. … We believe that we have the momentum. We believe that the polling is showing that we’re closing the gap. Actually, as you may have noticed, of the last three national polls out there, we have defeated Secretary Clinton in two of them. So there’s no question I think the momentum is with us.”

In truth, the answer depends in part on what one means by momentum, which turns out to be a much-touted but often poorly defined concept. When pundits talk about momentum, they usually refer to one of two possibilities. The first refers to the winnowing of candidates, as typically happens early in the nominating process. When this occurs, it can appear that the remaining candidates gain “momentum” by virtue of picking up some of the departed candidates’ support. There is evidence indicating this type of momentum does occur. However, that’s not the type of momentum that pundits are referencing now, more than halfway through the fight for the Democratic nomination. Bernie’s recent victories haven’t driven anyone from the race.

There is a second type of momentum, however, one more consistent with how the term is being used in the current media narrative. It is the belief that a succession of electoral victories can increase the probability that the winning candidate will do better in subsequent contests simply by virtue of those previous wins. Under this scenario, winning begets more winning – the more wins, the greater the subsequent momentum – and losing has the opposite effect. When pressed to clarify how this type of momentum operates, proponents explain that winning leads to increased campaign contributions and more volunteers – resources that ultimately translate into more votes, and thus more wins. For those making this momentum-as-bandwagon argument, Bernie’s current winning streak is clear proof that his momentum is very real – each victory during the last three-and-a-half weeks made it more likely that he would win the next contest. For this reason, Sanders and his supporters believe he is poised to do very well in next Tuesday’s New York primary.

There’s only one problem with this scenario. There’s just not much evidence that momentum of this type exists, at least not in the recent context of Sanders’ victories. Instead, the likelier explanation for Sanders’ recent success (as I noted in my recent Professor Pundits contribution) is that the Democrats have held a string of contests on terrain that was particularly favorable to Sanders. Demographics, and not momentum, has been the key to his success.

It’s no secret that Sanders does best in caucus states dominated by more ideologically motivated participants and in states with low minority populations. As it turns out, six of Sanders’ last seven victories came in largely white caucus states. (Hawaii, a caucus state, was a demographic exception.) In fact, 11 of his 15 victories to date have come in caucus states. (He almost gained a 12th victory in the Iowa caucus, where he finished a close second to Clinton.) On the other hand, she has won 16 of the 21 primaries held so far. Indeed, if one constructs a regression equation to explain Sanders’ vote share, the two biggest predictors are whether it is a caucus state and whether it had a large proportion of white, liberal voters. By this standard, one might argue he actually underperformed expectations in Wyoming, a largely white, caucus state, where he won “only” about 56 percent of the vote, less than he earned in several similar nearby states. More importantly, he split the 14 Wyoming delegates evenly with Clinton. That’s not exactly the “momentum” he needs.

This is not to say that momentum is a completely meaningless concept. There is some evidence that voters’ choices in the primaries are influenced in part by perceptions regarding how likely it is that the candidate is going to be elected. If a candidate can clear a certain threshold of perceived electoral viability, her chances of gaining additional votes increase.

But this is precisely where the Sanders’ momentum argument works against itself. Because Sanders’ recent victories have come predominantly in smaller caucus states and because of the Democratic Party’s proportional delegate allocation rules, Sanders’ winning streak hasn’t substantially cut into Clinton’s delegate lead, at least not nearly enough to alter the perception that she remains the clear favorite to win the nomination. Since March 22, when Sanders’ current win streak began, he has gained a net of only 70 pledged delegates on Clinton and still trails her by more than 250 pledged delegates. Her lead expands to more than 700 if one includes superdelegates. Moreover, Clinton can more than wipe out Sanders’ recent gains with a strong showing in her home state of New York next Tuesday, where there are 247 pledged delegates at stake.

This failure to clear the viability threshold has two unfortunate consequences for Sanders. First, despite his claims to the contrary, his recent victories provide little reason for Clinton’s superdelegate supporters to change their minds and back Bernie. Second, to the extent that perceptions of electoral viability matter to prospective voters in upcoming states, it is Clinton and not Sanders who is most likely to benefit. She is the perceived front-runner, and thus she is more likely to gain the support of voters who want to back the race favorite. And those perceptions of viability are not likely to change in the foreseeable future, as the Democratic race returns to terrain, in the form of larger, more demographically diverse primary states, likely more favorable to Clinton, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California. On the other hand, and unfortunately for Sanders, only one of the remaining 16 Democratic contests is a caucus state.

Does momentum exist? Yes, if one means the added benefit a candidate receives by virtue of being perceived as the most viable candidate, electorally speaking. Based on that definition, at this point in the Democratic race, it is Clinton and not Sanders who has the better claim to possessing the “Big Mo.” And that’s not likely to change in the immediate future.

 

By: Matthew Dickinson, Professor, Middlebury College; Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, April 14, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Momentum, New York Primaries | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Sanders Polls Well With Independents”: But He Might Lose His Appeal If He Were The Democratic Nominee

Anyone who stares at polls for a good while probably knows that Bernie Sanders is significantly more popular with both independents than Republicans than is Hillary Clinton. Indeed, this is probably at the heart of Sanders’ fairly regular advantage over HRC in general election trial heats.

There are two common interpretations of Sanders’ regularly higher ratings among non-Democrats. The first, popular among Clinton supporters, is that he simply isn’t well-known enough to draw the ire of conservatives and moderates. The second, which you hear some Bernie fans articulate, is that he represents a subterranean majority of voters that transcends party labels. The first take undermines Sanders’ electability claims; the latter reinforces it.

But there’s a third interpretation that should arise every time one hears Sanders described as an “independent running for the Democratic nomination” or even as a “democratic socialist.” What he’s not being described as is a Democrat.

At The Upshot this weekend, political scientist Lynn Vavreck reminded us that pure, simple partisanship is largely what is driving the anger in American politics at the moment:

That Democrats and Republicans have different views on issues — even issues about race and rights — is not surprising. But recent work by Stanford University’s Shanto Iyengar and his co-authors shows something else has been brewing in the electorate: a growing hostility toward members of the opposite party. This enmity, they argue, percolates into opinions about everyday life.

Partisans, for example, are now more concerned that their son or daughter might marry someone of the opposite party (compared with Britain today and the United States in 1960). They also found that partisans are surprisingly willing to discriminate against people who are not members of their political party.

We’ve entered an age of party-ism.

So being less marked with the sign of the Democratic beast, it’s unsurprising that Sanders is less despised by those who dislike that party (Republicans) or both parties (true independents).

Would that survive a Democratic national convention in which Sanders (assuming he somehow wins the nomination) is kissing every Democratic icon in sight? And is then embraced in the final emotional moments of the convention by Hillary and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?

I don’t think so. Whatever vehicle Sanders rides into Philadelphia, he would ride out of Philadelphia on a donkey. That could lose him some points among non-Democrats.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 4, 2016

April 5, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Independents | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Some Caveats Are In Order”: The Missing Details From Bernie Sanders’ General-Election Pitch

March 10, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They Just Want Somebody To Fall In Love With”: Republican Voters Do Not Give A Flying Comb-Over About Who Is Electable

The parlor game for 2016 campaign observers is based on a straightforward question: “If Donald Trump’s support is eventually going to fall, what will be the cause?”

The “if” poses its own challenge, but even if we accept the premise, it’s not unreasonable to wonder what will cause Trump’s lead in the polls to evaporate. Some Republicans assume this is a fleeting fad that cannot be sustained . Others believe the GOP’s primary contest won’t really begin in earnest until after the debates begin and TV ads start airing, making Trump’s early surge irrelevant. Still others assume the former reality-show host will eventually say something so outrageous that he’ll effectively commit political suicide.

But the point that brings comfort to many in the political establishment is the issue of electability – Trump would face extremely long odds as a general-election candidate, and Republican primary voters, desperate for a win, will start thinking strategically in 2016.

Or will they? As Rachel noted on the show last night, the latest NBC News/Marist poll asked Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire for their 2016 preferences, but they also asked a question that was arguably more interesting:

“Which is more important to you: a Republican nominee for president who shares your position on most issues, or a Republican nominee for president who has the best chance of winning the White House?”

The results weren’t even close. In New Hampshire, 67% of GOP voters want a candidate they agree with, while only 29% are principally concerned with electability. In Iowa, the results were practically identical.

This isn’t about Trump, per se. This is about what we’re learning about Republican voters themselves.

With the NBC poll in mind, Rachel’s take on the state of the race rings true:

“He’s the only top-tier Republican candidate who loses by double digits. not only to Hillary Clinton, but also to Bernie Sanders. But Republican voters want him anyway. And that ends up not being an interesting thing about Donald Trump. It’s an interesting thing about Republican voters. They keep picking him, and they know he would lose, but they like him anyway. They know he’s going to lose, and they don’t care. They love this guy.

“So, all this beltway analysis that says that Donald Trump’s star is going to fall, because all of the ways in which he is not electable, right, there’s the reason all that punditry, and all that beltway common wisdom keeps getting proven wrong with each new passing day and each new poll showing Donald Trump on top, because Republican voters do not give a flying comb-over about who is electable. They just want somebody to fall in love with, and they have fallen in love with him.”

Remember, we’ve seen this before in the recent past. Republicans could have won a Senate race in Delaware, but they wanted a candidate who made them happy (Christie O’Donnell), not a candidate who would win (Mike Castle). They could have won a Senate race in Indiana, but they wanted an ideologically satisfying candidate (Richard Mourdock), not a candidate with broad appeal (Richard Lugar).

Sure, this may change. Trump’s role in the race has been unpredictable thus far, so no one can say with confidence what the race will look like in early 2016.

But the GOP base has been told repeatedly – by party leaders, by conservative media, even by Republican candidates – that compromise is wrong. Concessions of any kind are offensive.

It’s a little late in the game for the same party to tell these same voters not to support the unelectable guy at the top of the polls.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 31, 2015

July 31, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Republican Voters | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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