The Case For Bernie: He Will Beat Trump!

Our local (and much beloved) public radio station VPR just posted a story on its website trumpeting a recent Quinnipiac poll that shows Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders beating Donald Trump 45%-37%.  The poll, according to the author, indicates that Sanders is “gaining ground in his presidential campaign.” As evidence, the story quotes Tim Malloy, assistant director of the university’s polling center, who observes that Sanders “is coming up in the world. He’s got the attention of a lot of people. And he’s got the attention of a lot of young people. ” Not surprisingly, the finding that Sanders would defeat Trump in a head-to-head matchup got more than a little favorable play in the twitterverse among Bernie’s supporters.  Berniementum lives!

The problem, of course, is that the poll does not indicate Bernie is gaining ground on Hillary. As the VPR report notes very early in the story, the Quinnipiac poll shows Hillary Clinton with a decided advantage over Bernie among Democrats nationwide (including Democratic leaners), leading him by 55%-17%. This is virtually unchanged from the last Quinnipiac poll released two months ago, which had Clinton beating Sanders 57%-15%. Rather than gaining ground, Sanders is at best holding his own, and this despite the rather substantial negative news coverage Clinton has endured during this period. Even among the most liberal Democrats, his natural constituency who constitute about 11% of Democrats polled by Quinnipiac, Sanders still loses to Clinton by 46%-31%. He does worse among moderate and conservative Democrats.   Moreover, she does better than Sanders against Trump – and against Jeb Bush and Scott Walker too, both of whom would beat Sanders according to the Quinnipiac poll.

My point here is not to declare the race for the Democratic nomination over.  As I noted in my response to a couple of commentators yesterday, polls this early are subject to change. More than one of you pointed out (see comments) that Clinton was leading Obama in national polls at this point in the race back at a comparable point in 2007. (For what it is worth, she was up on Obama in the RealClearPolitics aggregate poll by less than 13%, at 38%-25.8% on July 31, 2007. As of today, Clinton is ahead of Bernie by about 40%, 58%-18.2%.)

It is true that at this point, Bernie is an unknown quantity for most Americans. It is possible that as he gains exposure, and his message becomes more widely disseminated, he will actually gain ground on Hillary. Locally, Bernie supporters remain convinced that this is what will occur. As Middlebury College student Lizzie Weiss put it in her story on Bernie that came out in the local Addison Independent yesterday, “Yet while Americans from Brooklyn, N.Y., to the Bay Area of California begin to rally behind Sanders and political pundits grapple with his campaign, there is a sense here, in his home state, that the rest of the country is just now beginning to learn what Vermonters have already long understood.”
His strongest supporters, then, are convinced that in time Bernie’s message will begin resonating with a growing segment of the American public. As evidence of his grass-roots support, they point to the roughly 100,000 Bernie supporters who turned out in a series of “house parties” at some 3,000 locations on Wednesday night.  (This article gives a sense of what went on at a typical house party.)

In the meantime, they are not averse to criticizing anyone who might question the reality of #berniementum, as a sampling of these twitter and other online comments responding to yesterday’s post indicates:

“[–]VerySeriousBananaTennessee 9 points 3 hours ago
Yeah, you would expect a challenger to be losing for a while against a much higher in the polls frontrunner early in the campaign. Change doesn’t happen overnight… Plus, most of the Super Tuesday states the misguided author highlighted actually are some of the most Hillary-hating areas of the country, lol.”

And this:
“[–]vegetablesoup007 [score hidden] 1 hour ago
Yeah, but he’s losing less and less all the time….”

And my current favorite:
“Svetislav Meandzija ‏@Cokan2015 50m50 minutes ago
@MattDickinson44 @BernieSanders it’s always funny when a looser calls someone a looser”

You get the picture. I may be a “looser”, however, at the risk of repeating myself (and fully understanding that it won’t mollify the true-blue Bernie tie-diehards) I’m not taking sides in this fight. What I am doing is taking issue with efforts by the national media in particular to create the semblance of a horserace for the Democratic nomination where – as of today – none really exists. (I’m giving the local media outlets a pass, since they are publishing in the heart of Bernie country.) That may change. Rest assured that when I see evidence that it does I’ll be the first to blog about it. In the meantime, I hope all you ardent Sanders’ supporters continue to #feelthebern! Alas, in my role as non-partisan blogger (it says so right in the title of my blog!) I’m wearing SPF 50+ SunBern blocker, so I can’t feel anything. Which may be too bad, since it appears to be doing wonders for Bernie:



  1. The equation may change if Hillary’s baggage and persistently high unpopularity ratings lead the Democratic establishment to worry that she can win the nomination but might then lose the election. There is already some chatter on CNN of trotting out Joe Biden as a Hail Mary play to save the day – assuming he would agree to run. Any thoughts?

  2. George,

    So far, most national polls have Clinton beating her main Republican rivals, albeit not by much. (And yes, polls this early in the election cycle are not very good predictors of eventual outcomes.) She does carry very high unfavorables but they don’t seem to be getting worse despite the recent email controversy. That suggests most people have made up their minds about her so, barring more revelations (Benghazi emails anyone?) I think her support is likely to remain pretty much where it is today for the foreseeable future. If Biden got in the race, I have no doubt he would displace Bernie as her main rival (even as an undeclared candidate he polls in double figures close to Bernie.) But so far there’s no evidence that he wants to run. If Hillary did get in trouble, that might prompt him to jump in, but much would depend how far along the race has gone, and whether he had time to put together a campaign organization. The final point I would make is that historically in the post-World War II era parties have found it difficult to win three consecutive presidential terms, suggesting the Democrats are in for a tough fight no matter who they nominate in 2016. As of today, and barring any major scandal, I still think Hillary is the strongest candidate Democrats can field, and that she’s stronger than Joe.

  3. I’ve always thought that the biggest challenge would be to beat the Clinton juggernaut.

    That said, I think the media SHOULD be paying attention. What’s the point of having a primary at all, if the coronation happens in the MSM ahead of time? The media should not be manipulating or shaping outcomes, but providing information and demonstrating respect for listeners and readers who make their choices.

    In reality, a neutral media would report on every candidate equally, and with equal neutrality.

  4. Yes, Hillary is ahead. She has national name recognition of 100% for years if not for decades. Just before Sanders announced, his national name recognition was somewhere near 35%. We are only 3 months into campaign. The majority of Americans may not feel there is a viable candidate in Sanders or Biden. Some are only now discovering they may have another choice than Clinton. Now that there are multiple candidates, the “psychology of choice” is kicking in and the campaign will be more dynamic, especially after we see some debates.

    WMUR polls have shown that despite Clinton’s leads, the majority of voters are still making up their minds. Numbers are still soft. Most voters are still open to taking a closer look at candidates.

    If one wants to compare the 2008 campaign with regard to what is possible in terms of a come from behind victory, the meaningful point in time to look at is mid-October, 2007. Obama was about 25 % points behind nationally. If Sanders can do well in debates it is not hard to imagine him being less than 25% points behind by that time. His path is narrow, but it is doable despite the huge current lead Clinton holds.

  5. Jeff – The path to victory is narrow, as you suggest, but I think you’ve done an excellent job laying out what has to happen if Sanders is going to follow that path. I’m not sure October, 2007 is any more relevant to the current Democratic campaign than, say, August 1, 2007, but it doesn’t take away from your broader points: it is still very early in the election cycle, Clinton has high name recognition and Sanders does not, and thus there is room for Sanders to grow his support, and the debates may prove critical in that process. (I also appreciate the care you took in countering my argument, as opposed to suggesting that, as one reader put it, “Matthew Dickinson has clearly been bought off (0+ / 0-) by the Clinton Foundation!”

  6. Jack – I’m in total agreement with the sentiment behind your comment. The problem is trying to implement “media neutrality”. How would that work, in practice? Let’s say, for example, that polls show Clinton way ahead of Sanders – how should the media report that in a way that’s “neutral”? My answer would be to report the polls, but also to provide context indicating how useful polls are this early in a race in predicting the final vote share. The problem is that many journalists aren’t particularly well versed in understanding the implication of polling at this point, so they fall back on what they know best, which is using horse-race analogies to explain polling results – so and so is ahead, etc., but without providing any context so the reader understands the implications of the polls. I’m not optimistic this is going to change soon, which is one reason I write this blog.

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