Tag Archives: 2016 Democratic nomination

Bernie Leads In New Hampshire! (Or Does He?)

Bernie Sanders may be getting trounced in the national polls by Hillary Clinton, but you wouldn’t know it judging by his followers’ media presence. I was up yesterday on Los Angeles radio station KPCC’s AirTalk with host Larry Mantle (shortly before their segment on best dive bars in L.A.!) to discuss still another well-attended Bernie event, this one taking place in L.A. the night before, when about 25,000 people attended either in person or watched outside the LA Sports arena in which Bernie spoke. Every caller to the radio show was a Bernie supporter, and almost all raved about Bernie’s “electric” presentation to his passionate supporters.  I have written and talked previously about the fact that Bernie’s support among Latinos and African-Americans still lags relative to Hillary’s. Here’s a chart put together by Philip Bump based on Gallup polling that shows the relative favorable/unfavorable numbers of the various candidates among African-Americans.

Bernie has attracted large crowds before, of course, but they were in places like Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Madison, Wisconsin – bastions of white liberalism that are not exactly cross-sections of the more diverse Democratic electorate. However, several of the callers to Mantle’s show took pains to point out the racially diverse composition of Bernie’s Los Angeles’ audience. This may be the hopeful among the #FeeltheBern crowd looking at the audience through rose-tinted glasses, of course, but it is clear that Bernie is making a concerted effort to reach out to non-whites in anticipation of competing in the contests beyond Iowa and New Hampshire. It is important to remember that although Bernie has lower favorable ratings than Clinton among African-Americans and Latinos, it is also the case that 60% or more of these groups don’t really know who he is. When you look only at those who express a favorable or unfavorable view toward Bernie, his percentage of favorable support comes closer to matching Clinton’s.


It will be interesting to see how much ground Bernie can gain among these voters in the months to come.

Meanwhile, in a reminder that no good deed goes unpunished, my last post cautioning readers to be wary of drawing conclusions based on one poll has been drawing its fair share of criticism in light of a more recent Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce poll that has Bernie leading Clinton 44%-37% in New Hampshire among 442 randomly selected likely Democratic presidential primary voters. The survey was in the field August 7-10, and has a margin of error of +/-4%.  Since I received a few emails after my last post asking me to clarify the difference between a “statistical tie” and what the New York Times mistakenly (in my view) called a “dead heat”, I thought it might be useful to present the latest poll results visually, using a nifty app developed by Nicholas Neuteufel that graphs the polls results, including the margin of error.

sanders tied

Once again, as the graph suggests, we can’t discount the possibility, given the margin of error, that Clinton and Bernie are tied, or that Clinton might even be slightly ahead. At the same time, however, based on this one poll, the odds are greater that Bernie is now ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire.  But, of course, as I reminded readers in my last poll, we shouldn’t rely on only one poll.  Not surprisingly – and my caution notwithstanding – Bernie supporters seem convinced that this latest poll is an accurate barometer of the current state of the Democratic primary race New Hampshire. Note, however, that both the RealClearPolitics and Pollster.com aggregate polls continue to have Hillary holding a slim lead over Bernie in the Granite state. Here’s the Pollster.com aggregate polling chart:

Nonetheless, the latest poll result ought to give Sanders’ supporters an additional reason to flood the airwaves, not to mention castigating wayward bloggers who have the temerity to focus on the data, as opposed to #FeelingtheBern. So, at the risk of inciting more ire, let me raise two more cautionary flags for Bernie supporters. The Boston Herald poll also indicates that the race in NH remains very fluid with fully 60% of respondents saying they could change their mind, and only 30% saying they are following the race very closely. As I found out in my stint on Mantle’s show, Bernie supporters are out in force this early in the race.   It remains to be seen how support plays out as more people begin paying attention to the race an attitudes begin to firm.  It may be that questions of viability will loom larger in the polling. Most of the respondents – 65%, to be precise – to the Herald poll still believe Clinton is going to win the Democratic nomination. Remember, Bernie’s big electoral test of viability is not going to be New Hampshire or Iowa – it’s going to be South Carolina, Nevada and the more racially diverse states that come later in the nominating process. In that vein, I was on the phone with a reporter today discussing why Bernie has yet to gain traction with the #BlackLivesMatter crowd. I’ll have more to say about that in a later post. For now, keep those critical comments coming but, please, don’t shoot the messenger!  And for Bernie supporters, I leave you with this image:

 

Are Democrats Biden Their Time For The Last Hurrah?

Two developments this weekend in the presidential race help illustrate the themes regarding how the media covers campaigns that I’ve been highlighting in recent posts. First, I tuned into the morning talk shows this Sunday to find multiple phone calls with Donald Trump occurring simultaneously. Both Chuck Todd on Meet the Press and Jon Karl on This Week started their shows with telephone interviews with The Donald. And, true to form, they both managed to conduct almost an entire interview with the GOP frontrunner with almost no effort to elicit his stance on key issues. Instead, Karl asked Trump about his views regarding Vice President Joe Biden entering the race, how he might do in Thursday’s debate among the Republican candidates, what he thought of Hillary’s character and whether he’d run as a third-party candidate. Todd covered largely the same issues. In short, the focus was primarily on campaign process and candidate personalities – not on the policies Trump would pursue as president. (To be fair, Karl did ask Trump if he would bring back waterboarding – but I suppose that drives home my point.)

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: if journalists continue to treat Trump as a carnival sideshow by trying to elicit controversial statements, rather than as a serious candidate for the highest office in the land, he’s going to maintain the support of the populist faction of Republicans who already think the media is out of touch with reality. Despite much media speculation that Trump’s support would erode after recent highly publicized controversial comments regarding Mexican migrants and Republican politicians, the latest polls show him holding steady with the support of about 20% of those surveyed, ahead of his chief rivals Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.

The other big story, one that lit up the twitterverse yesterday and is the subject of countless stories today, is speculation from the usual unnamed sources that Vice President Joe Biden is thinking about throwing his hat into the presidential campaign ring. Again, as I have discussed repeatedly, the thought of several months covering Hillary’s inevitable coronation slog to the Democratic nomination has newsrooms across the country desperate to create the illusion of a real race. From this perspective, the Biden rumors are manna from heaven. The reality, however, is that Biden is a 72-year old man who ran for president twice before, in 1988 and 2008, and lost badly each time. (In 2008 he dropped out after drawing less than 1% in the Iowa caucus, far behind Hillary’s third-place finish.) It’s possible that eight years as Vice President gives him a certain gravitas that he lacked before, as well as instant name recognition. Reflecting that name recognition, most polls give him about 10% support already even though he’s not a declared candidacy.

But it also means that if he runs he automatically makes Hillary the candidate of change (albeit not much change!) Even though their stances on most issues do not diverge markedly (foreign policy is a notable exception), it is not hard to envision Hillary portraying Biden as a candidate of the past. Of course, his candidacy would be buoyed by a media desperate to create the fiction of a competitive Democratic contest. Already the initial media reports are hinting at friction between Biden and the Big Dawg Bill Clinton, and they are framing a Biden candidacy in terms of the contrast between his strong ratings among voters on honesty and likability versus Clinton’s negative ratings on those characteristics. A Biden candidacy, goes the media narrative, would rescue the Democratic Party from the slow drip-drip of negative news stories about Clinton’s emails, money, and general lack of credibility, particularly among independents, that weaken her chances against Republicans. It would also fulfill the deathbed wish of Joe’s son Beau – another bonus in terms of media coverage. As evidence, read this tear-jerking account by Maureen Dowd (who apparently can read Joe’s mind) about Beau’s effort to get his father to run: “My kid’s dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he’s making sure I’m O.K.”

But while a Biden candidacy will undoubtedly draw favorable media coverage, it is important to remember that, among registered voters, he is not viewed much more favorably than is Hillary.

Moreover, most people already have an opinion of Uncle Joe, so those ratings aren’t likely to change that much. And, as with all vice presidents, Joe will have to confront the difficult task of separating himself from the Obama presidency without seeming to repudiate the President’s policies. This could lead to some awkward policy statements (see Clinton on the Keystone pipeline!) from a candidate who is already well known for his verbal miscues that have made him a Youtube favorite.

Nor is it likely that Joe is going to siphon much support from Sanders’ progressive coalition. In short, a Biden candidacy will undoubtedly generate quite a bit of media coverage, much of it initially positive, from a grateful media corps, but there’s no evidence right now suggesting that he could beat Clinton. At best, the current evidence indicates a Biden candidacy might create the semblance of a competitive nomination fight and push back the timetable for Clinton to clinch the race. The question remains whether that prospect is enough to persuade him to enter the fray. The answer may depend on whether Joe is willing to relinquish his time in the political spotlight, or whether, like Frank Skeffington, he wants one more shot at center stage.  Will a presidential campaign be Joe’s Last Hurrah?

 

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:

 

There IS Something About Bernie – He’s Losing

As I’ve noted repeatedly in several posts during the current election cycle, the media loves them a horserace, and they are not above fabricating one if necessary to attract readership. This is particularly true when the clear front-runner is yesterday’s news – as is the case with Hillary Clinton. In newsrooms across the nation, nothing provokes more concern than the specter of writing stories month-after-month about how Clinton is crushing the competition. To forestall this, we’ve seen two narratives take root in the popular press this past week. The first is that Clinton’s support is softening. As evidence, journalists are citing the rise in her unfavorability ratings, as captured in this Gallup poll:


As the graph shows, Hillary’s favorable ratings have plummeted from the high 60% to the low 40%, while her unfavorable ratings have inched back up to where they were before she became Secretary of State.  Of course, no one expected Clinton to maintain those high ratings as she transitioned from Secretary of State to presidential candidate, but still…. . Similar stories are told in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Clinton’s favorables/unfavorables are also underwater.  Why is this bad news? Because, as Chris Cillizza reminds us, “Presidential politics tends to be dominated by personality and how people perceive their candidate choices.” The plain fact is that Clinton is not very likable.

Then there is the ongoing email saga. In the most recent development, the inspector general of the intelligence community found that some of the emails provided by Clinton included classified information, although there is some dispute regarding whether those items were classified at the time Clinton sent the emails. No matter – this latest tidbit fits nicely into the prevailing media narrative that the Clintons can’t be trusted because they see themselves as above the law. As a result, we have a spurt of recent news stories with headlines like “Is Clinton’s Tide Shifting?”,  “Worrying Numbers for Clinton In Last Week of Polling” and “Four Poll Numbers That Should Unnerve Hillary Clinton”.

To be fair, all these articles are laced with the usual caveats about how Clinton is still ahead in the polls, etc., but the undeniable message is the same: the Democratic race for the presidential nomination is closer than that it should be – and it could very well tighten some more. Of course, it takes two candidates to make a horserace. This is where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders comes in. As Clinton’s political stock falls, at least in the prevailing media narrative, if not among voters, his goes up, the better to sustain the horserace narrative. In a fawning Atlantic piece that came out today Molly Ball gushes, “There’s something about Bernie.” She notes his huge crowds, his ability to draw campaign donations (in small bills!) despite not holding fundraisers and, not least, the fact that he possesses something Clinton does not: “An ideology.”

Her conclusion? “In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.” Yes, midway through the article Ball includes the usual hedges – Clinton is still leading in the polls, Bernie’s a longshot – but then there’s this: “Every Sanders crowd is full of die-hards like Bailey [a Bernie-supporter Ball interviewed], passionately committed to their unlikely hero. Every Clinton crowd, on the other hand, is full of lukewarm rank-and-file Democrats who will not hesitate to tell you they have some qualms about supporting her.” Ouch! To those on the Left, particularly those disappointed in what they see as Obama’s lukewarm embrace of progressive ideas, Bernie is a man whose time has come. As my colleague Bert Johnson points out, if you look at Bernie’s stump speeches from the early 1990’s you will find them interchangeable with what he is saying now about corporate power and economic inequality. What has changed is that Bernie’s message has now found a willing audience. Or so the prevailing media narrative would have one believe.

The problem with both these narratives is that they run up against stubborn facts. One is that candidate likability, Cillizza’s pronouncement notwithstanding, isn’t a very important influence on the vote, a point I’ve made multiple times before. Favorable/unfavorable ratings may be slight more indicative, but as Brendan Nyhan points out (see the chart above), her “favorable/unfavorable ratings at the national level have not changed as drastically as the coverage suggests. They averaged 47 percent favorable/45 percent unfavorable in January and are at 44 percent favorable/48 percent unfavorable now — a relatively modest shift given the onslaught of negative coverage” she has received of late.

Moreover, if you unpack the trajectory of Clinton’s favorable/unfavorable ratings, you will see that her rising negatives are almost entirely rooted among Republicans and independents. Among Democrats she is both better known and viewed more favorably than any other Democratic candidate, including Sanders.

On the other side of the narrative, Sanders may be a “sensation”, but he continues to trail Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire according to the polls – and these are the two states that seem demographically among the most favorably disposed toward him. (In a transparent bid to lower expectations, the Clinton campaign is openly suggesting Bernie could win both states.)  Once the campaign moves south, particularly on Super Tuesday, Bernie is going to be traversing decidedly less favorable terrain. As this chart from RealClearPolitics shows, many of the delegate-rich Super Tuesday primaries will be held in the South, in states with heavy African-American or Hispanic populations.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere, Bernie has, so far, elicited less-than-robust polling support among nonwhites.

Before my twitter and blog feed is inundated with negative comments from the #feelthebern crowd, let me remind my readers that I’m analyzing where the candidates stand right now, and not expressing a political preference regarding an outcome. As a longtime Bernie-watcher, I’m thoroughly enjoying his time, however brief, on the national stage, and I sincerely hope his run lasts beyond Iowa and New Hampshire if for no other reason than to see Bernie scowl one more time at another inane horserace question from Chuck Todd. Bernie is raising important issues – including concerns about the intersection of race and income inequality – that need to be discussed at the national level. But it is also the case that his “surge” in the polls is much more about pollsters dropping Elizabeth Warren’s name from their list of potential candidates as it is any discernible shift in support away from Clinton. It fits the media horserace narrative to speculate about the possibility, however improbable, that Clinton will stumble and Sanders will step in to steal the nomination.  As of today, however, the facts say that is not going to happen.  Bernie trails Clinton in all the important indicators; national polls, early state polls, fundraising and party endorsements.

Is there something about Bernie? Yes. Right now, he’s losing.

Bernie Sanders: Live By the Gun, Die By the Gun?

In an email, former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas provides further context to Senator Bernie Sanders’ ambivalent record on gun control that I discussed in my last post and which has prompted the ire of some liberals in the Democratic Party. In 1990 Sanders challenged incumbent Republican Representative Peter Smith for Vermont’s lone congressional seat. This was a rematch of the 1988 contest in which Smith defeated Sanders, who was running as an independent, by about 4%. In 1990, however, Smith came out in favor of a ban on assault weapons, despite signing a pledge two years earlier to oppose gun control legislation. The NRA – no friend of Bernie’s – nonetheless spent $18,000 on advertising to defeat Smith. (This is what the video I showed in my last post is referring to when it cites the NRA contribution to defeat Sanders’ opponent.) Douglas recalls seeing signs while marching with Smith during parades that year saying, “Smith and Wesson YES, Smith in Congress NO!” While the assault ban wasn’t the only factor leading to Smith’s defeat, it likely left a lasting impression on Sanders who still remains somewhat defensive on this issue. Here is Bernie in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, defending his position on gun control by making specific references to his constituents’ views on gun ownership while explaining his vote not to hold gun manufacturers liable for gun-related deaths.

As I noted in my previous post, Sanders’ ambivalence is not sitting well with many liberals.  And while it certainly does not represent a shift in presidential politics (contrary to this Washington Post article), Hillary Clinton has been sure to include a reference to strengthening gun control laws in her stump speech, albeit without mentioning Bernie by name. Still, as I suggested in this US News post, Bernie has much bigger hurdles to clear than liberal opposition to his ambivalent stance regarding guns. This just-released WashingtonPost/ABC national survey of adults reaffirms what I wrote previously: Bernie’s support is lagging compared to Clinton’s among non-white Democrats, those without college degrees, and moderate and conservative members of his party. In past nominating contests these groups constituted about a third of the Democratic electorate. To be sure, a significant number of respondents – 45% – still have no opinion of Sanders, so there’s room for him to change those numbers in the days ahead, whereas opinions of Clinton are at this point unlikely to vary much. Nonetheless, much as it pains Sanders’ supporters to hear (which is why some of them have critiqued my previous posts on this topic!) Bernie is facing very long odds in his bid to secure the Democratic nomination.

I briefly discussed some of these issues in an interview with our local CBS television affiliate WCAX, which aired last night. In it I talked about some of the similarities and differences between the Dean and Sanders’ presidential campaigns.  One point I made, which didn’t make it into the clip, is that whereas Dean chose to rebrand himself as a liberal in 2004 – he actually had a relatively moderate record as Governor of Vermont – Sanders will have no such makeover problem since he’s campaigning on issues, such as reducing income inequality, that he’s advocated throughout his political career.  But authenticity will carry you only so far – Sanders needs to put together the campaign infrastructure to translate polling support into votes, particularly in the early campaign labor-intensive states of Iowa and New Hampshire.  CBS reporter Alex Apple, who did the interview with me, also talked with a former Dean staffer who recalled that the Dean campaign knocked on a lot doors in Iowa in 2004, but despite earlier polls indicating he was leading in the state, they had trouble turning out supporters on caucus day.  At this point I can’t tell what kind of ground game Bernie is putting into place in Iowa, but if I recall correctly one of the problems the Dean campaign struggled with is that Iowans were not all that impressed with the swarm of college students and other “Deaniacs” who came tromping through the cornfields to solicit their vote.

(I want to give special thanks to Alex and cameraman Tyson Foster who were kind enough to interview me on my back deck “office”. I can tell you that you won’t find any other political analyst handicapping the presidential contest on television while wearing shorts! It’s hard work being a political scientist, but someone has to do it.)