Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., smiles as a bird lands on his podium as he speaks during a rally at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
A common sentiment among many progressives is that Bernie Sanders would have performed better in the general election than Hillary Clinton did. I have many problems with this claim and I’ll address the major ones.
- I don’t give any regard to polls saying Bernie would have done better. Hypothetical candidates always outperform. During the election, polls were coming out saying Rubio and Cruz would have performed better than Trump but neither of them were capable of securing the nomination either.
- Part of Clinton’s appeal over Trump was that Clinton was the “safe” option. Trump was a change candidate and Hillary was viewed as a continuation of the Obama administration. A lot of voters felt Hillary was more qualified, experienced, and a less risky move in general. Bernie would not have had any of that appeal. He is somewhat of a radical change candidate and would have generated the same amount of fear and uncertainty as Trump did. A Trump/Sanders election would have removed the possibility of one being viewed as the “safe” option.
- Bernie did not perform well with minorities which represents an extremely crucial portion of the Democratic voting base. Many experts are saying the main reason Clinton lost was very low minority turnout. I don’t think Sanders would have done much better in that department and all the voting data from the primaries leads me to believe he could possibly have done worse.
- Young people don’t vote. It’s sad but true. They post tons of memes on Facebook about their political opinions and they sure do love going to rallies and demonstrations, but they don’t vote. There would most certainly have been a larger millenial turnout for Sanders, but not enough to matter.
- The Republicans spent practically no opposition research on Sanders. There is a lot of questionable things he has said and done in the past that may cause concern. Here is a Reddit post going through a lot of criticisms about Sanders’ record indicating he may have communist sympathies I’m not saying everything in that post is true, but undoubtedly at least some of it is. There is enough of a case to be made that Sanders is at least sympathetic to communism. He probably isn’t, but that doesn’t matter in politics. There is plenty to use against him in a presidential campaign to incite fear and doubt. Hillary didn’t go full McCarthy on his ass because she knew that would alienate his supporters who she desperately tried to gain after the primaries were over. Trump most certainly would have thrown every conspiracy against him and a few of them would have stuck.
- Sanders is old. His age would have come into question just as it did for John McCain. Nobody would have considered it sexist to question his health. Yes, Trump is old too but not visibly so like Sanders is.
- Hillary got a lot of protection from the media during the general and the primary. I don’t think they would have done as much to protect Sanders.
- His supporters turned a lot of people off. They were spamming memes on Facebook and Reddit and were very vocal and pushy. Sanders himself has stated that Trump won due to many Americans being fed up with political correctness and “social justice warrior” culture. That kind of sentiment would have been amplified with a Sanders candidate simply because of who his fanbase was.
- Sanders would have garnered a lot of fear in regards to international policy. Many voters would have felt Sanders wouldn’t want to fight terrorism and would perhaps even feel sympathy for some of our enemies. Comments he made like claiming climate change being responsible for terrorism would have amplified that.
- Most voters old enough to remember the cold war would have reservations about someone who openly adopts the term “socialist”. The material in the post I linked earlier being used against him would have given that fear more ground.
Point by Point Rebuttal
I don’t give any regard to polls saying Bernie would have done better. Hypothetical candidates always outperform.
Bernie was polling better than Trump consistently, even when both of them were still hypothetical candidates. CNN has Bernie up by 5 points in July of 2015, in fact if you look at this overall poll breakdown, the aggregate data never has Bernie below Trump throughout the election cycle. Now this certainly was a year not to trust the polls if ever there was one, but there is no evidence, none, that at any given point Trump even had a chance against Bernie – Bernie would likely have pulled a ton of the support from Libertarian Republicans, not to mention some of Johnson and a LOT of Jill Stein’s people, since he was greener than HRC and more socially liberal/libertarian than the essentially middle-of-the-road Clinton, who was late to the party with her LGBTQTI vetting, and secretly still doesn’t support gay marriage fully, according to her emails.
Part of Clinton’s appeal over Trump was that Clinton was the “safe” option. Trump was a change candidate and Hillary was viewed as a continuation of the Obama administration.
This speaks directly against reality; the ‘change’ candidate won the electoral college – the swing voters were all change all the time and most of the people on the left who stayed home were part of Bernie’s movement. That you would even assert this shows some serious flaws in your overall reasoning.
Bernie did not perform well with minorities which represents an extremely crucial portion of the Democratic voting base. Many experts are saying the main reason Clinton lost was very low minority turnout.
I humbly suggest you hear out the good fellows at http://www.blackmenforbernie.com/ as they could refute this point better than anyone. I might also point out that while BlackLivesMatter started out disrupting Bernie events, many of their major members ending up endorsing him. The false narrative of Clinton’s domination of the election season was based on the false narrative that Bernie polled weaker than her among minorities – check out this article about the backlash of that narrative. Also maybe you didn’t know both the NAACP and the NHLA have given Sanders 100% voting scores during his tenure in the Senate (source).
Young people don’t vote. It’s sad but true. They post tons of memes on Facebook about their political opinions and they sure do love going to rallies and demonstrations, but they don’t vote. There would most certainly have been a larger millenial turnout for Sanders, but not enough to matter.
Just gonna let the headline of this article show you how wrong you are here: More Young People Voted For Bernie Sanders Than Trump And Clinton Combined. This was from June 20th and again showed how the DNC missed their shot at the presidency by marginalizing Bernie’s movement. It would fatuous to argue that fewer young people would show up for the general election than the primary – except if, say, the candidate they chose were cheated out of the nomination.
The Republicans spent practically no opposition research on Sanders. There is a lot of questionable things he has said and done in the past that may cause concern.
This is pretty much a legit point. Bernie has vulnerabilities, gaffes and past mistakes that his supporters mostly don’t know about. He’s faced virtually no flak from the very skilled shooters at the RNC and no smear campaign from the FOX hate machine. That said, I sincerely doubt there’s anything close to the 30 years of concentrated, vintage hate that Hillary summons, plus his record 83% approval rating makes him literally the most popular senator in the country. So yeah, we don’t know how bad they would have hit him, in a vacuum, he would’ve been vulnerable. But in terms of likability compared to Trump or Clinton, he’s Judge freaking Rhinehold.
His supporters turned a lot of people off. They were spamming memes on Facebook and Reddit and were very vocal and pushy. Sanders himself has stated that Trump won due to many Americans being fed up with political correctness and “social justice warrior” culture.
OK, sure. Trump would still have gotten the reactionaries, that’s a given. Here’s your only totally unquestioned population of people who would not have gone for Bernie. In the context of this CMV it doesn’t matter though – You’re arguing Clinton would have done the same or better with these people. It’s a wash.
Sanders is old.
I have never heard anyone bring this up except HRC supporters. If an old president was an issue Reagan wouldn’t have been elected, and we’ve only gained in average lifespan since then. You mentioned McCain – his mom is still around, 8 years after his age was an ‘issue’.
Hillary got a lot of protection from the media during the general and the primary. I don’t think they would have done as much to protect Sanders.
Ultimately all the ‘protection’ Hillary got was just insulation from reality, friend. Maybe if she had been less ‘protected’ she would have run a more sensible ground game. And as long as we’re talking about the support network of the press, let’s bring up the campaign staff – Bernie would not have been hamstrung by inept and tone-deaf DNC staffers who only know how to propagandize – his staff were emotionally invested and run an amazing ground game, something that cost Clinton key states.
Sanders would have garnered a lot of fear in regards to international policy.
Again, while this may be true, I don’t see anything much in the way of sway to Trump for people who were not already in his camp. While Clinton was a hawk, it wasn’t the major issue for most of the people on the left. In fact, most of the people who were against involvement in Syria would have swung from Trump to Sanders, which means this point is likely again, at best a wash, plus a lot of the people who went for Stein and Johnson because there wasn’t a mainstream anti-war, anti-torture major party candidate for them to vote for would have found a designate in Bernie. I know many people who stayed home and the torture & drone factors were huge for them. Again, I think you’re overall looking at more support for Bernie on this point, not less.
Most voters old enough to remember the cold war would have reservations about someone who openly adopts the term “socialist”. The material in the post I linked earlier being used against him would have given that fear more ground.
Look, this just isn’t that relevant of a subset of the population out of the Trump camp. People who are looking at how our non-socialized medicine and our non-socialized education systems are just not fucking working and voted for something else. All the momentum, all the rallies, all the energy in Sanders’ campaign came from long after he outed himself as a Socialist. The people who treat that as a dirty word are so deep into red country they aren’t in the Clinton camp.
- The polls showed that Sanders was actually starting from a stronger place than Clinton was. They were reflective of that particular time. Does that mean he would win? Not necessarily. But the takeaway is that those polls were indicative of how weak a candidate Clinton was. They were ignored at the time for similar reasons – I would argue that ignoring Clinton’s apparent weakness was a major problem.
- She was viewed as the safe option and lost, so I’m not sure how this is a point against Bernie. In a Bernie vs. Trump campaign there isn’t a safe option anymore. Do you believe, in a non-safe environment, people would view Trump as MORE safe than Bernie? I doubt that. Bernie is a career politician, was widely respected even by opponents, and ran a campaign on a hope message. Surely most Clinton voters closer align with Bernie than Trump. What you call the “safe” option was, at least where it counted, evidently seen as the “status quo, not for the little guy.” Safe, in this election season, was a detriment.
- Clinton didn’t perform well with minorities either, she didn’t energize the base. Of the minorities that voted, what makes you assume they would closer align to Trump than Bernie? I would say that the minority voting bloc that is traditionally Democrat would remain Democrat – what evidence is there to refute that? If you’re suggesting he would turn out LESS than Clinton did, I don’t see that being the case either. Bernie’s problem in the primary at getting the minority vote was largely one of recognition and not that he had a message that didn’t resonate. I also don’t see why you’re choosing to believe this primary data but rejecting the primary polling data – it feels like you’re picking and choosing what to include as evidence based on your preconceptions.
- Even if this is true, the young vote doesn’t appear to be the key factor in this election, the Rust Belt does. It is evident, given the primary results and the main sticking points of voters, that Bernie had the correct messaging for the Rust Belt and Clinton did not. Trump’s biggest wins were in areas that Bernie had similar or better plans, very much undercutting Trump’s advantage in those key states.
- His age? Joe Biden is one year younger than him and people threw his name around the entire election season. Very few people would be swayed to vote one way or the other because of somebody’s age. The age factor would, I think, underscore the need to pick a good VP candidate, however. But it wouldn’t sway enough votes to be a factor.
- The media protection played into Clinton’s elitism and the conception that government/media/business has a cozy relationship that doesn’t include the laborers and average citizens. This is a NEGATIVE for Clinton, not a positive. Trump would lose his “outsider” advantage against Bernie.
- I found this to be incredibly overblown, if not a downright fabrication. First off, passionate supporters are almost always a good thing. Clinton’s lack of passionate supporters translated into the Democrats having terrible turnout. Trump’s passionate supporters are what carried him through the primary. Secondly, the Bernie Bro phenomenon had a lot of hallmarks of media propaganda. There are always going to be jerks in any gathering of people, attempting to highlight the jerks and minimize the true message and the majority opinion is a manipulation of truth. The media would not be pushing this angle during the campaign against Trump because they would forced onto Bernie’s side.
- Just as many people were terrified that Trump was going to nuke the planet. Also, Bernie did talk the talk on terrorism, so I think in debates it would be pretty clear he wasn’t a hippie trying to disarm America. But even if your point were true, the Republicans are the ones who are generally more defense oriented, so I don’t see why this would bear a major influence Democrat turnout.
- Again, it all comes down to the two-party system. Even if I grant you everything you’ve said, you’re attributing what are very minor quibbles into some massive tanking of Democrat turnout. Clinton’s faults resulting in a tanking of Democrat turnout – and many of those faults were contrasted to Bernie’s strengths.
It ultimately comes down to what you think the election was about.
If it’s true that it was about economics, the lives of everyday Americans, distrust of major institutions, and wanting to move in a new direction then I think Bernie certainly outperforms Clinton. Many of the things that made Trump appealing against Clinton were economic/trade based which were the very subjects Bernie commanded all through the primary. I think it’s fair to suggest he would have outperformed Clinton in the states she lost to Trump, and I think it’s fair to suggest he’d outperform enough to have defeated Trump.
You have to remember, Bernie was largely LIKED, even by people who disagreed with him. Clinton and Trump were both VERY MUCH DISLIKED. Bernie had many of what were viewed as Trump’s positive qualities – outsider status, anti-status quo, anti-globalism, pro-worker (yes, Trump was seen this way) – but much less baggage than Clinton brought in.
I’d also submit that Bernie clearly discussed a lot of ideas that are important to Democrats as part of his platform – Climate Change, immigration, education, for example – that ought to have garnered him most of the same Democrat support that came out for Clinton.
I don’t give any regard to polls saying Bernie would have done better. Hypothetical candidates always outperform. During the election, polls were coming out saying Rubio and Cruz would have performed better than Trump but neither of them were capable of securing the nomination either.
This doesn’t make any sense. General election polling and primaries are measuring two different things. Rubio and Cruz weren’t capable of securing the nomination because they were competing in the Republican primary. The Republican primary voter and the general election voter are not one and the same. Rubio and Cruz did better among general election voters because there’s all sorts of demographics that they did better with that didn’t vote in the Republican primary, like conservative Latinos who are pro-life but pro-immigration so they vote for centrist Democrats like Hillary but would prefer Kasich, Rubio, or Cruz over Trump/Clinton. But that’s the real insight of head-to-head polling, which shows the general bases of support for candidates. The actual overall result of one candidate being 3 points ahead of another doesn’t matter. What DOES matter is the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate among different demographics. And that’s how the polling of Sanders vs Trump can be compared with Clinton vs Trump. The polling did not show Bernie doing slightly better than Hillary among every group. That’s not why his margins over Trump were bigger than Clinton’s. The reason why was the following:
Hispanics and African Americans supported the Democrat at the same levels of strength vs Trump regardless of Bernie or Hillary. At the same time, whites, independents, and millennials supported Bernie by bigger margins vs Trump compared to Hillary. There you go. That’s what accounts for why Clinton’s RCP average was +3 over Trump while Sanders was +10. The seven point difference came down to whites, independents, and millennials.
A Trump/Sanders election would have removed the possibility of one being viewed as the “safe” option.
Okay? How does this make Sanders less electable?
Bernie did not perform well with minorities which represents an extremely crucial portion of the Democratic voting base. Many experts are saying the main reason Clinton lost was very low minority turnout. I don’t think Sanders would have done much better in that department and all the voting data from the primaries leads me to believe he could possibly have done worse.
There are so many things wrong with this statement I don’t even know where to begin, but I’ll give it a go.
First, and foremost… this is a WHITE country. 70% of America’s population is white. How did Hillary do among white voters? She got only 36% of the white vote. On top of that, the demographics of the United States are not evenly distributed. Around half of all American Hispanics live in California or Texas, both of which are noncompetitive in the general election. Most African Americans live in the American South, which has also been noncompetitive in the general election since 2000. And if you look at just swing states, most of them have a much higher white population than 70%. Take a look at this list of states by non-Hispanic white population:
- Nevada: 52.7%
- Florida: 56.8%
- Virginia: 63.9%
- North Carolina: 64.5%
- Pennsylvania: 78.6%
- Michigan: 79.3%
- Ohio: 80.6%
- Wisconsin: 82.8%
- Iowa: 88.0%
- New Hampshire: 91.8%
And just for comparison:
- California: 39.2% (!!!)
- Texas: 44.3%
So in other words, most minorities in the country don’t matter in the general election.
But let’s look at the ones that did matter, aka the ones who live in the competitive states. That brings us to the second point: how well did Bernie actually do among minorities in the primaries?
First, let’s stop grouping all “minorities” together as though it’s one voting block. It’s not. Different minorities groups supported different candidates in the Democratic primary.
So let’s start with Hispanics. In the 2008 primaries, Hillary did better among Hispanics than Obama. The polling in various states showed her winning them by 30 point margins or so. How did that turn out for Obama in the general election? Obama won Hispanics 67-31 vs McCain, and they were 9% of voters . He also won Hispanics 71-27 vs Romney in 2012, and they were 10% of voters. Now let’s look at Hillary in 2016: 65-29, 11% of voters. In bulletpoint form:
- 2008: 67-31, 9% of voters
- 2012: 71-27, 10% of voters
- 2016: 65-29, 11% of votersSo despite Hillary winning Hispanics handily in the 2008 primaries, Obama actually did better in the 2008 general election among Hispanics than Hillary did in the 2016 general election. This idea that primary performance among ethnic groups will somehow dictate general election strength in that ethnic group is vastly overblown.
Now let’s contrast this with the 2016 primaries. Bernie in 2016 did better among Hispanics than Obama did in 2008. Look at the result of the California primaries, where Bernie did better than Obama vs Clinton in that state (although Clinton won the California primary both times). Another place to compare is Illinois, where exit polling for the 2016 primary showed that Bernie outright did better among Hispanics than Hillary (unfortunately, we can’t compare this with 2008 Illinois primary because Obama was a senator from Illinois and had that native son advantage). So in light of all of this information, this idea that Bernie would have done significantly worse among Hispanics than Hillary in the general election is just absurd.
Now let’s move on to African Americans. As I mentioned before, most of them live in the south, in noncompetitive states. And that’s where Bernie suffered his biggest losses in the primaries. But how much support did Bernie actually have among African Americans in the primaries? Take a look at this map to get a good idea. As it turns out, African Americans are not a monolith. Just like white voters, their preferences for candidates change depending on region. Of the places that were polled, his worst performance among black voters was just 6% in Alabama. At the same time, his strongest performance was 32% in Missouri, followed by 31% in Wisconsin. But looking at the map overall, Bernie’s strongest support for African Americans was among those who lived in the midwest, and weakest in the south. But even this doesn’t tell us the full picture, because hidden in these percentages are even further breakdowns of demographics. Take for example Michigan, where Bernie got 28% of the black vote. Who were these black voters? As it turns out, the real factor was millennials. Bernie won overwhelmingly among black millennials, but got absolutely crushed among black voters 65 and older. I think something like 10% of black voters 65 and older went for Bernie, while 80% of black voters under 30 went for Bernie. This is all Michigan data btw. But the point I want to make this is. Just like with Hispanics, primary preferences doesn’t dictate general election strength. But even if it did, Bernie’s strongest support among African Americans was in crucial states, while Hillary’s strongest support was in noncompetitive states.
Now let’s compare Obama and Clinton. Of course, Obama absolutely crushed among black voters in the 2008 primaries, and he went on to do so in the general election. Here’s a breakdown of the three past elections of black voter preferences:
- 2008: 95-4, 13% of voters
- 2012: 93-6, 13% of voters
- 2016: 88-8, 12% of voters
So anyone could have guessed, Hillary did worse among black voters when compared with the black guy. This isn’t Hillary’s fault. So let’s go back to even older elections and see how Democrats fared among black voters:
- 2004: 88-11, 11% of voters (source)
- 2000: 90-9, 10% of voters (source)
- 1996: 84-12, 10% of voters (source)
- 1992: 83-10, 8% of voters (source)
- 1988: 89-11, 10% of voters (source)
- 1984: 91-9, 10% of voters (source)
- 1980: 83-14, 10% of voters (source)
- 1976: 83-17, 9% of voters (source)
So as it turns out, black turnout really wasn’t the problem for the Democrats this time around, and it never really is. Looking at this numbers, can you figure out which of these elections the Democrats won and which ones they lost? Probably not. The worst performance was Carter in 76 (who won), and the best was Mondale in 84 (who lost against Reagan in one of the biggest electoral college landslides ever). Again, from this data, it’s very clear that the black vote isn’t what decides the general election or electoral college.
So again, with all this data, how does it make ANY sense whatsoever to (1) blame black voters for Hillary’s loss, and (2) somehow claim Bernie wouldn’t be able to do about the same among black voters as Democrats have done for the past 40 years? Who are these “experts” that you are citing that are claiming low minority turnout?
I need to stop here because of the character limit per post. For further information on other minority groups, check out the next comment that will be a reply to this one.
Of course we’ll never know for sure. But I have a few thoughts:
- I think there were a lot of people who didn’t vote at all because they saw Trump as a buffoon and saw Clinton as disingenuous and untrustworthy. Many of these people wanted a leader who is not seen as cozy with Wall Street (one of Clinton’s biggest liabilities in the election because she refused to release transcripts of her Wall St speeches) and who had the courage and wisdom to oppose the invasion of Iraq. Sanders would have surely picked up many of those voters.
- You say young people don’t vote, but Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 showed that many young people will vote if there is a candidate they believe in. Sanders was clearly the preferred choice of the under-25 demographic (he consistently trounced Hillary in college towns in the primaries) and they alone could have made the difference in several states this year.
- I think Sanders would have picked up some, if not most, of the votes that went to Jill Stein.
- We don’t know who Sanders would have selected as his running mate, but there’s certainly a possibility he would have picked someone who could appeal to younger voters and/or people of color. Even a small increase in turnout generated by a good VP choice could have flipped the outcome in the close states.
- I also think you’re not accounting for how many people voted for Trump primarily to defeat Hillary, because the right wing media have literally been targeting her for more than 20 years. For example, Rush Limbaugh has been spewing vitriol about Hillary on the radio pretty much non-stop since 1992. If even a small percentage of those people voted Johnson instead or stayed home on election day, the outcome could have been different. Sure, Limbaugh and others would have attacked Sanders also, but 4 months of criticism doesn’t come close to the 24 year head start they had on Hillary.
- You’re also not accounting for people who chose not to vote because they were disgusted by both Trump (due to his racism and narcissism) and Hillary (due to her association with Bill Clinton, and the other reasons described above), but who might have voted for Sanders.
I think it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of Clinton voters would have voted for Sanders if he was the nominee (because they want a pro-choice president and support a fairer tax structure). And if any of the above factores gave him even a small increase over Clinton’s turnout in Michigan/Wisconsin/Pennsylvania/Florida, Sanders could have won.