Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory in Michigan can put him on the path to overtaking Hillary Clinton provided that all of us reach out to encourage fellow Democrats with upcoming primaries and caucuses. Next up will be the Super Tuesday (March 15th) states — Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina. I sincerely hope that everyone who reads this will share it, especially with those who will vote in an upcoming primary or caucus.
I will outline the following in making the case for why Bernie is the better choice to be the nominee:
- The distorted delegate presentation by the media meant to discourage supporters
- Bernie’s unique strengths
- Hillary’s significant vulnerabilities
- Criticisms of Bernie pale in comparison
- Why winning “white” states is a strength
- Charisma will trump experience
- Satisfying the mood of the electorate
Delegate Distortion by the Media
Please do not fall for the effort to inflate Clinton’s delegate totals. The media has been inappropriately lumping earned delegates and superdelegates together. I believe this is intended to demoralize Bernie’s supporters and discourage them from voting.
Currently, the earned delegate totals are 770 Clinton and 551 Sanders with 2,735 remaining. For the best and most accurate depiction of current delegate totals, I recommend Nate Silver’s 538 site.
Going forward, if Bernie were able to earn 54.1% of delegates from remaining caucuses and primaries, he would end up with more earned delegates than Hillary. Given his recent winning percentages of 68% in Kansas, 64% in Maine, and his unexpected victory in Michigan, there is absolutely no question he should stay in the race. He is still in the hunt for the nomination, despite how the media presents the situation.
Superdelegates are a footnote at this point, as they can switch their preference at any time until the convention. If Bernie were to end up with a majority of earned delegates, would the superdelegates really overrule the will of the Democratic voters to give the nomination to Hillary? I certainly hope they would never do such a thing.
Bernie’s Unique Strengths
Bernie has a number of important and unique strengths this cycle including:
- The overwhelming mood of the 2016 electorate is anti-establishment which aligns with his message.
- He does extremely well with Independent and working-class voters.
- He speaks honestly about problems with money in politics, trade agreements, tax policies benefitting the wealthy, and Americans getting less than what other countries provide their citizens (e.g., health care, higher education, etc.).
- He performs the best in all of the recent head-to-head polling against the Republican contenders.
- He has a 51.4% favorability rating with an unfavorable percentage of only 38.6%. This means he has a +12.8 favorability differential which is a great advantage as there is a correlation between favorability and getting elected.
Democrats must remain mindful of the very real vulnerabilities that Hillary Clinton has as a candidate. Some people believe we should blindly cheerlead, but I feel this is irresponsible. Some who are emotionally invested in Hillary’s candidacy fixate on sentiments like: She worked hard in 2008. It should be her turn. It’s time for a female President.
However, we must set emotion aside and carefully consider all candidate vulnerabilities and their potential impact in a general election. Hillary’s major vulnerabilities are:
- Unfavorables above 50% (currently 53.8% unfavorable compared to 41.5% favorable). She would begin the general election campaign at around a –12.3 compared with Bernie’s +12.8, which is a major disadvantage.
- She has performed worse than Bernie in head-to-head match up polling against the Republicans.
- Hillary comes with significant baggage in the form of perceived scandals that will become the narrative in the general election campaign.
- Low to medium information voters (which make up the majority of the electorate) will not delve into the details to parse the validity of various perceived scandals, they will absorb the sound bites and talking points.
In facing off against Hillary, Trump would raise every perceived scandal in Hillary and Bill Clinton’s past. Trump has already shown his readiness for this when Hillary stated Trump had a penchant for sexism and he fired back about Bill’s previous indiscretions. The Clinton campaign immediately disengaged because they knew they could not withstand the impact of this exchange if it continued. This one exchange took Bill Clinton’s favorability from the 50’s to the 30’s.
This previews what is to come if Hillary is the nominee. Trump would invoke any unsavory or questionable events that might undermine her such as the email controversy, Benghazi, and every older scandal. Some Democrats argue that many perceived scandals have no validity. For strategic purposes, this does not matter. The 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans” attack on John Kerry was completely fabricated and it still worked. Imagine what Trump will do with topics that have at least a grain of truth.
Attack lines that are repeated endlessly stick in the minds of voters. Relentless attacks about perceived scandals could damage Clinton’s precarious favorability increasing the likelihood that Trump could win the Presidency.
Criticisms of Bernie Pale in Comparison
A central criticism of Sanders is his identification as a Democratic Socialist. However, Republicans called President Obama a Socialist for 8 years and, in spite of this, he had two decisive victories which raises questions regarding the effectiveness of this attack. Moreover, voters are now accustomed to Democrats being referred to as Socialists. For this desensitized group, the label may have no impact. For others who view the President positively, the label might actually help Bernie.
Another criticism put forward by Clinton is that Sanders’ proposals would not pass Congress. But it’s fair to say that most of her proposals also would not pass the current Congress. Given the tremendous disdain those on the right have for Clinton, it seems reasonable to expect Republicans to redouble their efforts to block her agenda as they did with President Obama. So, the implication that a Hillary Presidency is a panacea for gridlock seems implausible. Furthermore, her message to aim lower so we might move one micron in a desirable direction is not inspiring and will do nothing to excite the base or boost turnout.
Bernie’s lofty positions could actually be beneficial due to the ramifications of persuasion theory. Door-in-the-face persuasion occurs when a large request increases the likelihood that a smaller request would be agreed upon. More progress is sometimes achieved by aiming for the stars initially which moves the eventual compromise position further ahead. Often a President makes only one step forward on important issues. Therefore, it’s best to make that step as significant as possible.
“White” States are Important
Bernie has received criticism for winning what are characterized as “white” states. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kansas demographically is about 86.8% white/caucasian.
For Democrats, the keys to winning the general are securing the “lean Democrat” states and winning enough of the “toss-up” states to get to 270 electoral votes. A very good map that outlines which states will be key in the general election can be found in this article on Politico. What is interesting about these states is that all of them have a greater proportion of white voters (per U.S. Census data) than the predicted average of 69% for the entire 2016 electorate.
Lean Democrat (% white): Wisconsin (88%) and Pennsylvania (83%)
Toss-Up States (% white): New Hampshire (94%), Virginia (71%), Ohio (83%), Florida (78%), Iowa (92%), Colorado (88%), Nevada (76%)
So, the fact that Bernie is popular in states with a larger proportion of white/caucasian residents is actually a significant strength. Even if he were to only secure the states above with percentages in the 80’s or above (like Kansas), he gets to 284 electoral votes and wins!
Hillary’s delegate advantage thus far has resulted largely because of her victories in southern states. It is important to remember that these states are classified as “safe Republican” and will never go to a Democratic candidate. So, her popularity among Democrats in these states is moot for winning a general election.
Charisma Trumps Experience (Pun Intended)
Democrats made the mistake of prioritizing the “strong resume” candidate before when they selected John Kerry as the nominee in 2004. Howard Dean was the right choice for that cycle but people allowed themselves to be brainwashed because he was over-exuberant at one rally. This set up the unfortunate match up between strong resume/policy knowledge and political charisma. We know how that ended — a second term for President George W. Bush.
While experts point to the value of contrast in political races, the contrast must showcase desirable qualities in order to be beneficial. If Clinton and Trump were competing in the general election, she would be the experienced, establishment candidate running against the authentic, political outsider who expresses concerns felt deeply by the electorate. This contrast would be a tremendous disadvantage in this anti-establishment cycle.
Satisfying the Mood of the 2016 Electorate
It is interesting to note that Sanders and Trump are the two favorite candidates of some voters. Given their political affiliation and issue positions differences, this has perplexed some in the political arena. However, voters are responding to key commonalities such as stating directly that the system is rigged, the middle-class has suffered, campaign finance corrupts politics, and this problematic state of affairs must be changed. The potent truth of these messages resonates in a way that nothing else has this cycle.
The bottom line is that Democrats cannot win a general election without satisfying the mood of the electorate. Presenting Hillary as the nominee in 2016 is akin to offering broccoli to someone craving chocolate. They won’t be satisfied. Sanders is viewed favorably, captures the frustration of the electorate in his messaging, and has comparatively little political baggage.
If Democrats want the stronger candidate to challenge Trump in a general election, it’s Bernie!