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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Candidate Profile (D): #3. Bernie Sanders

For background to this series, click here. Previous posts:

8/15: 5. Lincoln Chafee
8/17: 4. Martin O'Malley

Now we get to the candidate that has convinced way too many hopeful liberals that he can actually win. The third most likely Democratic nominee is . . .

#3. Bernie Sanders, 73, Congressman (1991-2007) and senator from Vermont, 2007-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--berniesanders.com--"Ready to Start a Political Revolution?"

PPFA Slogan--"WE GONNA BURN THIS MUTHA!"

Educational Background--B.A. from the University of Chicago (political science), where he joined the Youth People's Socialist League.

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): -8.5 (Individual rights: -10; Domestic: -8; Economic: -8; Foreign policy: -8) Holy Friedrich Engels, Bernman! Not only does his -8.5 lie further from center than the ideology score of every other Democratic candidate, but it's also further from center than every other candidate in either major party. Even Rick Santorum is only +8.25! So as cuckoo and unelectable as moderates and Democrats think Santorum and Ted Cruz are, so, too, is Bernie Sanders to moderates and Republicans.

Liberal Rank based on above: 1 of 5. News at 11.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--(Cue Handel's "Messiah") Are you tired of being handed a false choice between two candidates who are bought and paid for by special interests? Are you sick of being told that your voting duty is picking between the lesser of two evils? Do you want to catapult American society into the twenty-first century so our citizens can enjoy the same benefits as the rest of the civilized world? If you answered yes to these questions, then Bernie Sanders is the candidate for you. Bernie Sanders wants to "fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all." He wants to take big money out of politics because "Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom for special interests and corporations to buy the United States government." Democracy itself falls under assault by these recent developments in American history. We cannot count on candidates who win by getting big money to change the big money system.

Making these changes is not a pipe dream. Scandinavian countries already offer us a model; we need only choose to treat them as exemplars. Sanders reminds us that, "In those countries, health care is the right of all people. And in those countries, college education, graduate school is free." He asks, "What's wrong when you have more income and wealth equality? . . . They have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, higher minimum wage than we do, and they are stronger on the environment than we are." His ideas have caught fire. Sanders is attracting historic crowds. He is tapping into the complaints of everyday Americans, and they're thronging to see him. This chart shows just which candidate of all 22 has spoken to the largest audiences, as of July 20:
Furthermore, as of July 31, donations of $200 or less comprise 80.7 percent of his fundraising, highest among all candidates. Ultimately, he's dominating the field in audience size and has many average Americans donating what they can. It's all because people are realizing someone is finally telling them the truth about America.

Spin from opponents--From Republicans: SOCIALIST!

From Democrats: Do you want to win, or do you want a Republican in the White House? In June, Gallup ran a poll asking if people would consider voting for hypothetical candidates who are each of the following: female, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, African American, Hispanic, Gay/Lesbian, evangelical, Muslim, atheist, and socialist. Coming in dead last: socialist. In fact, it was the only demographic for which a minority of those polled--47 percent--would consider voting. (Joining socialist in the bottom three were Muslim and atheist, but each polled more than ten points better.) Of course, many of those who said they wouldn't consider a socialist probably don't have a firm handle on what socialism actually is. Nor is Bernie Sanders actually a socialist. He calls himself a democratic socialist, which is different. Still, good luck trying to explain that difference to the American electorate and erase the stigma to the point where a democratic socialist can be competitive in a national election.

Even if he rebuked socialism, his tumultuous past with the Democratic Party should give most Democrats pause. He has a history of ripping on the party, including calling it "morally bankrupt." In fact, he's still an independent, a fact #4 Martin O'Malley noted when he boasted, "I choose to be a Democrat, not just in presidential years, but in every year of my life." Sanders's history of being critical of the party from which he now asks a nomination is hypocritical bordering on Trumpesque. (BURN! Or should I say, "BERN!") You might argue that if he wants to effect change on a large scale, he must join one of the two major parties so he can become a national official, but he has specifically said, "You don’t change the system from within the Democratic Party." It makes one wonder--why is he actually running? Is it to raise his own profile, or has he been corrupted and become that which he once chastised? It also begs another question--why not support someone who has always supported the party?

How do the polls look?--It's been an amazing ride for the Sanders Campaign. Here were the first fourteen national polls of 2015, which all came before he announced his candidacy on April 30: 4, 2, 3, 3, 5, 4, 5, 3, 5, 6, 3, 5, 8, 4. In the two months that followed, most of his polling was between 6 and 11. But then. THEN! In the last eight polls, he's never been below 16, and he's hit 22 or higher four times. His RCP national average is now 22.0, trailing only Hillary Clinton, albeit by 32.5 points.

More impressive are his performances in the early states. In Iowa, he's come on very strong. His RCP Iowa average is 26.3. Although he's still 24 points behind Clinton, that has fallen from being over 60 points down in February. The most recent Iowa poll--CNN/ORC's from last week--had the deficit down to 19, 50-31.

And then we get to New Hampshire. Sanders's next door state is treating him like a favorite son. His ascent here is even steeper than in Iowa. Dating back to May, he's hit over 30 in seven of the last eight polls, and in the most recent poll of all, this one from the Boston Herald and Franklin Pierce University, he is leading--that's right, leading--Clinton by seven points, 44-37. Her RCP lead in the Granite State is down to a solitary point, 40.7-39.7.

PPFA analysis--Time to throw some icy waters on those licking flames. I am not nearly as bullish on Sanders's chances as his supporters are, and I think the media overplays this as a two-candidate dual as well. It's best to separate this analysis into five threaded arguments against Sanders's chances.

1) Crowd sizes are nice, but don't read too much into them. They measure passion, but a passionate voter is still just one vote. If one counted for more, Ron Paul would have been the Republican nominee in the last two elections. While they certainly can help spread the word of a candidate, there are much more reliable indicators about a candidate's potency. Besides, that same article from which I got that crowd size chart also warns us against drawing firm conclusions from it. It admits:
"Crowd size is a notoriously imperfect indicator of a candidate's prospects in a coming election. In the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney played to roaring crowds in a number of states, including Ohio. On Election Day, he would lose there by more than 100,000 votes. . . . Some campaigns are purposefully eschewing large venues, hoping to connect to voters in smaller, more intimate settings. Hillary Clinton's campaign has made a point of hosting relatively small events and roundtables with voters — her largest rally to date was her campaign launch on Roosevelt Island in New York, after weeks of small get-togethers with caucus-goers and voters in Iowa and New Hampshire."
Indeed, caucuses and primaries are more known for retail politics than sold out arenas. The Clintons have been here before.

2) According to the statistics, the faces in these crowds look too similar. Sanders is competitive and often leading Hillary Clinton with a certain type of Democrat--young, affluent whites, especially men and ultra liberals--while Clinton dominates every other type. Take a look at some demographic splits from Sunday's national Fox News poll (found on page 16) that had Clinton up on Sanders by her narrowest national margin yet, 49-30.

Among men: Sanders 41, Clinton 38 (Sanders +3)
Among women: Clinton 57, Sanders 22 (Clinton +35)

Among whites: Sanders 43, Clinton 37 (Sanders +7)

Among non-whites: Clinton 65, Sanders 14 (Clinton +51) (!)

Voters with a college degree: Sanders 44, Clinton 37 (Sanders +7)

Voters with no college degree: Clinton 52, Sanders 26 (Clinton +26)

Voters under 45: Sanders 43, Clinton 42 (Sanders +1)

Voters 45+: Clinton 55, Sanders 20 (Clinton +35)

Income $50,000 or over: Clinton 40, Sanders 39 (Clinton +1)

Income under $50,000: Clinton 59, Sanders 19 (Clinton +40)

Democratic voters who identify themselves as liberal: Clinton 47, Sanders 40 (Clinton +7)

Democratic voters who do not: Clinton 51, Sanders 28 (Clinton +23)

These remarkable trends partly explain why Sanders supporters have started to grow a little too confident in their chances--they're probably surrounded by people similar to their own demographic makeup. Sanders is comfortably carrying their social group, to say nothing of their Facebook feed.

Meanwhile, the Clinton family is extremely popular with everyone else, including minorities, especially African Americans, a big chunk of the Democratic electorate. Her competitors struggle here. The Jewish Sanders is fighting a particularly steep uphill battle; some studies have found entrenched anti-Semitic views in measurable chunks of the black and Latino communities. This is a problem, especially in the Democratic Party. Thirty-five percent of the party is black or Hispanic. (By comparison, the number in the GOP is just eight percent.)

Sanders has struggled making inroads with the African American community. Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement infamously took his microphone in Seattle. His supporters will argue that his policies would be the best thing to happen to minorities, but conservatives make the same exact argument and it hasn't yet won them over. It's extremely tough to shift entire demographics away from who they trust. In this case, who they trust is the Clinton family.

The question then is: can Sanders win with Clinton dominating the African-American vote? Not likely. In 2008, when Clinton faced off against Senator Barack Obama, he did incredibly well with blacks, and yet he only barely defeated her and in fact lost the popular vote. Remove blacks from the equation, however, and the NY Times shows us in these telling maps that he would have been, as the paper of record says, "crushed." Is it safe to say Bernie Sanders won't approach Barack Obama's favorability among African Americans? I think it is.

3) The general demographic with whom he is popular--white liberals--explains his success in Iowa and New Hampshire, but it can't carry him much further. The two states are tailor made for him. Look at this chart from FiveThirtyEight:
silver-datalab-bernieland
First of all, I don't think it's ever seemed so absurd that Iowa and New Hampshire get so much sway over the primary if they are so similar demographically, to say nothing of small (Iowa and New Hampshire will combine for 86 delegates out of the Democratic National Convention's 4,483), but that's neither here nor there. (To their credit, they seem to genuinely take their job seriously as litmus tests for the nation). Those two states are two drops in a large bucket. While Sanders victories in the opening caucus and primary would certainly boost his campaign, his gap just about everywhere else is enormous bordering on insurmountable. The chart suggests his chances are best in four particular states--Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Massachusetts--but it just so happens that two of those are the first two contests in the primary.

Now, while New Hampshire and Iowa respectively sport Democratic electorates that are 54 and 50 percent white liberal, the subsequent contests lag far behind in that demographic. The third and fourth states are South Carolina then Nevada, where only 19 and 29 percent of Democrats are white liberals. Polls there reflect that demographic drop. In Nevada, a July poll had Clinton with a 37-point lead on Sanders. In South Carolina it's even more pronounced. The last poll, done this month at the heretofore height of Sandersmania, has Clinton at 78 percent and Sanders at 8, a 70 point spread. So even after Sanders opens up with two victories, Clinton will wrest back all the momentum in the next two states.

4) Therefore, to win, he needs to play well across the party and country, not just in the two opening states. Interestingly, his socialist label is not what's keeping the bulk of the party away. "Socialist," in fact, isn't as bad a word with Democrats. That same Gallup poll from earlier finds that about six in ten Democrats would consider voting for one. The fact that his ideas have become so embraced by the left wing of the party is further proof of that.

However, he's far from winning over the majority of the party, especially its officials who could be stumping for him. Hurting him is that past criticism of it. True, Donald Trump has stormed out to the GOP lead by being critical of the party from which he's seeking the presidential nomination, but there's a difference here as well. According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans are less favorable right now toward their own party compared to Democrats theirs:

To catch Clinton, he needs to win over a party that feels pretty good about itself, and to do it nationally, he needs money and surrogates working for him in places he can't be.

5) However, his funding and campaign infrastructure pale in comparison to Clinton's, which will make it difficult for him to overcome her still sizable lead in the polls. As for the money, it's not even close. She has raised more than three times as much hard money, and total donations to the Clinton cause outweigh total donations to the Sanders cause four and a half times over.

Meanwhile, notable Sanders surrogates will be nearly impossible to come by, thanks to that history of lambasting the party. He's made a lot of Democratic enemies. In contrast, Democratic officials across the country would kill for the Clintons to come hold their hand up at a rally. They are still the party's first family. As proof of this support from party leaders, consider the endorsement primary. Clinton has garnered 307 of FiveThirtyEight's endorsement "points" from nearly 130 elected officials. Sanders has zero. (Even Martin O'Malley has one!)

Therefore, it'll be exceedingly difficult to fully overcome Clinton's lead, which should not be overlooked in favor of recent momentum. The support that has left her for Sanders was soft on her anyway; those who hang on are going to be harder and harder to pry away. Let's not forget, his 32-point national deficit is enormous. It's a tiny field and three of the five candidates are polling under 2, so we're kind of talking ourselves into this being Clinton-Obama Redux, but it's not. I'd get more into her still impressive lead, but Hillary Clinton has hijacked this entry long enough; I'll talk more about it when we get to her post in a few days.

Finally, I think there's a comparison to be made between Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul. It's not a political comparison, obviously; they couldn't disagree more on economic issues. No, the comparison here is with their outlier campaigns and their devoted, and some might say delusional, followers. Both candidates are old, anti-establishment, incredulous members of Congress who, despite their age, are popular with young voters. Both seem to have a pie-in-the-sky agenda that, even if they were elected, would stand little chance in passing through Congress. Both have many supporters convinced that if everyone else just thinks about it for a second, they'd see the light.

Ultimately, both men probably knew they couldn't win when they entered the race, but they weren't in it to win it anyway. They wanted the debate. They wanted the field to speak to their issues. They wanted the national dialogue. Since that's already happened, Sanders supporters should remember this when his surge is over and Clinton's blowout is complete. When is a loss still a victory? When you move up the goalposts and claim the match. In other words, please don't send me hate mail.

PPFA nomination rank--3 of 5 (Odds: 20:1). "JUST THREE?!" I hear all the Sanders supporters screaming. Considering Joe Biden is not part of this countdown until he declares his candidacy, this third place ranking probably surprises a lot of people. For the record, the #2 guy will only barely be ahead of him (I've penciled in 18:1), and if the Sanders surge lasts into December and the other guy doesn't get going, I'll swap them.

Until then, Sanders is working against too much history here. Neither party has ever nominated someone this old. Neither party has ever nominated a Jewish candidate. Neither party has ever embraced socialism, still a bad word to too many Americans, in their nominee.

It's been said that Republicans "fall in line," while Democrats "fall in love." But this is just a one night stand that has lasted an entire summer. The Sanders surge will succumb to the same gravitational pull that ended Howard Dean in 2004, to say nothing of the handful of Republican upstarts who led the pack four years ago. For both parties, the base almost always has a flirtation. Then it tries to win. The man ranked ahead of Sanders, though with a much lower floor, also has the best chance, however unlikely, to seriously challenge Clinton.

PPFA general election rank--4 of 5. That's how little I think of Lincoln Chafee's chances.

3 comments:

Anthony Steady said...

Your comment about how Bernie's supporters see it as people just needing to open their eyes and see the light could not be more true. Almost every Bernie supporter I've come in contact with both online and offline thinks he has not only a good chance of becoming president, but that he is favored to do so. The hive mind is strong for Bernie amongst collegiate 20 year olds.

IC said...

Indeed. Someone tweeted at me about his crowds and then laughed. I told him crowds weren't predictive of eventual success. He told me Bernie's crowds were bigger than Obama's and then laughed again.

I don't think I'll be tweeting with him anymore.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't discount the popularity at Bernie events. It would seem that his polls are highest where he has spent the most time and talked to the most people. And although Hillary has far more money, the Republicans will be throwing everything they've got at her. I see Bernie rising, Hillary setting.

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