Could Bernie Sanders have beaten Trump?

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Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Since Donald J. Trump beat Hillary Clinton to the Presidency on Tuesday night, various hypotheses have been put forward as to why the Democrats lost an election that so many thought they would win comfortably, against a Presidential Candidate in Donald Trump whom at first glance looked about as unelectable as it was possible to be. With President Obama’s approval rating relatively strong and on the rise, most thought that the election of Hillary Clinton to the Presidency was a foregone conclusion. Alas this was proved to be wrong, and in the days which have followed the inquest has begun into why Clinton and the Democrats failed to win, and why the Republicans managed to win the Presidency and retain control of both Houses of Congress for the first time since 2006.

One of the most popular hypotheses put forward has been that Clinton’s main rival in the Democratic Presidential Primary, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, would have defeated Donald Trump by a comfortable margin. There are many who feel that Sanders, with his own brand of left-wing populism, would have been a better candidate to take on the right-wing populism of Trump.

Indeed, this was a view espoused by Sanders and his supporters throughout the primary campaign. During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sanders said:

“Right now in every major poll, national poll and statewide poll done in the last month, six weeks, we are defeating Trump often by big numbers, and always at a larger margin than Secretary Clinton is.”

Sanders and his supporters put this view forward many times throughout the campaign but ultimately they were unsuccessful, with the wider Democratic Party rallying around Clinton and helping her to the nomination despite Sanders running her extremely close in the Iowa Caucus, and winning the New Hampshire Primary by a very wide margin.

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Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Primary by a large margin. 

 

Sanders supporters point to various reasons as to why he could have defeated Trump in the Presidential Election, if only the Democrats had selected him.

One key thing that supporters point to is the popularity of Sanders, who has been named the most popular United States Senator for the past two years. In an election where the two main candidates were uniquely unpopular, they suggest that this could have been a huge asset which would have propelled him to victory. Sanders supporters also point to his popularity amongst millennials, many of whom didn’t warm to Hillary Clinton, and as a result cast their votes for the likes of Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, or simply stayed at home. Mostly though, Sanders supporters point to his primary successes in the very States in which Clinton struggled most on Tuesday. During the Democratic Primary, Sanders won victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, both of which were considered Democratic strongholds prior to the election but which were ultimately won by Trump. It has been suggested that Sanders was propelled to success in these primaries by the same forces that propelled Trump to victory in these States on Tuesday, namely the forgotten men and women of the white working class. This means that, in theory, Sanders could have competed with Trump better than Clinton for the votes that ultimately decided the outcome of this presidential election.

However, would Sanders really have done better than Clinton against Donald Trump?

In the Presidential Election, although Clinton had issues gaining the support of the white working class, arguably her biggest problem was failing to energise African-American voters to turn out and vote for her in the same way that Barack Obama did four years previously. In winning the Presidency, Donald Trump actually received less votes than the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, however the Democratic vote fell so significantly that Trump won the Presidency. In large part, this was because the African-American vote fell significantly. Around 88 percent of black voters supported Clinton, compared to around 8 percent for Trump, however turnout wasn’t high enough for this margin to make a difference, with black voters making up 12 percent of the electorate as opposed to 13 percent four years ago. Had Clinton been able to garner the same turnout among black voters as Barack Obama, she probably would have won States like Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida, and with them the Presidency.

But would Sanders really have done any better?

During the Democratic Primary, Sanders’ main difficulty was his low support with African-American voters, and in many of the primary contests he lost black voters to Clinton by around fifty points. Clinton struggled with the young and the white working class during the primary campaign, and then struggled with these groups again during the general election. Given that Sanders struggled with African-American voters during the primary, it would be expected that he would also struggle with African-American voters in a general election. Therefore, whilst Sanders may have been able to turn more white working class voters over to the Democratic cause, this would likely be counteracted with a fall in African-American support — meaning that Sanders would have probably suffered the same fate as Clinton when coming up against Donald Trump.

As well as this, although it seems a fair argument that Sanders’ left-wing populism could have matched the right-wing populism of Trump, the results around the United States seem to provide little evidence for this. In Colorado, one of the key battleground States which Clinton won, on the ballot alongside the Presidential Election was a referendum on a single-payer healthcare system. The introduction of a single-payer healthcare system was one of the key planks of Sanders’ candidacy, yet in Colorado it was defeated comfortably. In Wisconsin, former Senator Russ Feingold, who is an ally of Sanders, was attempting to win back his old Senate seat. He lost to Republican Tea Party incumbent Ron Johnson — by a bigger margin than Clinton lost Wisconsin by. Therefore, there seems little concrete evidence that Sanders’ policies would have played better with the electorate than Clinton’s policies.

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Russ Feingold (left) lost his Senate race in Wisconsin to Ron Johnson (right) by a larger margin than Hillary Clinton. 

 

As well as this, Sanders was a regular surrogate on the campaign trail for the Clinton campaign, consistently telling voters that they had to vote for Clinton lest they get a Donald Trump Presidency. However, this didn’t turn the tide, with Trump still emerging victorious. So perhaps Sanders’ popularity with the white working class is indeed being overstated, and he wouldn’t have gained much more support for the Democrats in a contest between him and Donald Trump.

Also, Bernie Sanders’ policies were scrutinised during the Democratic Primary but not in the same way as they would be during the general election. During the primaries, Donald Trump dismissively referred to Sanders as “Crazy Bernie”. Facing him in the general election would have allowed Trump the opportunity to paint Sanders as a radical socialist, which in all likelihood would have torpedoed his candidacy.

In addition, the presence of two populist candidates on the ticket, could well have precipitated a major third-party candidacy. In January, there was a lot of speculation that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would enter the Presidential Race as an independent candidate.

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If Bernie Sanders had won the Democratic nomination then he would have probably faced a well-funded independent candidate in the shape of former Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

 

Bloomberg’s candidacy would be unlike most third-party or independent candidacies in that it would have been extremely well funded and able to compete around the country, much like the candidacy of Ross Perot in 1992 and, if you think about it, the candidacy of Donald Trump this time around.

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Bloomberg’s campaign would have been able to appeal in many of the same ways that Trump’s did. Namely the likely self-funded nature, and Bloomberg not being a part of the Washington D.C. establishment. 

 

Indeed, Bloomberg had already set up campaign offices and conducted polling all around the country. It was only when Hillary Clinton took a commanding lead in the Democratic Primary that he announced that he would not be running. Following this, it was reported that his advisers had said that if Sanders and Trump were at the top of each of the tickets, Bloomberg would have run. The candidacy of Bloomberg would have meant that even if Sanders’ candidacy had won back the voters who Clinton lost to Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, and those who stayed at home, he would have lost voters on the right of Clinton’s coalition, meaning that the result could well have been the same for the Democrats.

Ultimately, it is hard to see where Sanders could have done better than Clinton. Although he may have lessened Trump’s support amongst the white working class, his candidacy would likely have further reduced turnout amongst the African-American community. And although Sanders is able to pitch himself as a more anti-establishment politician than Clinton, he is still a career politician who has been a Senator working in Washington D.C. for almost ten years. Trump would have been able to tap into exactly the same level of anti-politics feeling against Sanders as he could against Clinton. More than anything, this result was a vote for change and a vote against the Washington establishment. Although Sanders is arguably not an establishment politician, I think that Trump would probably have still been able to paint him that way, and what’s more he would also have been able to deride him as a radical socialist.

Overall, although it makes for a nice and easy conclusion, the reason that the Democrats lost was not because they didn’t choose Sanders as their candidate, he would in fact have probably have suffered the same fate as Clinton. If the Democrats come to this conclusion, and choose to shift to the left as a result, then they would be hugely mistaken. Just look at what has happened to the Labour Party in the UK, where after losing in the 2015 General Election running on Ed Miliband’s centre-left platform, they then chose to elect as leader the arch left-winger Jeremy Corbyn after concluding that the reason for their loss to David Cameron’s Conservative Party was that they were not left-wing enough. However, unsurprisingly, Corbyn is languishing in the polls and shows no sign of being able to compete for power in the UK.

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Jeremy Corbyn should provide ample warning to the Democrats of the electoral dangers of turning to populist left-wing policies. 

 

Although Bernie Sanders is clearly a very gifted politician and it would be remiss of me not to praise his excellent primary campaign, it would be a huge mistake for Democrats to conclude that their failure to nominate him for the Presidency caused their loss. To do so could confine them to the electoral wilderness for an extended period of time. Instead, they should concentrate on re-building the party (and although he is not suited as a Presidential candidate, Sanders should certainly have a role in this rebuilding job) and finding another centrist candidate who can challenge Trump in 2020. Because in the 2020 Presidential Election, the Democrats will have a very real chance to regain presidential power, and they will need to be prepared for this.

 

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Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

12 reasons why Trump can’t win.

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1. His unpopularity with minority voters:

Trump’s dismal support amongst minority voters has been well publicised.

Some polling has suggested that up to 80% of Hispanic voters disapprove of Trump. This was also a group which Mitt Romney struggled with in 2012, winning only 27% of Hispanic votes. The latest polling by Pew Researchsuggests that Trump has the support of just 19% of Hispanics, compared with 58% for Hillary Clinton. The significance of this is reflected in the prevalence of Hispanic voters in several swing states, most notably Florida, where Hispanics now make up 15.4% of the electorate; compared to 13.9% in 2012, when President Obama carried the state thanks to his backing amongst minority voters. Hispanic voters also pose a problem for Trump in Arizona. Arizona tends to be considered a safe Republican state, but the RealClearPolitics polling average gives Trump an advantage of just 0.7%, suggesting it definitely isn’t safe in this election. A high Hispanic turnout would certainly have the potential to swing the state in favour of Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s support amongst African-American voters is even worse. A September poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found that 93% of African-American voters favoured Clinton, with just 3% favouring Trump. In 2012, 93% of African-American voters voted for Obama, with 6% choosing Romney. Given that Romney lost significantly, this surely looks ominous for Trump.

2. His inability to unite the GOP:

We have seen over the past few days how much of the Republican Party doesn’t support Trump. Senior party figures like Mitt Romney, John Kasich, and Jeb! Bush had already withheld their support for Trump, but over the weekend the likes of John McCain and Kelly Ayotte rescinded their endorsements, and Leader of the House Paul Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump. Now Trump has always effectively been running as an independent, and has therefore always been somewhat detached from the rest of the Republican Party. But, given that the Presidential Election is fought on a state-by-state basis rather than with a nationwide popular vote, the ability to be able to draw upon state party machinery is very important. Over the last few days, Trump has done his best to burn his bridges with Senior Republicans, and this will make it extremely hard for him to run an effective campaign, particularly in the latter stages of this election. Few of the Republicans who have disavowed Trump will vote for Clinton. Instead they will stay at home or, cast a useless vote for either Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin. Either way, it’s seriously bad news for Trump.

3. The Democrats Electoral College advantage:

The Presidential Election’s Electoral College system means that national polling can massively overstate the closeness of a presidential race. In 2012, Obama led Romney by an average of only around 0.5% for the last few months of the campaign. However, he ultimately won by 332 electoral votes to 206. There are eighteen states (plus D.C.) which have voted Democrat in every election since 1992, this almost guarantees Clinton 242 electoral college votes, just short of the 270 needed to win. This leaves Clinton only needing to win a couple of the swing states (and she currently leads in all of them) to win. On the other hand, Trump’s road to the White House is much more difficult. He would have to retain all of the states won by Romney in 2012, as well as winning traditional Democratic states like Michigan and Wisconsin to stand a chance. For the most popular of Republican candidates this would be difficult. For Trump, it is nigh on impossible.

4. Significance of the white working-class vote is overstated:

Trump’s rise has been built on his strong support amongst the white working-class, with many saying that this could propel him to the White House. However, they are massively overstating the ability of this group to swing the result of the election. In 2012, Obama got just 36% of the white working-class vote, so the Republican Party’s strong advantage with this group is nothing new. What’s more, most of the white working-class voters that Obama won, lived in safe Democratic states like New York, California, and Illinois. Given that Trump has absolutely zero chance of winning these states, winning white working-class voters who live in them is of no consequence. Therefore, even though Trump will likely win an even higher percentage of the white working-class vote than Romney did, this won’t swing the result in any state, and is therefore of no benefit to Trump’s campaign.

5. Republican women:

In 2012, Mitt Romney won 44% of the female vote, but Trump looks certain to lose a significant portion of this. Trump’s problem with female voters extends to members of his own party. In March, polling by NBC News andThe Wall Street Journal found that 47% of female Republican voters couldn’t imagine themselves voting for Trump. This is hardly likely to have improved given last week’s events. In addition, modelling by renowned election forecaster Nate Silver has suggested that if only women voted, Trump would lose such Republican strongholds as Texas, Georgia, and South Dakota. Given that women are more likely to vote than men, this unpopularity could cause Trump huge problems.

6. John Kasich:

Yes, you’re right, Trump beat John Kasich in the Republican Primary. So surely we should forget about Kasich now? Wrong! Kasich could oddly still be crucial to the result in this election. Kasich is Governor of Ohio, perhaps the most crucial state of all in this election. Indeed, no Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio and its eighteen electoral votes. But, current polling suggests that Hillary Clinton leads in Ohio by four percent. A loss here would be devastating for Trump, and it is very hard to see how he could possibly win the election without winning Ohio. Kasich having withheld his support is significant. If Kasich had chosen to endorse Trump during the Republican Primary then Trump would have been able to draw upon the popularity of Kasich among Ohioans (currently over 50% of Ohioans believe Kasich is doing a good job as Governor), to gain statewide support. Instead, Kasich has spent much of the campaign denouncing Trump’s rhetoric. His failure to get Kasich on side may go some way to Trump ultimately losing the most important state in this election.

7. Lacklustre fundraising:

Throughout the campaign, Trump has had to put in a lot of his own money, in part because big GOP donors have been reluctant to fund his divisive campaign. This has meant that the Trump campaign has significantly less money than is really needed to mount a credible nationwide campaign, and is one of the reasons that Trump has had to rely on the free publicity given by the media. This funding deficit is only likely to get worse followingreports that the Republican National Committee is withdrawing funds from Trump in order to concentrate on holding the Senate and the House of Representatives; and will make it extremely difficult for Trump to afford the advertising he needs to make gains in the swing states.

8. Lack of organisation/ground game:

The US Electoral College favours the campaign which is the most organised. There can be little debate that this is Hillary Clinton’s campaign, with the Trump campaign having been characterised throughout by its total lack of organisation.

Although Trump rules the roost when it comes to Twitter, there is little evidence that he has built the digital volunteer networks which are so essential to modern campaigning. In addition, Trump’s campaign staff numbers about one-tenth of Clinton’s. For example, in Ohio the Democrats have around 150 paid campaigners on the ground compared to the Republicans 50. This, combined with the Democrats huge advantage in terms of signed-up volunteers will give Trump a huge advantage.

9. Republican primaries are not representative of the general election:

The huge success of Trump in the Republican primaries does not mean he will be successful in the general election. During the primaries, Trump boasted about how he was bringing loads of new voters into the Republican Party, however polling suggested nearly all of these voters were already committed Republicans. Although they may not have voted in previous Republican primaries, they generally always voted Republican when it came to a Presidential Election. So yes, Trump has expanded the Republican base who vote in the primaries, but he hasn’t succeeded in expanding overall support for the Republican Party. Very few people actually vote in primary elections; Trump may have got fourteen million votes in the primaries (not even a majority amongst Republican Primary voters), but he’ll need around 65 million to win an election, meaning the primaries are almost irrelevant. Even though Trump has boasted that his primary wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania mean that he’s likely to win these states in November, there is no evidence for this. In fact, Clinton leads comfortably in each — by an average of 6.8 percent in Michigan, and by an average of 9.2 percent in Pennsylvania. Trump’s success in the primaries suggests nothing about how successful he’ll be in November. Indeed, it is highly likely that the rhetoric which brought him so much success during the primaries will prove a huge turn-off to the swing voters he needs in order to win the Presidency.

10. Trump can’t resist playing to his base:

In the Second Presidential Debate, Trump didn’t do too badly overall, despite the lack of any sort of policy detail in the answers he gave. But, a feature of the debate was the lack of anything that could appeal to swing voters, and the constant return to populist policies which appeal only to his base. Trump’s fall-back is always immigration, and his pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexican border; but what he doesn’t seem to realise is that these policies don’t appeal to the swing voters he needs. Swing voters want to hear about the economy, energy, healthcare, foreign policy; and Trump has proved that he lacks any sort of policy knowledge on these kinds of issues. In addition, he decided that the debate would be a good time to discuss Bill Clinton infidelities. Voters are sick and tired of hearing about the indiscretions of someone who isn’t even running for office. Once again, Trump is falling into the trap of throwing red meat to his supporters, but not appealing to the voters he needs to win. It’s now surely too late for him to rectify this mistake, and therefore he cannot win.

11. Turnout will be HIGH:

A study released in July by the Pew Research Centre looked at the relationship between voter engagement in the run up to the election, and its ultimate effect on voter turnout. It found that engagement in this year’s election was much higher than in previous years: 80 percent of respondents had thought ‘quite a lot’ about the election; 85 percent said that they were following news on the candidates ‘very closely’; 74% believed that it ‘really matters’ who wins the election; and 60 percent said they were more interested in politics than they were four years ago. When compared with the results of the 2008 survey, these results suggest much higher engagement in this year’s election. 2008 produced the highest voter turnout since 1968 (58.23%). Given the level of engagement in this year’s election, it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that this is the first election since the 1960s where turnout will reach 60%. In addition, turnout is typically high when there is a large gulf between the two candidates, leading to voters being motivated to vote against one or the other. In this election, it would not be unexpected for Hispanic voters to turnout in record numbers just so that they can vote against Donald Trump.

12. The popularity of Barack Obama:

I know what you’re saying, Barack Obama isn’t running, so why does his popularity matter? The fact of the matter is that Obama’s popularity (55 percent approve of the job he’s doing according to Gallup), means that this election shouldn’t be a change election. If Americans could have four more years of President Obama, then that is what they would likely choose. But they can’t, which means that they’ll go for the next best option, Hillary Clinton.