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. 

The debate which could change the course of this presidential election.

Why Monday night’s debate is important.

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Clinton and Trump will face off in the opening presidential debate on Monday night.

Tonight, the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take place at Hofstra University, New York.

For the candidates, this will be one of the most important moments of the campaign thus far. Polling by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News has found that 34 percent of voters consider the debate very important in deciding who they support, whilst it has been estimated that the television audience could reach 120 million.

For Trump this debate is a step into the unknown. During the Republican Primary campaign, he took part in eleven debates. However, the smallest of these contained four candidates. Contrast this with Monday’s debate, which will be head-to-head between just Trump and Clinton, after Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein failed to qualify. The significance of this is that Trump will be forced to speak for considerably longer than he had to during the Republican primary debates.

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Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have failed to qualify for tonight’s debate.

In the Republican Primary debates, Trump relied upon an improvisational style, and proved to be strong in terms of soundbites and withering putdowns, with his labelling of Ted Cruz as ‘Lyin’ Ted’, and Marco Rubio as ‘Little Marco’. However, in this head-to-head debate, that won’t be enough. Trump will be required to speak for around 40 minutes, and will have to display a strong grasp of policy, something which wasn’t really required during the primaries. How well he manages this, may well decide the outcome of this debate.

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Tonight’s head-to-head debate will be very different from the large debates during the Republican Primary campaign.

For Hillary Clinton, she faces a very different task in this debate. During the primary campaign, she took part in a string of head-to-head debates with Bernie Sanders, whilst she also took part in many during the mammoth 2008 Democratic primary campaign. In short, she has always been considered to be a confident debater. But in this debate, the scrutiny on Clinton will be regarding something very different: her health.

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Hillary Clinton’s health will be scrutinised after her pneumonia diagnosis.

Presidential debates can be a very superficial way of judging who is the best candidate for the job of President. Typically, the candidate judged to have won the debate is the candidate who people feel looks the most presidential whilst on stage, rather than the candidate who displays the best grasp of policy. Take the example of the 1960 Presidential campaign, the first to feature televised debates between the candidates. In these debates, the television viewers judged John F. Kennedy to have comprehensively defeated Richard Nixon, in large part because Nixon appeared nervous and sweaty on stage. However, those listening to the debate on the radio, felt that Nixon had won because of his better grasp of policy. This shows just how important appearance and confidence can be in deciding the victor in a televised debate.

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Nixon’s sweating and nervousness during his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy contributed to his loss.

In fact, campaign staffers have been known to say that the best way of knowing who will be judged the winner in a televised debate, is to watch it with the sound on mute, as it will be the candidate who appears most confident who wins.

For Hillary Clinton to be considered to have performed well, she will need to demonstrate that she has fully recovered from the bout of pneumonia that she was struggling with earlier this month. Any repeat of the coughing fit she suffered when addressing a campaign rally earlier this month, could be hugely damaging during a televised debate. Given her experience, it is clear that her knowledge of policy will be up to the task of debating Trump. However, for Clinton, the important thing is to try and show the country that she is physically fit for office.

Generally, candidates don’t manage to win a presidential race as a result of a good performance in a debate. However a bad performance in a debate, can certainly go a long way towards losing the presidency. For example, the aforementioned incident of Nixon’s severe sweating on stage. Whilst George H.W. Bush checking his watch during a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, gave the impression of someone who didn’t want to be there, and was taking victory for granted.

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George H.W. Bush checking his watch during this 1992 debate made him look out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.

In the 2000 Presidential Election, during debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Gore was heard to sigh when Bush gave answers, giving the impression of being condescending, whilst he was also accused of invading Bush’s personal space by walking over to him as if about to start a fight. Gore’s debate performances were said to have severely damaged his chances of winning the presidency.

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Al Gore’s invasion of George W. Bush’s personal space cost him dearly.

It is from the debates in the 2000 election that Clinton can learn the most. If she acts like Gore and reacts condescendingly to Trump’s answers, then she will likely be punished for it. For Trump, not having debated on this scale before is perhaps an advantage. As a result, there will be relatively low expectations regarding his performance, and he is likely to get away with more mistakes than his rival.

Overall, for these two unpopular candidates this debate is very important. Whilst it may not decide the outcome of this presidential race, it will certainly decide who has the momentum going forward.

In such a close race, a big mistake could be absolutely fatal to either of the candidates’ chances. Trump must appear to have a strong grasp on policy, whilst for Clinton it will be vitally important that she appears physically fit for the office of President.

For both, this could be a defining moment of the campaign.

Should Gary be allowed to debate?

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Getty Images. 

“Let Gary debate. Let Gary debate.” The chant rang around the recent rally held in Seattle by Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld. Alas, Johnson’s supporters were to be disappointed.

On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that both Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein had failed to make the cut for the first presidential debate, due to be held on 26 September.

Johnson responded by describing the presidential debates as a “rigged game”, going on to say, “Democrats and Republicans make up the presidential debate commission, 15 percent is not the law. It’s Democrats and Republicans not wanting a Ross Perot on the stage again.”

He’s got a point.

The American Presidential electoral system conspires against third-party candidates, perhaps more than any other system in the world. Johnson certainly has some right to feel aggrieved at his exclusion from the first debate.

As a libertarian, Johnson has views that span the political spectrum. As such, it is difficult to predict whether his popularity is more of a danger to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Johnson is fiscally conservative — he wants to abolish the minimum wage, abolish income tax and replace it with a national sales tax, as well as submitting a fully balanced budget. Yet, he is also very socially liberal — he favours the legalisation of marijuana, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights. With this melting pot of views he clearly has the potential to prove dangerous to both Clinton and Trump, whilst his socially liberal views give him the chance to court the young voters who are so far proving rather elusive to both candidates. Given Johnson’s potential to prove dangerous to both Clinton and Trump, there is little to gain from allowing him into the presidential debates. Consequently, it seems highly unlikely that he will make a debate.

Johnson says this is unfair, citing the case of Ross Perot who was allowed to take part in presidential debates during the 1992 Presidential Election. Johnson claims that Perot was granted permission to take part in the debates despite polling in single figures at the time. This isn’t strictly true. Throughout the early autumn of 1992, Perot was generally polling around 10 to 20 per cent. This was despite him having dropped out of the race between June and September due to various campaign difficulties. Prior to this temporary drop-out, Perot had been polling as high as 39 per cent. Therefore, for Johnson to compare his case to Perot’s is bending the truth a little. Perot clearly enjoyed a significantly higher level of nationwide support than Johnson currently does. In terms of the precedent set by previous presidential elections, the campaign of Gary Johnson has no divine right to be featured in the presidential debates.

However, that being said, this is no ordinary presidential election.

The 2016 Presidential Election has been particularly notable for the fact that this is the only occasion in recent times where both the candidates selected by the two major parties have proven to be quite so unpopular. Whilst both Clinton and Trump are adored by their base supporters, in the minds of swing voters they leave a lot to be desired.

Bearing this in mind, it seems fair that Gary Johnson be allowed to take part in the Sept. 26 Presidential Debate. In such a divisive election, allowing voters another option is definitely the right thing to do.

And yes, I know that as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are on the ballot paper then voters nominally have the option of voting for them. But, the fact of the matter is that their lack of media coverage means that the vast majority of the electorate have no idea who they are.

That Johnson has managed to reach double figures in the polls despite this lack of media exposure, suggests that many voters are interested in what he has to say. He has reached this height in the polls despite a polling system that works against him. Johnson has been shown to be doing particularly well amongst millennial voters, yet the main polling method used is through landline telephone, something most millennials don’t use. What’s more, much of the polling doesn’t even include Johnson, with polling companies generally restricting their polls to head-to-head match-ups between Trump and Clinton. Given these circumstances, it seems almost impossible for Johnson to reach the mythical 15 per cent polling threshold, and to gain inclusion in the debates.

Therefore, it seems only fair to allow him to share his vision for the future of America on the national stage, as well as a proper chance to explain (and be interrogated about) his monumental “what is Aleppo?” gaffe.

So, let Gary debate!