May 26, 2016

The Polls Showing Sanders Beating Trump

Bernie Sanders

You've seen the polls or at least heard about them from many a supporter of Bernie Sanders on social media. Some national polls show Donald Trump either tied with or slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton, and these same polls tend to show Sanders beating Trump by a wider margin. I don't doubt that these polls are real, but I do question their predictive value this far ahead of the general election.

Clinton is a known commodity, and this is both her primary strength and her primary weakness. It is a strength because she's already been vetted, and the Republicans have been attacking her for decades. We know what to expect in a nasty general election race. At the same time, this is a significant weakness because it has translated into her high negative ratings. The voters have had ample opportunity to get to know Clinton over the years and a significant number of them have decided that they aren't particularly excited at the prospect of her becoming president (even though I suspect that many will vote for her in the general election).

While I happen to believe that the selection of Clinton as the Democratic nominee is a poor choice on the part of the Democratic Party, I say this based on her high unfavorable ratings and not on the national polls showing Sanders beating Trump. Unlike Clinton, Sanders has not been vetted and is still unknown by the vast majority a voters. This is largely due to the refusal of our mainstream news media to cover his campaign from the beginning, instead anointing Clinton the winner last summer before Sanders even entered the race. But the crucial point is that Sanders has not faced the full force of the Republican attack machine like Clinton has. Since it has appeared unlikely for some time that he would win the nomination, they have been able to ignore him.

If Sanders had won the nomination, I suspect we would have had an interesting contest. Still, I'm not convinced that Sanders would necessarily have fared particularly well against Trump in spite of what the recent polls suggest. In a head-to-head contest between Trump and Sanders, Trump could easily paint Sanders as an extreme radical. He can't do that with Clinton. Trump could easily demonize Sanders as being anti-business; he obviously can't do that with Clinton. The list goes on. Again, the point is that I don't think the national polls we are seeing now that show Sanders easily beating Trump are predictive of what would happen in a general election contest between the two of them. Unfortunately, this appears to be one hypothesis we will not have the opportunity to test.