Bernie Sanders is closing in on Hillary Clinton in national polls | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 12, 2016

Bernie Sanders is closing in on Hillary Clinton in national polls

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 2:25 PM

click to enlarge SANDERS: Inching closer in national polling. - GAGE SKIDMORE
  • Gage Skidmore
  • SANDERS: Inching closer in national polling.
The first major national poll released after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary finds Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders narrowing Hillary Clinton's lead. The Morning Consult poll, released today, found Clinton up by 7 points, down from a 13-point lead in the last Morning Consult poll prior to New Hampshire. Clinton lost ground by 4 points while Sanders gained two points.

Sanders trounced Clinton in New Hampshire by 22 points. 

The usual caveats about national polls at this stage apply: they're mostly meaningless. But like Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and his candidacy are unusual enough that they have faced questions about plausibility (and electability). National polls matter in that sense — Sanders is clearly a viable and serious candidate for president.  

To put on my pundit hat, I still believe that Democratic primary voters are going to lean pragmatic the longer we go through the process and that the safe establishment choice of Clinton will prevail. Clinton continues to have bigger advantages in state polling in the coming primaries — that's a much bigger indicator of how the delegates will be divided over the next month than the national polling, although Sanders appears to be closing the gap in several key states. Sanders still has to make headway among non-white voters, and Clinton could end up dominating in the South, with a more diverse population that looks more like the Democratic base. (As Benji wrote yesterday, some prominent black intellectuals have backed Sanders but the black political establishment — such as the Congressional Black Caucus — is backing Clinton.) 

Nate Cohn at the New York Times Upshot blog notes that Sanders' coalition is broader than you might think:

If you had told me a month ago that he would win New Hampshire by more than 20 percentage points and would barely lose in Iowa, I would have shrugged. It has long been known that he fares very well among white liberal voters in white liberal places, like New Hampshire and Iowa or, later, Oregon and Wisconsin.

But with the actual results in and counted from two states, it is clear that Mr. Sanders is faring much better among less educated and working-class white voters than Barack Obama did in 2008, or than other idealistic liberal candidates like Howard Dean and Bill Bradley did.

However, Cohn argues, the success among working class white voters in states like Iowa and New Hampshire may not translate to working class white voters in the South. And the challenges among non-white voters for Sanders are real, and could be insurmountable, Cohn writes

The cold reality for Mr. Sanders is that he does not really have a path to victory unless he can significantly narrow or even erase Mrs. Clinton’s edge among nonwhite voters. Just take the results in Iowa and New Hampshire, which Mr. Sanders won by about a total of 12 points. If Sanders were to win the white vote by 12 points nationally — and that strikes me as unlikely, given the states in question — he would need to close his deficit among nonwhite voters to 20 points to fight Mrs. Clinton to a draw.

If he merely ties Mrs. Clinton among white voters — which would still be a very impressive showing — he will also need to tie her among nonwhite voters.

The current national polls show something much bleaker. On balance, they suggest Mr. Sanders trails among nonwhite voters by around 40 percentage points — and by an even larger margin among black voters.

There just isn’t a plausible path to the nomination so long as Mr. Sanders is faring so poorly among nonwhite voters.

Much of Sanders' success is rooted in his dominance among young voters. He is racking up mammoth margins over Clinton among under-30 voters. 

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post notes a recent report that finds that young voters could swing a number of key states in the general election, including the two that have given Sanders a boost by being first on the calendar —  Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado. In all five, at least one fifth of voters are under 30. Here's Sargent: 

Bernie Sanders could of course win the Democratic presidential nomination, but even if he doesn’t, he has already succeeded in one crucial respect: Sanders is all but certain to exert major influence at the Democratic convention later this year, and may remain a powerhouse among Democrats for at least the near future.

A new report from a group that promotes civic engagement among young people helps underscore why: it finds that young voters could be pivotal to the outcomes in a number of presidential swing states this fall. Sanders has already shown that he has the key to unlocking young voters’ engagement in the political process in a way Hillary Clinton does not, which may ensure him a crucial, influential role in this fall’s election and beyond.

Sargent goes on to write, "It’s a surprising twist that a 74-year-old, wild-haired career pol with an old-fashioned New York accent is the one who may have discovered the key to getting young voters engaged in the post-Obama era. But he may be playing a key role in kick-starting a process that could matter a great deal over the long term." 

But I don't think that Sanders' success with young people has all that much to do with Sanders himself. I think what we are seeing is that younger Democratic voters are massively more liberal than the party has been in quite some time. That power is going to grow and national candidates are going to have to move left to accommodate them. Sanders has already pushed Clinton to at least speak more about issues important to the left than the triangulating approach of her husband's runs for president.

Sargent quotes a political scientist from Tufts: “So far, she has performed strikingly poorly among young voters. She will not be able to win the general election unless she can persuade the young Sanders voters to support her in November.”

Again, I think the simpler answer here is that there is an increasingly large block of voters in the Democratic party who are simply going to vote for the most liberal candidate available. Can Clinton learn something from Sanders about how to drive turnout among young people? Absolutely! But it's pretty likely that if Clinton manages to prevail, the big cohort of very liberal young voters will turn out to vote, and vote for Clinton, given the potential other names on the ballot.  It's worth bearing in mind that while backers of each candidate might get testy on social media, most rank and file Democratic voters like both Sanders and Clinton. 

Sanders winning the nomination would be one of the biggest political upsets in American history. But his candidacy is a big story even if Clinton prevails. He's going to have a prominent slot at the convention regardless, and I expect a speech that is memorable and fierce and unapologetically liberal. It is not Bill Clinton's party anymore. 

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