Study: Barring unprecedented youth turnout, Bernie is the weakest candidate against Trump

The perfect sequel to that NYT analysis that John wrote about earlier reminding the world that Berniemania has not, in fact, caused a massive surge of progressive young bros at the polls in the early states this year.


Eyeball the head-to-head polling at RCP and you’ll find a curious quirk. Bernie Sanders, allegedly the least electable candidate against Trump, actually polls the best against him. I’ve referenced that data in several posts myself as evidence that the socialist won’t be as much of a pushover this fall as everyone thinks. Two political science profs dug deeper into Bernie’s surprisingly resilient polling, though, curious to see how he’s managing to hold his own against Trump among an array of demographic groups given the conventional wisdom that his radicalism will alienate swing voters.

Their verdict: He’s not holding his own. Sanders really is weaker than a typical moderate Democratic nominee among all three partisan groups, as well as the older working-class whites who are supposed to be Bernie-curious due to his populism. It turns out his numbers against Trump are a bit better than every other candidate’s only because one very specific group is much more likely to *say* it’ll turn out for the Democrats in a Trump/Bernie election but won’t turn out if it’s Trump vs. anyone else. That group? Young leftists, of course. Bernie’s bread and butter.

The same group that hasn’t been blowing the roof off in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, notwithstanding Sanders’s victories there.

The two profs tried calculating how much higher youth turnout would need to be this year for Bernie to offset the votes he’d lose to Trump among other groups that are put off by him. A lot higher, it turns out. Unrealistically higher.


There have been huge surges in the youth vote before, as you can see in the leap from Gore vs. Bush in 2000 to Kerry vs. Bush in 2004, when the left was galvanized against the war in Iraq. Obama took it even higher in 2008, when he got the most votes of any presidential candidate in American history. For Bernie to merely match the overall strength of a moderate Democrat against Trump, he’d need to blow past Obama’s standard and turn out a clear majority of young adults. Is that possible? Given the special enthusiasm young lefties have for him and the singular hatred Democrats as a party have for Trump, yeah, maybe. There’ll be lots of turnout fuel in the tank this fall. But let me stress again: According to these results, Sanders would have to set a record in youth turnout just to perform as well as, say, Pete Buttigieg might against POTUS. To actually win, he might need to go even higher.

And of course, centrist candidates like Biden and Buttigieg would benefit from the Trump-hatred effect on turnout too. That is, *some* increase in youth turnout is likely this fall no matter what. To make it worth nominating Bernie, he’d need a massive youth turnout effect on top of the systemic effect that’s expected.

Or maybe even something on top of that, if jitters about socialism cause other groups to turn out in higher than expected numbers for Trump. At one point, the authors actually describe what Bernie would need here as a “youth turnout miracle.”


As for the Sanders effect among other groups:

We found that nominating Sanders would drive many Americans who would otherwise vote for a moderate Democrat to vote for Trump, especially otherwise Trump-skeptical Republicans.

Republicans are more likely to say they would vote for Trump if Sanders is nominated: Approximately 2 percent of Republicans choose Trump over Sanders, but desert Trump when we pit him against a more moderate Democrat like Buttigieg, Biden, or Bloomberg.

Democrats and independents are also slightly more likely to say they would vote for Trump if Sanders is nominated. Swing voters may be rare — but their choices between candidates often determine elections, and many appear to favor Trump over Sanders but not over other Democrats.

Remember this post last night? Anti-Trump Republicans are a vanishing breed but they’re out there, and they really are less likely to show up and cross the aisle on Election Day for Bernie than they would be for, say, Joe Biden. I don’t need to remind you what the margins were in 2016 in the Rust Belt states; even small slivers of the electorate are potentially decisive. Imagine Trump squeaking through to reelection because the Never Trump contingent on the right decided after a hard look in the mirror that they’re really “Never Trump … unless Democrats nominate a Castro apologist.”

There’s another study of sorts out today. This comes from, er, Mike Bloomberg’s campaign — big grain of salt — but it’s in line with what you’d expect when you have a socialist at the top of the ballot in a reddish-purple district:


The poll found Sanders essentially running even with Trump in a head-to-head match-up across [40 battleground House] districts, trailing the incumbent by just one point. But Trump opens up 6-point advantage after a list of negative messages about Sanders’ ideology and alleged ineffectiveness in the Senate is presented to poll respondents.

But Sanders’ potential impact extends beyond the presidential race. A plurality of voters, 39 percent, say they will be less likely to vote for a Democrat for Congress if Sanders is the Democratic nominee and his ideas are folded into the party platform. That’s nearly double the 21 percent who say they would be more likely to vote for a Democrat for Congress, while 34 percent say it wouldn’t impact their vote.

The point in all this, again, isn’t that Sanders can’t win. Anyone can win if events conspire against the incumbent, especially an incumbent like Trump prone to making messes for himself and his party to clean up. The point is that it’s very hard to argue that Bernie is the strongest hand Democrats might play.

Here’s “The View,” normally a Democrat-friendly environment, digesting Bernie’s Castro comments and getting a little queasy. By the way, the study excerpted above showing his need for a “miracle” in youth turnout was published in Vox, which is destined to hear it today from feral Berniebros for daring to offer hard truths about their guy at a moment when Democratic voters are deciding whether they really want to go through with this. Good for them for publishing it knowing the flak they’ll get.


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