Ideologues are elected more often than they used to be. Outsiders are elected more often, too. And the percentage of true swing voters is shrinking, Utych said. So does that mean someone like Sanders is more electable and someone like former Vice President Joe Biden is less electable? Electability here becomes a game of divining which group is more important to winning — swing voters or the partisan base. But that’s no more accurate than trying to estimate how sexist your neighbors are. “Which segment is bigger … there’s not great information on that,” Utych said. “Anything you say is just guessing.”
Even attempts to pin electability down subjectively leave you chasing your own tail, said Elizabeth Simas, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. We know from decades of research that voters have a tendency to line up their assumptions about who is electable line with the person they want to be elected. Maybe that means people just want to maintain some kind of cognitive consistency. “But it’s just always going to be impossible to parse out whether someone supports a candidate because of electability, or if a candidate is perceived as electable because they are the preferred candidate,” Simas said.
And there’s no better place to see that ambiguity than at a primary campaign rally. Skirting the edges of a cheering crowd, Brown and Vander Kopsa basically both want the same things — a candidate who cares about average people, a candidate who will be a game-changer and think outside the box. They both suspect other voters aren’t engaged or doing the research necessary to know who meets those criteria. What they don’t agree on is whether Bernie Sanders is inside the box, or out of it.