Friday, April 22, 2016

The Myth of Bernie Sanders' November Advantage

As noted in a post yesterday, in my view, it increasingly appears that Bernie Sanders is putting his own ego ahead of keeping a Republican out of the White House in November.  Despite the delegate math stacked against him, he is vowing to fight all the way to the Democrat Party convention and is beginning to demand that delegates ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton has won more votes and more delegates.  Why?  Because he claims that he has the best chance to beat Donald Trump or whoever becomes the GOP nominee.  A piece in Mother Jones makes the case that this supposed advantage is a myth.  Here are excerpts:
Soon after Sen. Bernie Sanders was declared the loser in the New York Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday night, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, was on MSNBC explaining the path ahead for the independent socialist from Vermont. Weaver contended, optimistically, that Sanders could potentially win all the remaining contests. When pressed on what the campaign would do should Sanders end up second to Hillary Clinton in the delegate hunt, Weaver said the campaign would spend the weeks between the final primary in early June and the Democratic convention in late July trying to flip the superdelegates who have declared their loyalty to Clinton.
To some, this might seem fanciful. . . . Weaver justified this possible strategy by insisting that Sanders is the Democratic candidate better situated to win in the November general election. Sanders, he argued, has more appeal with independents and younger voters and generates more enthusiasm.
Any conversation with a Sanders supporter inevitably turns to the polls. And indeed the polls do say what Weaver suggested. According to Real Clear Politics' average of recent polls, Sanders performs better than Clinton in hypothetical general-election matchups. Against Donald Trump, Sanders leads by 15 points, Clinton by 9. Against Ted Cruz, Sanders wins by 11 points, Clinton by 2. Many Bernie-ites point to these numbers and confidently declare: Case closed!
Maybe not. There is one missing factor in these polls, and it might be huge. Sanders has yet to face a true negative ad campaign aimed at destroying his public image. Were he to be the Democratic nominee, he would be confronted with hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads designed to rip him apart. And everyone knows what that pummeling would focus on: He's a self-proclaimed socialist.
Clinton has taken a few pokes at Sanders, claiming his policy proposals are pie in the sky and his numbers don't add up. . . . But this is nothing compared with the onslaught that Sanders would be up against as the nominee. The ads write themselves: "Don't take our word for it, take his. He's a socialist!" Cut to a super-cut of Sanders proclaiming "I am a socialist" over and over.
Of course, almost all Americans are socialists to some extent. (You believe in Social Security and Medicare? Congratulations, you get your socialist card.) But the word still has the potential to frighten or put off voters in the crucial swing states. And there will be other lines of attack against Sanders: the usual tax-and-spend stuff Republicans always hurl at Democrats (but to a greater extent), the radical writings of his past, his unconventional personal life, and more. It's not difficult to imagine a veiled campaign that exploits the fact he's not a Christian.
Once, Devine continued, people said don't vote for a black man because he cannot win the presidency; now some say don't vote for a socialist because he cannot win. His implication was that such talk is nothing more than a self-limiting scare tactic among progressives.
Perhaps. These are all lovely assumptions, and they could prove true. Maybe the socialist charge will not have much firepower. But the point is that until Sanders is tested under such battlefield conditions, polls that compare his performance against Trump to Clinton's are meaningless. As the Clinton people will say—and they're not wrong on this—she has withstood decades of attacks, some real and fact-based, some phony and underhanded.
Sanders would be virgin territory for the dirt-throwers of the right. A clean canvas.  This is not to say that Sanders and his populist crusade would not be able to prevail against a billion dollars in ads assailing him as a crazy socialist hell-bent on raising taxes and expanding government. But until he's the target of such a blitzkrieg, hypothetical comparisons have little currency. Any sophisticated political operative knows these particular poll numbers are no basis for picking a candidate. Nor are they a rationale for Sanders, should he finish in second place, to continue his campaign.
[L]ast year Gallup released a poll asking voters about their attitudes regarding political candidates of various races, religions, and beliefs. . . . The label that fared the worst in this survey was socialist. Forty-seven percent said they would be willing to support a socialist candidate; 50 percent said they would not. . . . The poll was conducted last June, and it may well be that Sanders' performance in the months since has altered public attitudes toward a socialist candidate. Yet the survey's results do suggest the socialist tag could be a problem for Sanders in a general election.
There are some positions that I support - most notably a single payer, universal heath care system.  But with so much a stack in this election - likely 3 Supreme Court appointments among other things - winning in November is crucial and pragmatism is required.  

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