Three Reasons Why Sanders Can’t Win

The Vermont senator doesn’t have the support of either the Democratic Party, nonwhites or swing voters.

A young man waits to ask Vermont senator Bernie Sanders a question in Des Moines, Iowa, September 27, 2015
A young man waits to ask Vermont senator Bernie Sanders a question in Des Moines, Iowa, September 27, 2015 (Phil Roeder)

We haven’t paid much attention to Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy at the Atlantic Sentinel for the simple reason that we don’t believe the self-declared socialist will win the Democratic nomination — let alone the election in November.

With Sanders rising in the polls in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, though, readers may want to know why that’s the case.

The party decides

First, as we pointed out in September, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s institutional support is exceptionally strong whereas Sanders’ remains virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, Clinton has stronger support from fellow Democrats than any candidate in living memory. Even Al Gore, who ran practically unopposed in 2000, had fewer endorsements at this point than Clinton does.

Endorsements are a good way to track which candidate is their party’s favorite.

The political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller argued in 2008 that “the party decides” presidential primaries, “the” party being broadly defined as a coalition of elected, local and state party officials as well as donors, insiders and affiliated interest and lobby groups. They don’t make their decision in smoky rooms behind closed doors but can influence the nominating process in myriad subtle ways, from writing caucus and primary rules (including crucial ballot requirements), appointing superdelegates, scheduling debates and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and organization.

On the Republican side, “the” party is still on the fence and will probably wait until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next month have provided fresh evidence about who is electable before rallying around a single candidate.

On the Democratic side, there really isn’t a contest. FiveThirtyEight shows that Clinton is supported by almost the party’s entire congressional delegation as well as most of its governors. Sanders is backed by only two members of Congress.

What the Democratic Party is looking for is a candidate who can advance its agenda. Hence Clinton’s shift to the left on a number of issues, including trade and the minimum wage, and her promise to expand on President Barack Obama’s accomplishments, like health care.

Sanders is doing the opposite. He is trying to move the party his way; a party that he wasn’t even a member of before this presidential contest. That is a tall order.

Minority support

The analysts at FiveThirtyEight give a second reason to be skeptical of Sanders’ viability: his lackluster support from minority voters.

The most recent YouGov poll has [Clinton] up 75 percent to 18 percent among black Democrats. The most recent Morning Consult poll has her ahead 71 percent to 14 percent. The most recent Monmouth poll has her up 71 percent to 21 percent among nonwhite voters.

When she first ran for the presidency in 2008, Clinton was up only 7 percentage points among nonwhite voters at this point in the race.

Iowa and New Hampshire, where the RealClearPolitics average of polls has Sanders effective tied with or ahead of Clinton, are largely white.

South Carolina, the third voting state, is racially mixed and more representative of the national electorate. A win there should put Clinton’s campaign back on track.

Middle class

Sanders’ appeal isn’t only narrow in racial terms. It is also narrow in terms of class, which is the third reason we remain unconvinced of his chances.

The working-man’s senator would hate to hear it, but his supporters are disproportionately affluent and middle-class.

That should work in a candidate’s favor. This website maintains that the defining issue of the 2016 election will be how to make life a little easier for those tens of millions of Americans who are neither poor nor rich but would be more comfortably off in any other Western country. They are the ones who will likely decide the outcome in November.

Except Sanders scares them away with his talk of political revolution and tax rises for everyone.

When Sanders rallies against police violence or proposes to nationalize health care, citing Canada and the Nordic countries as examples, these voters hear their worst suspicions of Democrats confirmed — and go running to a Republican. Sanders can make a good argument in both cases, but it’s just not an argument that a far-left Democrat from New England can win.

That may be unfair, but swing voters in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia don’t want a political upset. They want a safe pair of hands and that’s Clinton.

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