Sanders Does Not Do Better Against Trump Than Clinton

Bernie Sanders only appears more electable because his supporters are unwilling to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 9
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 9 (Gage Skidmore)

Diehard Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to acknowledge that the Vermont senator has lost the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton have one last trick up their sleeves: convincing so-called superdelegates to override the will of the electorate and support him at the convention in July.

No matter that Sanders previously criticized superdelegates as an antidemocratic instrument to, well, override the will of the people.

The argument is that Sanders, a self-described socialist, is more electable against Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate, hence the 700+ superdelegates — elected and party officials, many of whom have endorsed Clinton — ought to put him, not Clinton, over the top.

This argument rests on a misreading of the polls (assuming the polls are altogether useful five months away from an election).

Not so tight

NBC News reports that the reason the polls show a tight Clinton-Trump contest is that many Sanders supporters say they would vote for neither.

The network’s own poll, conducting together with The Wall Street Journal, gives Clinton 46 percent support against 43 percent for Trump. Many of the voters in the remaining 11 percent back Sanders.

But if we assume that the bulk of those Sanders supporters will come around and vote for Clinton after all, let’s say 70 percent of them, the former secretary of state’s lead over Trump grows to 51 against 43 percent.

The difference holds in other polls as well, according to NBC.


So the reason Sanders appears to do better against Trump is that fewer of his supporters are willing to back Clinton than Clinton supporters are willing to back Sanders.

Which makes the electability argument in Sanders’ favor less of an argument and more of a threat: nominate our man or we’ll give you a Trump presidency.

Given that Clinton is on the cusp of winning enough delegates to secure the nomination, let’s hope that enough of those Sanders supporters will come around between now and November to stop Trump even getting close.

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