Today, Donald Trump would probably beat Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup 538’s Nate Silver predicts. Ah but the election won’t be held today you reply. Correctomundo. When the election is actually conducted sayeth Silver, Clinton should squeeze out a 10-point win in the electoral college.
Nevertheless, her lead is remarkably slender. Under Silver’s polls-only forecast, Clinton now has just a 52.4% chance of taking the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from the current inhabitant in early 2017. Clinton does better in Silver’s polls-plus projection where her shot at winning is pegged at 60%. Some stats gurus may quibble with my reliance on Silver for the proposition that Trump is much closer to Clinton than he has any right to be. Sam Wang from the Princeton Election Consortium calls Clinton either a 60% or 80% favorite depending on whether you use a “random drift” or “Bayesian” analysis whatever they are. The problem with Wang is that in the last election cycle he was wrong and Silver was right.
The Princeton Consortium predicted the Democrats would maintain control of the Senate in 2014 while Silver correctly prognosticated a Republican victory. Others may argue that polls taken while the parties are holding their conventions are unreliable. Perhaps this is why Silver still projects Clinton to win. He has apparently discounted heavily recent national polls showing Trump with a substantial lead. The deadbeat Don is up by 7 points in today’s LA Times/USC survey. CNN and CBS both have Trump ahead as well albeit by smaller margins. Swing states seem to be following the trend. Nevada is now in Trump’s column according to one poll and Ohio is dead even according to another.
So it sure looks like CNN is going to have lots of viewers chewing off their fingernails while watching Jake Tapper’s five o-clock shadow steadily lengthen throughout the early morning November 9. If Hillary Clinton ultimately prevails, perhaps none of this will matter much. The reality-based community will breathe a sigh of relief that’ll last for a couple of months until she takes office and we start fighting again over whether she’s progressive enough or even a progressive at all.
The Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton for President last night mooting the question of whether Bernie Sanders would do better against Trump. But it is an interesting and important hypothetical nonetheless. Some Sanders supporters are reluctant to rally behind Clinton because they perceive the nominee, her backers, and the DNC as arrogantly dismissive of the Vermont Senator’s candidacy, his views, and his legions.
If, however, Sanders were indeed more popular than Clinton nationally, the Democratic ticket would be well-served to identify quickly and publicly strong pro-worker, pro-peace, and pro-environment progressives to serve as top advisers in the hoped-for Clinton administration. Concomitantly, Clinton’s base would have no legitimate basis for gloating over her “landslide” win the primaries and mocking Sanders voters as “immature crybabies” whose “demands” should be ignored.
So would Sanders be better positioned than Clinton to defeat Trump? It seems beyond peradventure that he would. For the first six months of this year, poll after poll told us this. Clinton’s biggest weakness then was that a majority of Americans do not believe her to be honest and trustworthy. Since she garnered the nomination, the number of Americans who say they believe her has fallen to a new low and she is now as unpopular or nearly so, as Trump himself.
In early March, I wrote Who is more electable Bernie or Hillary? Closing on an ambiguous note I suggested that while Sanders would likely garner significantly more votes nationally than Clinton in the general election Clinton might still be stronger. Her outsized support among senior voters and voters of color, I decided, could provide her with a significant advantage in critical Florida. That advantage alone might make her a better bet for Democrats than Sanders. Nearly five months later, however, it seems the importance of Florida has dwindled somewhat in the electoral calculus.
Despite forecasting a narrow Clinton general election win, 538’s Silver has moved the Sunshine State’s 29 electoral votes to Trump’s side of the ledger. In other words, Florida is not projected to be a tipping point state. Moreover, Clinton is behind there notwithstanding the state’s apparently friendly demographics. This means the election is likely to be decided in the rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin where Sanders would almost certainly be stronger against Trump.
The conclusion that Sanders would be a better Democratic candidate than Clinton does not rest on now months-old polls and her tumbling approval ratings. In a just-posted piece at 538, Silver notes that many of Sanders backers in the primaries are independents and very young voters who are not committed Democrats. While Trump appeals to very few Sanders voters, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson may pick up a significant percentage of them while others, Silver suggests, may stay home. Comments from disgruntled Sanders supporters on social media and in pro-Sanders email groups strongly support Silver’s thesis.
By contrast, Clinton won the Democratic primaries by dint of a huge margin over Sanders among registered Democrats. Such voters would doubtless have been disappointed if their preferred candidate had lost to the Vermont Senator But the seniors, voters of color, and coastal liberals who comprise the Clinton coalition would almost certainly have coalesced more quickly and completely behind Bernie Sanders than Bernie’s battalions have behind Clinton.
In part this is due to the sophistication of Clinton’s older voters. After suffering through the Reagan and Bush years, they recognize how badly a Republican President can screw up the country while in office and for years thereafter through retrograde Supreme Court justices. The understandable fear and loathing of Trump so many women, African-Americans, and Latinos have would also push the great majority of the Clinton coalition to back Sanders enthusiastically.
But it is also important to note that Sanders does not carry the baggage that freights Hillary Clinton. He is perceived as an honest straight-shooter. He is in no wise in thrall to corporate interests and his voting record reflects fealty to the economic interests of poor, working, and middle-class, voters. His pro-peace credentials are far more solid than Clinton’s. While Sanders does differ from most progressives on gun control, his mixed record in this area would likely help him reach a few more voters in the hunting hinterlands of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
The Bernie or Bust crowd should support Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump seems inclined to harm our nation and because there is reason to believe she could turn out to be a truly progressive President. She also deserves backing because she convincingly bested Bernie Sanders in a reasonably fair fight for the nomination. Unfortunately, many Bernie voters are not inclined to vote for Clinton.
Therefore, to improve their odds of winning, Clinton and Tim Kaine, along with the Democratic National Committee, and her supporters must explicitly acknowledge the essential correctness of Sanders’s policy positions and the popularity of his ideals and character. They must put aside their pique at a long-time independent backed by millennials and radicals who dared take on the Democratic establishment and challenge the candidate for whom they were ready. In short, they must commit to the Sanders agenda.