Would Bernie Sanders Have Won?

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shock victory over Hillary Clinton, many people are wondering how it could have been avoided. A common explanation I’ve seen a lot on social media, is that if only the Democrats had chosen Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump certainly would have been defeated. Only Sanders had the principles and honesty to mobilise and enthuse people to counter Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric. Some even go further claiming that the DNC rigged or even stole the election from Sanders.

The argument goes like this. Clinton was an extremely unpopular candidate who many voters saw as untrustworthy and too close to the establishment. In contrast, Sanders had very high favourability ratings and was seen as very honest. The opinion polls consistently showed Sanders with a massive lead over Trump, often double the lead that Clinton had. Sanders would have been able to tap into the strong anti-establishment feeling that was so dominate in America this year. He would have boosted turnout and been a huge motivator to Democrats and independents. He would have won over the white working class, especially in the rust belt that swung the election to Trump.

Now let me be clear, I was a huge Sanders supporter, I supported him from the moment he declared he would run and I even donated to his campaign. I would have loved if he became President. But I feel that the internet can often be an echo chamber. Young people overwhelmingly supported Sanders and overwhelm most internet forums. Everyone I know supported Sanders, so it’s easy to feel that he would have certainly won. But my friends and the blogs I read are not representative of America. So while I would love if Sanders was the President, I don’t think it would have been as easy and as guaranteed as others are claiming.

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First, let’s get one thing clear. The DNC did not rig or steal the primary. In fact, the DNC doesn’t have control over the primary, it’s in the hands of the state parties. Some have claimed that the Democratic establishment was biased or favourable to Clinton, but is it really shocking that politicians have political opinions? How could this be avoided other than by banning endorsements? Voters shouldn’t be seen as sheep, blindly following the establishments orders (surely the victory of Trump debunks that), millions of people voted for Clinton because they liked her better, not because they were ordered to. No one has been able to explain how one or two leaked questions (which were extremely predictable) convinced millions of people to change their vote to Clinton.

Nor can super-delegates be blamed, Clinton won a majority of pledged delegates. Nor was there a lack of media coverage, Sanders made headlines nearly every day during the race. Nor can the structure of the primary be blamed, granting only Democrats the privilege of choosing the Democratic party candidate is completely reasonable. Were the roles reversed, some would certainly claim that Clinton stole the election through undemocratic caucuses.

There is absolutely no evidence of fraud. Clinton received 3 million more votes, so if she stole the election, this would require an unprecedented fraud operation that would be enormous in size. She consistently led in all the opinion polls. However, this election has seen a huge growth in sensationalist, clickbait and fake news websites. I have seen numerous articles with dramatic headlines claiming evidence of fraud that are based on exaggerations or events that never happened. Sanders himself has completely rejected the notion that the primary was rigged. Clinton won because she received 16.9 million votes, while Sanders only received 13.2 million.

So while Sanders, certainly did have high favourability and polled very well against Trump, this is somewhat misleading because Sanders had never really been attacked by Republicans. Clinton had been demonised for twenty years, whereas most Republicans had never heard of Sanders. Do you really think the Republicans would have been soft or gentle to a non-Christian socialist? They would have thrown a mountain of dirt at him. Clinton was certainly unpopular but negative opinions of all politicians and all nominees have been rising for decades as the country becomes more polarised. Even minor issues like her emails were blown completely out of proportion, so it’s naïve to think that the same wouldn’t have been done to Sanders.

Sanders has some excellent policies to tackle inequality and introduce public healthcare, but these require taxes and to most Americans, taxes are a dirty word. To be in favour of taxes automatically loses you a lot of support and the Republicans would have constantly hammered him on this point. The only word worse than taxes is socialist, which many Americans associate with Stalin, starvation and the gulags. Trump dragged the discourse with Clinton through the mud and he would have done the same against Sanders. Sanders would have had to deal with wild accusations, bizarre claims and ridiculous conspiracy theories. If a moderate like Obama can be called a socialist, imagine the kind of Red Scare Sanders would have faced? For example, Sanders took his honeymoon in the Soviet Union which would probably be evidence for Breitbart that he is a Soviet spy. 2016 has shown that you can blatantly lie about your opponent and voters will believe you.

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There would definitely have been a Red Scare against Sanders

Speaking of dirty words, Atheist would have probably been thrown around a lot too. Sanders has kept his religion to himself, which some would interpret as meaning he has something to hide. Even being Jewish is not much of an improvement on being an Atheist in the eyes of some people. The silly displays of religion would have gotten even worse as Republicans tripped over themselves to highlight how Christian they were. To many Americans, Atheism is the definition of immorality and sin, something completely disqualifying for a President. Trump will believe literally any conspiracy theory, so he probably would have spread bizarre nonsense about religion being under attack and other lies.

In the race between Clinton and Trump, there was a strange false dichotomy that one side was as bad as the other, that Clinton was somehow just as bad and as untrustworthy as Trump. This is absolute rubbish, but that didn’t stop the media. Had Sanders been nominated, the narrative would probably have been that both sides were just as extreme as the other. Sanders would have been portrayed as the Trump of the Democratic party, a wild and unconventional candidate. Sanders would have had difficulty uniting the party behind him, a fact that would have been gleefully picked up on by his opponents to claim the party was divided and split.

There may have even been a major 3rd party candidate aiming to capture the centre vote between the two extremes. Michael Bloomberg seriously considered running this year and could have presented himself as the sane and reasonable alternative. I’ll admit that 3rd parties are something of a wild card and it’s hard to know how they could have affected the election, but it’s possible that they could split the moderate vote or at least prevent it from going to Sanders and given the election to Trump.

Could Sanders have beaten Trump among the white working class? It’s certainly possible, his policies would have a lot of appeal for them. However, class is not a major issue in America and people don’t really vote among class lines. How else can you explain how working class people voted for a billionaire? While economics was a factor in the Trump victory, it shouldn’t be overstated. Trump didn’t support unions and wanted massive tax cuts for the rich, so all he offered the working class was vague promises of turning back the clock to when there were still major factories in America. Even in his speeches, Trump never mentioned inequality, instead “political correctness” was the villain destroying America. Race was just as important as economics, if not more so. Trump’s campaign was largely based on identity politics, specifically white male identity.

While some believe Sanders could have had the best of both worlds, it’s possible that he could have had the worst. Sanders would have challenged Trump for the white vote, but there’s no guarantee he would have won it. After all, Clinton beat Sanders among the rust belt states (like Ohio and Pennslyvania) in the primaries and most swing states too (Florida, North Carolina, Virginia). Even if he did, Sanders performed poorly among non-white voters, especially black people. Perhaps his gains among whites would have been offset by losses among blacks and Hispanics.

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Jeremy Corbyn

Perhaps examining the British example is informative. After years of leadership under centrist leaders similar to Clinton, in 2015 the British Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn, a radical leftist similar to Sanders, as its leader. However, since the he has faced major difficulties. The party is divided, with most of the establishment considering him too radical and unelectable. Labour was unable to exploit the Brexit fiasco because the party choose that moment to implode into squabbling. The media has been relentlessly hammering Corbyn with scandals real and imagined, and there has been some success in painting him as an out of touch extremist. We’ll have to wait until the next election to see the full effect, but it should serve as a warning to those who think that Sanders could have strolled to victory.

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Or maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe Trump’s victory has made me too negative and despairing. Perhaps Sanders would have won. Perhaps he would have been able to mobilise the Democratic base and ride a wave of enthusiasm to the White House. He could have challenged Trump for the white male vote while holding the ethnic minority vote. His honesty and principles could have highlighted the dishonesty and opportunism of Trump. There would be threat of investigations or email nonsense to distract us from Trump’s very many and very real scandals. The rise of Trump has debunked a lot of the political conventional wisdom like the importance of moderation and political endorsements. Perhaps he could have beaten Trump, won back Congress and implemented the progressive policies that America so desperately needs.

I wish this did happen and maybe it would have, but we can’t pretend it would have been a guaranteed easy victory.

29 Comments

Filed under Politics

29 responses to “Would Bernie Sanders Have Won?

  1. Wasn’t this election proof enough that such speculations are specious at best? I think I am just going to shut up about this election. We don’t know squat.

  2. Daz

    While it’s pretty much water under the bridge so far as the US election goes—barring an unlikely electoral college miracle—I think it’s extremely pertinent to the next UK general election. As a dyed in the wool socialist, I find myself seriously considering, should it turn out to be a de facto two horse race, voting liberal. At this stage, any realistically achievable move left-ward is better than what we presently have.

  3. The comparison with Corbyn doesn’t wash. Sanders is the most popular politician in the country while Corbyn’s favorability I think is 30% or less.

    If you think Trump would’ve defeated Sanders in a general election, you’re saying the least popular politician in the country would’ve defeated the most popular politician in the country. How is that even plausible? ‘Because Atheism’? That’s grasping at straws at best.

    • Daz

      How is a person who took roughly 50% of the popular vote “the least popular politician in the country”? Certainly I think the man’s a pimple on the arse-crack of humanity, but unfortunately my opinion doesn’t define who’s popular and who isn’t.

      • How did someone with a colossal net unfavorability rating of 58% take almost 50% of the vote? Easy: he became the nominee of two major parties in a two-party system. 2016 was a change election and there was only 1 change candidate on the ballot of the two parties in the general election. Trump’s approval rating as president-elect is under 50%, the lowest in American history. This election was Hillary Clinton’s to lose and she and Obama really blew it.

      • I should also add that Trump lost the popular vote by ~2 million, which is only the fourth time in American history the electoral college winner was the popular vote loser.

        • Daz

          I know. That’s why I said “roughly 50%.” It still adds no credence to the assertion that he is the least popular politician in the country. Your claim is that no politician in the country would garner fewer votes than Trump did. Are you really willing to stand by this?

          I get it, I really do. No one wants to believe that a bigoted, sexual-molesting, fraudulent demagogue could possible be that popular. It doesn’t paint a comfortable picture of ones fellow citizens, so the answer has to be that he’s not really popular, it’s just that we, the left, failed somehow. Sorry, but he really is that popular. I wish it were not so.

          • “Your claim is that no politician in the country would garner fewer votes than Trump did. Are you really willing to stand by this?”

            I can’t stand by things I never said or argued. Scroll up and read again.

            • Daz

              The assertion “X is the least popular politician” is exactly equivalent to the assertion “No other politician is less popular than X.” The way we decide how popular a politician is, is by counting the votes they receive.

              So yes, that’s what you said.

              • Unfortunately popularity and unpopularity aren’t measured by votes. The assertion that “no politician in the country would garner fewer votes than Trump did” is yours, not mine.

                • Daz

                  Unfortunately popularity and unpopularity aren’t measured by votes.

                  What‽

                  I can’t see any point in continuing this conversation.

                  • You don’t seem to understand that a candidate’s unpopularity is not measured by general elections. There’s no way to vote against someone without casting a vote for someone else. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the two most unpopular candidates ever nominated by the major parties but because of the nature of America’s two-party system, one of them was bound to become president once they were the nominees. Trump winning the electoral college contest doesn’t make him popular.

                  • Be sure to avoid reading the Washington Post because they are saying the same thing I am: “One of the big stories of the 2016 election is that Donald Trump won despite being the most unpopular presidential nominee in modern history. The polls weren’t wrong about that; he won in spite of it.”

                    • Daz

                      Polls are at best a guide, and are usually little better than a guess. They turn out time and time again to have been wrong when subjected to the acid-test of reality.

                      Which part of “I can’t see any point in continuing this conversation” did you fail to understand? I am done here.

    • If Sanders really was the most popular politician in the country, then how did he lose the primary? If you find it incredible that someone with a positive favourability to someone with a negative one, well, that’s what happened in the Democratic primary.

      Corbyn was very popular when first elected (like Sanders), it was after sustained attacks that his popularity plummeted.

      • Daz

        If you find it incredible that someone with a positive favourability to someone with a negative one…

        Robert, I think you lost a verb in there somewhere. I think you meant:

        If you find it incredible that someone with a positive favourability lost to someone with a negative one…

      • “If Sanders really was the most popular politician in the country, then how did he lose the primary?”

        He only became the most popular politician in and through the primary — I guess you didn’t read the article I hyperlinked.

        There are 3 basic reasons why he lost to Clinton, the single most important one being the Black vote. Clinton amassed her ultimately insurmountable lead of 200-300 pledged delegates in the southern states where the Democratic electorate is overwhelmingly Black. There were some counties in the south that went for her against Sanders 99% to 1%, if you can believe that. And Clinton’s crushing victory among Black voters had nothing to do with policy since Sanders’ policies would’ve been much better for Black America than Clinton’s — it had everything to do with the fact that the Clintons are widely liked in the Black community and they’ve had a relationship with the Black community going back 3 decades or more. Sanders couldn’t overcome 3 decades of political work in the Black community by the Clintons in 3 months, but he did end up winning the under 30 Black vote by the end of the primary. Clinton’s vaunted strength with Black voters turned out to be ephemeral on election day — Black turnout dropped compared to 2012 and this drop in heavily Black areas like Detroit and Flint Michigan (where she lost by ~12,000 votes) cost her the election.

        Also, Corbyn was not ‘very popular’ with the general electorate when he first became leader — unless you think a net negative favorability rating is a sign of popularity. And he was certainly never close to being the most popular politician in the country, unlike Sanders.

      • “If Sanders really was the most popular politician in the country, then how did he lose the primary?”

        -Blame the same people who cost Clinton Michigan: Blacks.

        “If you find it incredible that someone with a positive favourability to someone with a negative one, well, that’s what happened in the Democratic primary.”

        -Favorability is not vote share. Clinton voters generally liked Sanders. The reverse was far less the case.

  4. Please have a look at your spam filter. I think some of my comments with hyperlinks got caught up in there. Thanks.🙂

  5. “This is absolute rubbish, but that didn’t stop the media.”

    -Indeed. Clinton was much worse and less trustworthy than Trump.

  6. “Trump’s campaign was largely based on identity politics, specifically white male identity.”

    -This is rubbish:

    http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/11/16/you-are-still-crying-wolf/

    This is what a map based largely on identity politics looks like:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/1964nationwidecountymapshadedbyvoteshare.svg

    “There would definitely have been a Red Scare against Sanders”

    -Trump was attacked by Clinton with open Mookarthyism. He won. Draw your own conclusions.

    “Race was just as important as economics, if not more so.”

    -Wrong. Trump’s vote share gains among Blacks and Hispanics were larger than among non-Hispanic Whites. Mississippi Whites have been consistently 80%+ Republican on the presidential level for a generation.

    “Perhaps his gains among whites would have been offset by losses among blacks and Hispanics.”

    -Nope. Blacks and Hispanics aren’t that picky. They even voted for McGovern. And it was Clinton who ended up having losses among Blacks (due to Her not being Obama) and Hispanics (due to Her email server). Draw your own conclusions.

    If anything, the main concern with Sanders would be losses among White ideological moderates.

    I know for a fact that I, as a conservative, would have been disgusted with Sanders (due to his Supreme Court picks and immigration policy), but would not have feared him rising to power anywhere near to the extent I did with Hillary Clinton.

    Perhaps Sanders would have won. Perhaps he would have been able to mobilise the Democratic base and ride a wave of enthusiasm to the White House. He could have challenged Trump for the white male vote while holding the ethnic minority vote. His honesty and principles could have highlighted the dishonesty and opportunism of Trump. There would be threat of investigations or email nonsense to distract us from Trump’s very many and very real scandals. The rise of Trump has debunked a lot of the political conventional wisdom like the importance of moderation and political endorsements. Perhaps he could have beaten Trump, won back Congress and implemented the progressive policies that America so desperately needs.

    I wish this did happen and maybe it would have, but we can’t pretend it would have been a guaranteed easy victory.

    -Agreed. Ultimately, Sanders would not have made himself an unacceptable candidate to 90%+ of the people who didn’t support him in mid-October, which Clinton ended up doing. The Greens would have gotten fewer votes, allowing Sanders to win Michigan, at the very least.

  7. Many people supported Trump over Clinton for exactly the same reasons they supported Sanders over Clinton. Often, these were the same people.

  8. You’re right, we will never know if Sanders would have beaten Trump or not. What we do know now, though, is that he couldn’t have possibly done worse than Hillary Clinton in winning the majority of electoral college. Yes, he could have lost more states and/or lost the popular vote, but the end result would have been either the same (a loss), or better (a victory).
    And the arguments against Sanders are persuasive, but a lot of these same arguments applied to Donald Trump just as well:
    Could cause a division in his own party? Check.
    Would be seen as too radical and extremist? Check.
    Does not share some of the party orthodoxy? Check.
    A newcomer who hasn’t been subjected to decades of political attacks before? Check.
    Would be mercilessly criticized by the opposite party for any real and imaginary scandal? Check.
    Not a Christian? Remember the “Two Corinthians” episode and Trump’s answers to any Bible-related question revealing complete ignorance of it – in spirit, if not in letter, check.
    And as you’re already aware, none of that mattered for Donald Trump.

    For all the legitimate and imagined weaknesses of Sanders, he would have been able to run as an outsider and a change agent just like Trump did, and would have neutralized Trump’s biggest trump card in this election. Would it have been enough? Who knows…

  9. Donn Ashley

    I find it sad that no one seems to be able to see why, even with Donald Trump’s faults, many Americans believe he can and will bring forth positive certain changes on behalf of the American public as a whole. Things that neither Sanders nor Clinton would never do. Doesn’t take popularity to accomplish what Americans are looking for.

  10. Pingback: Would Bernie Sanders Have Won? – stewilko's Blog

  11. Wow. You really are whistling into the wind, judging by the comments. Sorry. I don’t think he would have made it either, despite many of my beloved ones writing him in, or voting Stein instead of either major party candidate. I voted from Ireland, for Clinton, because I didn’t want to waste a vote. Wish more comfortable white people saw it the same way I did.

  12. Between these 2 devils, Trump won becos he was the lesser devil.

  13. I was just googling and your website popped up. Outstanding articles. Keep the good job. I have some different views but your articles make you think.

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