Bernie Sanders electability Q&A: What you need to know

Updated March 10, 2020

This Q&A is the sole work of volunteers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Today’s highlight

Bernie has won independent voters in 13 out of 16 states in the Primary so far, including in competitive states like Minnesota and North Carolina!

Source: Entrance and Exit Polls (CNN)

Bernie is unelectable

  • Bernie actually fares better than any other candidate in head-to-head polling match-ups against Trump. Latest February 2020 polls actually suggest he may be the only Democratic candidate beating Trump.
  • He was leading Trump by an average 10.4-point margin in June 2016 before the convention (8 points better than Hillary Clinton).
  • He beat Trump in nearly all surveys conducted since 2017 (63 of 68 head-to-head polls).
  • The same “electability” argument was leveled against Obama in 2008 (and Trump in 2016).
  • Importantly, he makes the greatest inroads into key swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that are key to re-capturing the White House. Biden would get pummeled by Trump on trade and other typically “left” issues like social security in the general election. Bernie is the only one who’s record and working-class appeal can win these states.

Bernie can’t unify the party

  • “Traditional” democratic voters recognize the need to beat Trump, and will eventually rally around the nominee.
  • The key difference is that Bernie is the only candidate who can expand the Democratic base to independents and other constituencies that traditionally don’t mobilize and/or don’t vote Democrat.
  • Looking at recent history, moderate Democrats with a united party behind them have not necessarily fared any better: Michael Dukakis (1988), Al Gore (2000), John Kerry (2004), and Hillary Clinton (2016).
  • In fact, in the last 50 years, only supposedly “unelectable” candidates outside the Democratic Party establishment have won the presidency: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Americans won’t elect a socialist

  • Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.  
  • It’s simply the belief that as human beings we should be afforded basic human rights such as healthcare, education and dignity.   
  • Democratic socialists including Bernie have been among the harshest critics of authoritarian Communist states.  Just because their bureaucratic elites called them “socialist” did not make it so. Socialism and democracy are inseparable.
  • From a European perspective, Bernie is essentially a social democrat. We rarely hear Americans ranting against “socialists” in Denmark or Sweden, or calling FDR a red?
  • A vast majority of Americans (including Republicans and Independents) believe that government should provide these basic human rights, so however you call it Americans are already on board with the democratic socialist platform.
  • A February 2020 Gallup poll found that 76% of Democrats would back a socialist for president. More democrats actually have a favorable view of socialism than of capitalism: 57% vs 47%!
  • Regardless of whether Bernie identifies as a socialist, Republicans will label him that way as they did with Obama and would do with essentially any other candidate! Liberals are routinely denounced as socialists in order to discredit reform.
  • Liberals are routinely denounced as socialists in order to discredit reform. So we might as well embrace a positive attitude rather than constantly being on the defensive!
  • We should stop letting Republicans set the terms of the debate and pick our candidates for us.

So it’s better to embrace a positive attitude than constantly being on the defensive.

Bernie can’t mobilize voters

  • Bernie consistently ranks highest in “likeability” surveys of all candidates.
  • His appeal is particularly strong among young people, independents and people of color. High turnout from these groups is strongly correlated with Democratic electoral successes.
  • Unionized and other working class  white voters who defected to Trump in 2016 are likely to swing back Democrat with Bernie as the nominee, especially in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Bernie received at least a third of culinary union member’s votes in the Nevada caucuses despite the union’s official stance against Medicare for All.

People of color don’t like Bernie

  • Bernie polls highest among Latinos by a massive margin, as well as with African Americans nationwide in the Reuters-Ipsos poll of 25 February 2020!
  • Bernie polls highest among Latinos by a massive margin, and is second only to Biden with African Americans (only a few % point differences based on last week’s polls).
  • In Nevada, California and Texas, he swept 53%, 49% and 45% respectively of the Latino vote! In Iowa’s four Spanish-language caucus sites, Sanders won by a landslide (428 votes against 14 for all the other candidates combined).
  • He also polled highest among Asian-Americans in California (more than 25%).

Bernie will hurt all down-ballot races

  • To the contrary, a Bernie nomination (and eventual victory) would mobilize segments of the population who rarely vote, and thus create incredible momentum that would upend the electoral map at every level.

Bernie will end up like Corbyn

  • The issue that dominated the UK election was Brexit, which Labour struggled to address. The party was also weakened by an antisemitism row, which seems unlikely to happen in the US with Bernie as the nominee!

Bernie is too old

  • Bloomberg is also 78, and Biden is only one year younger at 77.
  • Bernie polls highest with younger voters, and has motivated a new generation of young leaders (like AOC). His energy and drive are reflected by the massive support of the youth.
  •  Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson suffered serious heart attacks before serving as President, and so did Dick Cheney before becoming VP.


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