Instructive March Polls for 2020: Day Four — Bernie Sanders’s Viability

Author’s note: This will make more sense if you read Monday’s post:

  • Percentage completion of March: 87
  • Percent progress to February’s Visitor number: 86!!

This week I’m deploying a desperate attempt to reach February’s Visitor count by doing one short (read: under 1000 words) post a day with a theme: some kernel of illuminating information from a poll taken this month. Come check each day!

  • Monday: Trump’s Re-election chances — What do the polls say?
  • Tuesday: Iowa! — A look at recent polling for the Iowa caucuses
  • Wednesday: The “FoxHole” — A look at the Fox News’s influence on viewers
The 2020 Election Stat of the Day: Bernie Sanders’s Falling Popularity

Four years ago, a chief argument for Bernie Sanders supporters in the 2016 Democratic Primary was that he performed better than Hillary Clinton did against Donald Trump in head-to-head polling. As the more “electable” choice, among other reasons, they felt he made more sense as the Democratic nominee.

Many disagreed with that assertion, and I counted myself among them. Though Clinton indeed had near-record unfavorable numbers, it felt like this unpopularity partially stemmed from a quarter-century of her central place in America’s increasingly divisive political scene, and as a long-time target her approval had already bottomed out. Sanders, in contrast, was a feisty but generally harmless gadfly from Vermont. His unfavorables were lower — and therefore his general election polling higher — because Republicans hadn’t yet fixed their sights on him. Speaking to this point, my February, 2016 piece, “The Audacity of Democrats,” said the following:

“The alternative [to Clinton] is Bernie Sanders. The man who calls himself a democratic-socialist. The man who said, ‘Yes, we will raise your taxes.’ A man who has said that a 90 percent tax rate isn’t too high. If you don’t think the Republicans would have a field day — that they wouldn’t blanket the internet and airwaves with out-of and in-context Sanders quotes, complete with images of the hammer and sickle, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Castro — you’re crazy. Moderates voted for Obama because they didn’t fall for the right’s distortion machine, not because they actually believed he was a socialist. With Sanders, it won’t take much of a distortion.”

In retrospect, however, Sanders supporters are at least partially vindicated. We know Hillary Clinton lost. If Democrats were able to go back in time and switch their nominees, they would be stupid not to. It’d be worth a shot.

But I do say “partially.” We might know that Clinton lost, but we don’t know that Sanders would have won. I’m still skeptical.

In the wake of the surprise primary and general election victories of democratic-socialists Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, conservative media have seized on the rising socialist presence in the Democratic Party. They not only note these two democratic socialists have won election as Democrats to the House of Representatives, but they also remind us that democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders placed second in the 2016 Democratic Primary and now polling ranks him second in the 2020 race as well. The Democratic Party, conservatives conclude, is being taken over by socialists, and that’s a very bad thing.

This development puts conservative media in their element. They’ve ratcheted up their attacks on the socialist ideology, with Democrats AOC, Tlaib, and Sanders as socialism’s poster-children. One website even wrote a 4,000 word piece on Karl Marx’s influence.[1] Throughout the winter, socialist alarmism frequently carried the day at Fox News and other conservative outlets.[2]

The effects on Bernie Sanders’s favorability numbers has been palpable. CNN relays to us his falling approval among the general population:

  • CNN poll in June 2016: 59 approval/36 disapproval for a +23.
  • CNN poll from early December 2018 (a few weeks after the midterms): +13
  • Quinnipiac poll from late December (six weeks after the midterms): +2(!)

As his popularity falls, so do his head-to-head hypothetical performances against President Trump. Here is what they look like over the last two years:


What was once a consistent double-digit spread has now fallen to leads of 3, 2, and 2 in the last three polls. That is not a good sign for Sanders’s general election viability.

In my first 2020 Power Rankings, I said, “Give Republican political strategists and media a few months and they can make just about anything unpopular. Socialism will be easy.” So far, it looks very easy indeed.


[1]Just kidding, that was me.

[2]Of course, Republicans have long sounded the alarm on socialists taking over the Democratic Party. Now that real live democratic-socialists are getting elected, it’s a little like the boy who cried wolf, so it’s hard to stomach. Similarly, Democrats demonized every Republican presidential nominee of recent American history, so once Trump came along and Democrats said, “No, this guy really IS awful!,” many independents didn’t take them seriously. Ask a Democrat what they think of John McCain and Mitt Romney now. They’re fans. In 2008 and 2012, their tunes sounded quite different. Even George W. Bush’s reputation among Democrats has undergone a mini-renaissance. Perhaps that will be Trump’s greatest legacy. You know, besides his Wrestlemania performance.


1 thought on “Instructive March Polls for 2020: Day Four — Bernie Sanders’s Viability”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.