Hillary vs Bernie. Would a Sanders nomination be another McGovern debacle? Updated.
With all of the attention lately on Donald Trump and the Republican race, on the Democratic side there have been signs of Bernie Sanders quietly moving up on Hillary Clinton. Online, Sanders generates the kind of enthusiasm among posters in Democratic forums that we’ve been seeing in Republican forums for Trump. Given the known right-leaning biases online, it should also be noted that online polls overstate support for candidates with intense backers. After all, it takes time to search out the forums, to post, and to vote in online polls. People that do all of that are usually not representative of those that don’t. Hence, Trump post-debate (the first debate), in online polls was the choice of around forty percent, while national, probability-based telephone polls of Republicans show him with about twenty-four percent. He has, however, dominated media headlines. During a Town debate in New Hampshire this week, Trump sounded like a late-night host’s stand-up comic routine. My immediate impression was that he looked like David Letterman with a nasty edge. Those in attendance loved it.
Without an early debate, or a perceived competitive contest, there has been less media attention and fewer national polls of the Democratic race these past three weeks. Most of the major pollsters were two to three weeks outdated on the Democratic side by the time the media were focusing on the effects of some outrageous “Donaldisms” during the Republican debate and after on the Republican electorate. Those older polls showed Hillary with a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders and beating all of the Republican contenders handily–with her early numbers, when matched against Donald Trump, among her highest. Conversely, Bernie Sanders, with low name-recognition was shown doing much poorer in those match-ups against the Republican hopefuls than Hillary. How things have changed in such a short while.
Against a backdrop of Hillary-bashing by most of the Republican candidates, and the congressional committee non-stop attacks on Hillary for Benghazi and her use of her private mail server for governmental business, alluded to by Republican partisans as a crime, two polls have shocked Hillary supporters. The first showed distrust of Hillary rising to historic highs for her, up to fifty-six percent. The second showed Bernie Sanders actually beating Hillary in New Hampshire by seven percentage points. One recent poll showed Hillary’s lead over Sanders nationally to be down to an uncomfortable ten percent. Previous polls from two weeks earlier had her lead over Sanders a commanding thirty-six and forty-one percent!!
Is it time for Hillary to start running scared? Okay, the answer to that one is simple; Yes. Very scared, I’m not so sure. First of all, it is way too early in the campaign to start punting. Second, New Hampshire is in a neighboring state to Sanders’ home state of Connecticut and they are familiar with him. But the trust issue is troubling. Republican long-time campaign consultant Dick Morris, perhaps hopefully (he’s a long-time Clinton-hater having been dumped from an advising role on one of Bill Clinton’s presidential races-yes he was a Republican consultant before and after his Clinton role), writing with Eileen McCann present the argument: “Democrats,” they wrote at the end of July, “are likely to go through a process: First they won’t trust Clinton, then they won’t like her, then they will be undecided in the vote intention and finally, they will end up backing Sanders or one of her other rivals.” Much as I distrust anything Dick Morris says about Democrats, these recent polls seem to bear him out–at least in the short run. They clearly demonstrate Republican campaign strategy. Whether the voting public finds the Republican attacks on Hillary wearying over the long campaign, is the key question of this first part of the campaign for President 2016. I’ve already wondered at how well Donald Trump’s outrageous “Donaldisms” will wear. So far it’s worn much better than I thought possible. While Trump has shot up to about an eleven point lead over his nearest rivals in recent polls, Gallup has his favorable ratings holding steady in tenth place among Republican candidates. Clinton’s huge lead over Sanders, in favorable views among Democrats, Gallup found, has remained strong at 60 to 29 percent. Sanders’ relative unfavorable ratings do seem to be somewhat related to his lack of name recognition. Sanders had name recognition in only 47 percent of those Democrats that Gallup polled. That figure has remained fairly constant from previous polls. Favorable scores don’t translate directly into voting support. Back to the Republican side, Trump’s relatively low favorable rating does suggest that when the field narrows his lead may evaporate. In the meantime he should get a lot of publicity when he draws huge crowds in his upcoming visit to Alabama. Hillary, according to recent polls still does much better than Sanders in match-ups against Trump. More disturbing for Hillary are recent poll signs of a weakened pairings of her vs other Republican hopefuls. Her poll leads over various Republicans always figured to shorten as the political campaign neared. Party identification is still a huge factor in voter choices; as the race actually began it always figured that Hillary would start to be viewed as the Democratic candidate rather than as the efficient and relatively non-partisan former Secretary of State. Yet there are signs, as I’ve pointed out that the latter image has been eroded by the private email issue.
A Washington Post article wondered if the problem wasn’t Hillary’s campaign but Hillary the candidate. They are beginning to circle the wagons. The only problem is that the “they” includes a lot of Democratic Party stalwarts. And in the wings stands Joe Biden.
Now if Hillary’s email controversy sticks, we may have a whole new ball game. It really is too soon to know that, barring some criminal charges as some Republicans are calling for. I suspect this will not happen and Hillary’s numbers will go up if/when she wins the nomination and Bernie Sanders’ supporters come on board. The abnormally large number of voters who are now identifying themselves as independent, around thirty-five percent (as opposed to twelve to fifteen percent in most previous elections), makes prognostication this early a fool’s errand. Even more so with the new role that social media is playing. It’s not so certain that Sanders has no chance for the Democratic nomination if Hillary sustains mortal wounds in the lead-up to the primaries. And so far, Joe Biden hasn’t developed the kind of groundswell he needs to catch up with the two front-runners. Much as I am in sympathy with some of Bernie’s positions, they are the kind of positions that only a challenger with nothing to lose can espouse. Those positions, though, do inspire his young supporters. For the party, however, a Sanders nomination would be a disaster, in my opinion. Accordingly, I will stick my neck out and say that I can’t imagine Bernie Sanders’ status as a Socialist allowing him to win the general election for president. America just isn’t ready for that. It would be a George McG0vern-Richard Nixon race all over again.