First off, full disclosure, I think questions of “electability” are total bullshit and really just a handy device used by politicians and media figures to constrain the limits of political discourse and save themselves any avoidable loss of potential pundit/politician credibility points. For pundits and politicians, taking bold positions doesn’t really pay. It’s risky, it opens the door for criticism. Conversations focused on ideas like “electability” helps people save face. That said, Bernie Sanders is the most electable candidate. Even though the term is inherently opaque and in my mind intentionally so, and no matter how much I detest the entire line of conversation, there is a clear case to be made and if you’re going to talk about electability, you have to talk about Bernie Sanders.
Whether it’s pundits overly skeptical of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, or politicians like Hillary Clinton or John Kasich hellbent on telling their base they can’t have what they want, centering the conversation on issues of “electability” avoids a discussion of policy, political theory, and how larger forces come to a head in any given political moment. Neither pundits or politicians are ever forced to reckon with their worldview and do the hard work that is coming to the conclusion that there is something fundamentally amiss in how their brain views politics. Because outside this media driven, who’s in and who’s out, sort of horse race drama that is elections and politics, questions of electability are decided on the basis of things that actually matter.
Voters, at least the ones who don’t live in the 24 hour news cycle, don’t really give a shit about “electability.” People care about policy, not the details of a white paper, but how any given administration will impact their material lives and personal well being. People care about feeling inspired, invested, and involved in something bigger than they are. Finally people care about personality and the subjective way a politician makes them feel, electability might strike at this element of politics, but overall I don’t think people decide whether or not they like a politician based on their perception of electability. However, they almost certainly let personality play a significant role in their decision. If you buy the assumption that people care about the material impact of a potential president, that people want to feel invested in something bigger than themselves, and that they let personality impact their decision; if you buy those metrics, I think Bernie Sanders is clearly the most electable candidate in the Democratic Primary.
From Medicare-for-All to Tuition Free College: Bernie Sanders Represents an Incredibly Popular Slate of Policy Proposals
One thing that makes Bernie Sanders a successful politician is the fact he has attached himself to incredibly popular policy positions. People overwhelmingly support Medicare-for-All and while the number changes based on specifics, it’s broadly popular, just like the medicare program itself. People also support raising taxes on the rich and raising corporate taxes. People also are broadly supportive of a less interventionist posture on the world stage, they’re skeptical of trade deals, and skeptical of Republican proposals to cut current programs.
Polling from January conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 56% of people strongly or somewhat approve of Medicare-for-All and that number shoots up to 74% when allowed to “keep the coverage they have if they prefer it.” That number drops to 37% support when people are told it gets rid of private insurance wholesale. Which begs the question, what exactly do people mean when they get to keep the care they have because I doubt people actually care about their insurance company. They like their doctors, they like getting care at a convenient local location, and picking up medications easily at their leisure. But I digress, the point is, people broadly support of Medicare-for-All in most formulations and Bernie Sanders has made himself synonymous with Medicare-for-All and some of that popularity spills over.
Polling also indicates Americans are broadly supportive of a number of basically any proposal to raise taxes on the rich. In a recent Morning Consult poll, 76% of Americans favored raising taxes on the wealthy broadly. For example, a recent Politico poll showed that 61% of Americans support Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposal. A recent Fox News poll shows that 70% of Americans support raising taxes on people who make more than $10 million a year, including 54% of Republicans. Raising taxes on the rich is broadly popular and Bernie Sanders has definitely made himself a symbol of fighting the wealthy and raising their taxes.
Bernie Sanders has also taken a number of positions that people find popular. Whether it’s his no vote on the Iraq War, his opposition to the TPP and worker focused criticism of other trade deals, and opposition to Republican austerity, Bernie has wed himself to an incredibly popular set of positions. Which is why there are so many people who support him so vehemently. It’s bigger than just Bernie, he’s attached himself to a broader vision of a better world that inspires millions of people. This is why he’s the most electable candidate in the Democratic Primary, because he inspires people who care about something much bigger than just Bernie and this attracts a broad base of support other candidates can’t match.
Bernie Sanders is Backed by an Energetic Grassroots Movement People Want to be Involved in
These millions of people are the people who fuel Bernie’s campaign. The hundreds of thousands of people who donated almost $6 million dollars on day 1 of his 2020 campaign. The almost a million people that signed up to be a part of his campaign in the week following his announcement and the millions more who ensure Bernie is one of the most popular politicians by social media engagements week after week. This energy is palpable and it’s fundamental to Bernie’s appeal and ultimately his electability.
During the 2016 campaign one thing that fueled Bernie’s insurgent campaign was his ability to attract big crowds of diehard supporters in city after city. These are the same people who knock on doors, make phone calls, drag their friends to the polls, and sit in lines and caucuses for hours to make sure they can cast their vote for Bernie. It’s hard to overstate how important this level of enthusiasm is for a winning campaign. There’s a reason Hillary Clinton almost lost to a no-name Democratic Socialist from Vermont, and then did lose to a blustery showman, she didn’t inspire her base in the same way. And when it comes to getting people to sit in some random elementary school gym for three hours on caucus night, Bernie Sanders has a distinct advantage. In no small part because he’s tied himself to that bigger policy agenda.
All this means Bernie Sanders has a strong base of support and polling proves as much. As much as 15% to 25% of the base supports him in any given poll. While Joe Biden often out polls him, looking a little deeper at the polling data shows that Bernie Sanders is often the second choice for would be Biden voters. More specifically a Morning Consult survey found that Bernie was the second choice of 27% of Biden supporters, while Kamala Harris was second choice for 15% and Elizabeth Warren for 9%. So Bernie Sanders has almost twice as much support from the supporters of his closest competition. Plus, Biden might not even enter the race, so who knows how that will all shake out.
At the end of the day, this strong base of support is required to run a modern campaign. It costs a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot people willing to devote that time and expend the energy. That’s why many candidates drop out if they have failed to gain a foothold after Super Tuesday. Bernie Sanders is leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else and his Our Revolution group has an active political organization in every single state. He’s already got the campaign infrastructure, he’s got the fundraising, and he’s got the people. He’s clearly the most electable and it’s bigger than just people and policy, as if that wasn’t enough, because he’s also one of the most popular politicians in America.
Bernie Sanders is Authentic, People Like That
Bernie Sanders is consistently rated very favorably and it’s worth noting that the primary did get pretty nasty, Hillary attacked him and there is a big chunk of the Democratic base that doesn’t really like Bernie because of sour grapes from 2016. Still, Bernie hasn’t exactly receded from the public eye and he’s still viewed very favorably by the majority of Americans. Over 65% of Americans have a favorable view of Bernie according to polling from Saint Anselm College. Bernie’s likability is hard to understand for some, but it seems largely rooted in his authenticity.
One thing even Bernie’s critics must admit, he’s been saying the same thing for decades. On issue after issue there is a video of Bernie Sanders saying in the 1980’s and 1990’s the exact sort of thing he says today. That made Bernie the perfect foil to the focus group tested Clinton, and would likely have a similar effect should Bernie get the opportunity to run against Donald Trump who changes position on any given issue multiple times a day.
Bernie’s also a curmudgeon, some people don’t like the way he points and waves his finger around, and he’s certainly capable of rubbing people the wrong way. However, at the end of the day, in this political moment, voters crave authenticity. And Bernie has that by the boatload, frankly he might have too much of it. At times I think Bernie can come off as hard nosed, too single minded, and too focused on his sky is falling message. That might be true, but ultimately it’s the same quality that enabled him to have a decades long track record of taking bold stances, even if it goes against the tide, and that remains largely unchanged. Bernie’s authenticity is his strength, it’s something voters crave, and it’s one of many reasons he’s the most electable candidate in the Democratic primary.
Bernie Sanders is the most electable candidate. Vague notions that politics is about chasing centrist voters need to be put to the side. Today politics is about enthusiasm and Bernie creates it everywhere he goes. It’s about building a strong movement and Bernie already has. It’s about authenticity and convincing people you’re on their side, and nobody is better at that than Bernie. Bernie Sanders is the most electable candidate in the Democratic Primary and if the Democrats lose again, it’s because they failed to recognize it.