The Democratic Race: Sanders Surge or Clinton Consensus?

2 Comments | Category: Campaigns, Democrat, Elections, General

Over the past several months I have spent an inordinate amount of time talking and writing about the intense and somewhat bizarre race for the Republican presidential nomination. Thanks to the endless supply of fodder for discussion offered by the likes of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina, I have largely ignored the Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and to a much lesser extent, Martin O’Malley). Compared to classic, chaotic Democratic nomination fights over the past few decades, this race feels somewhat less disorderly due to the peculiar nature of the GOP contest.

For the past two weeks the headlines on social media and in many news talk programs have focused on Bernie Sanders’ growing lead in New Hampshire and the close race in Iowa. The talking heads, of course, are framing this as a reprise of 2008 when Clinton—who most everyone thought would easily take the nomination—lost to an upstart from Illinois named Barack Obama. Although it is true that Sanders is leading in New Hampshire and running neck-and-neck in Iowa, the pundits who say that Clinton is “in trouble” like she was in 2008 are angling for a good horse race story rather than dealing with reality. Let’s take a moment to address the reality of the Democratic race.

A national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on January 17 found that Clinton’s lead among Democrats nationally is growing, not contracting. In fact, she now leads by 25 points, up from 19 points a month ago. Specifically, she leads by nearly 60 points among voters who are choosing a candidate based on experience. She also leads Sanders by nearly 50 points among voters 50 years of age and up (who are the most likely to vote, statistically speaking), 40 points among moderate and conservative Democrats, 38 points among women, and eight points among men. She also maintains an 11 point lead among liberal Democrats who are largely viewed as bread-and-butter Sanders voters. Meanwhile, Sanders leads Clinton by 13 points among those who “want change” and just five points among voters between 18 and 49 years old.

This poll tells me at least three things about the race:

1) Sanders does better in Iowa and New Hampshire than he does nationally because those states are less racially and ideologically diverse (whiter, more liberal) than the Democratic electorate in the rest of the nation. Meanwhile, Clinton does much better among an electorate that “looks like America”. It should also be said that Sanders should win or do well in each of these early states since New Hampshire is in Bernie’s backyard and because Iowa has just never been Clinton Country. Just for the sake of adding a historical footnote, Bill scored just 3% there in 1992 and Hillary finished third behind Obama and John Edwards in Iowa during the caucuses in 2008.

Likewise, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a more centrist front-runner is under attack from a liberal alternative. This same scenario has played out in prior election cycles. Unlike 2008, Clinton is not facing an opponent who has done much to soften her own base of support among women, minorities, older voters, and less liberal voters.

Once the race moves on from New Hampshire and Iowa, the next votes will be cast in Nevada, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Kansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska. These state are likely to be fertile ground for the Clinton campaign, although Sanders will win Vermont and could do well in places like Massachusetts and Minnesota, which are Super Tuesday states. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Democratic politics in Colorado to proffer a guess about what may happen there. The point is that once the first two contests conclude, the lay of the land should favor Clinton.

2) Democrats appear to be behaving pragmatically rather than ideologically, with nearly 60% favoring the less liberal candidate who likely has a better chance in the general election. Meanwhile, Republicans are behaving more ideologically and less pragmatically with a combined 65% (according to last week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll) backing either Trump, Cruz, or Carson—the most ideological and likely weakest general election candidates. In short, one side seems to be focused on winning the general election while the other appears to be happily consuming as much ideological red meat as the candidates will throw their way.

3) Although I’m not wild about hypothetical head-to-head general election match-ups this far in advance, both Clinton and Sanders are leading Republican front-runner Donald Trump nationally by double digits (according to this NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey). This should serve as a wake-up call for Republicans who think that nominating one of the party’s most extreme candidates is a recipe for success in November. Alas, it is difficult to imagine the Republicans ending up with anything but a very conservative nominee, especially considering that the rhetoric of folks like Trump and Cruz seem to be pushing the rest of the candidates even deeper into right field. Either way, a double-digit deficit for the front-runner at this stage in the game should be enough to convince Republicans that their current situation is less than optimal.

We are still weeks away from caucusing in Iowa (February 1) and voting in New Hampshire (February 9). After years of involvement in politics, I certainly know that anything can happen. No matter the result in Iowa and New Hampshire, the news media and the voters need to look past the hype surrounding the outcome of two states that don’t necessarily resemble the Democratic Party electorate—or America—as a whole.

    2 Comments so far

  1. Bob says:

    Spot on! I hope my Democratic friends are as smart as you think! Bernie cannot win and as flawed as Hillary may be in the darkness cast by Faux News, she should be able to easily defeat the GOP front runners. It is my hope that the Senate flips to the Dems especially in PA! Toomey is a shill for the dangerous Club for Growth.

  2. Patrick Schwer says:

    Well done Mr.Shrader.. Something that really needs considered is a Hillary inditement. Now that will put more twist into this as a Chubby Checker record.

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