Bernie Sanders is electable, just not for the usual reasons

It’s early. Polls don’t matter. Bernie Sanders isn’t going to beat Hillary in a primary. Yeah, I get it.

But Holy Workers Party Revolution, guys. The Republican brand is so bad right now that Bernie Democratic Socialist Sanders is beating every single major Republican candidate in a CNN poll released yesterday.

Among the adult population, Sanders beat Jeb Bush 48-47, Scott Walker 48-42 and Donald Trump by a massive 58-38 margin. When narrowing the field to registered voters, Sanders trails Bush by one point, but maintains solid leads among all other Republican challengers.

To be clear, 41 percent of respondents had never heard of Sanders, so his leads over the Republican candidates could be in many respects a function of voters selecting a generic Democrat ahead of any Republican. But at the end of the day, isn’t that significant in and of itself? To the extent that voters are paying attention to the Republican primary campaign, they know that it’s a hot mess, and that whichever candidate emerges from the fray is going to be someone who doesn’t come close to sharing their values.

So sure, you can say that Sanders has little to no chance of beating Hillary Clinton in a primary campaign, but what you can’t say is that you shouldn’t vote for him because the general electorate would write him off as a beyond-the-pale extremist.

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

It’s also important to note that the CNN poll’s toplines recorded adults, while filtering for registered voters, and that likely voter models normally produce less favorable results for Democratic candidates. However, as Demos’s Sean McElwee pointed out earlier today, the kinds of policies Sanders is advocating — debt-free college, universal pre-K, basic income, ending corporate welfare — are the kinds of policies that turn unlikely voters into voters. Sanders isn’t electable simply because he isn’t as extreme as his opponents make him out to be, and he isn’t electable simply because the American public agrees with him on his core issues. The real reason Sanders is electable is that he has the potential to turn people out who otherwise wouldn’t vote at all.

As McElwee noted, 54 percent of unregistered voters — over 25 million people who are disproportionately comprised of low-income, minority and liberal voters — believe that politics is too corrupt; 42 percent believe that there’s no difference between the two parties. And when they say “no difference,” they may well acknowledge that one party wants to tweaks the marginal tax rate for the top one percent, or even that the two parties diverge significantly on social policy, but that isn’t their point. When they say “no difference” they mean that politicians in both parties are beholden to a donor class that is fundamentally opposed to addressing the root causes of structural inequality; neither party really cares about people like them. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who can make a credible claim to understanding this grievance, let alone wanting to do something about it, and for this reason he has a monopoly on the disaffected vote.

(You could make the argument that Donald Trump is tapping into similar disaffection on the right. He is, but those voters are turning out to vote for the eventual Republican nominee either way.)

There’s a reason why a poll last week found that Sanders is the only politician in either primary field with a net positive favorability rating: They like what he has to say, and they don’t think he’s sold out to the donor class.

Armchair political observers have a tendency to measure electability in terms of endorsements and fundraising as opposed to, you know, the number of people who say they want to vote for a given candidate. But by that metric Bernie Sanders is in a position to do just fine in a general election.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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38 Responses to “Bernie Sanders is electable, just not for the usual reasons”

  1. OGIS says:

    I wouldn’t be so… obvious about stating that. Might be dangerous.

  2. Chompachangas says:

    Sometime people who mess with the Clintons wind up dead.

  3. Disqustd says:

    I’ll vote for literally anyone against the GOP clown show. I hope Kermit the Frog wins the nom so I can vote for him.

  4. Paul Bergquist says:

    I’ve been a Sanders fan since I used to hear his regular once a week appearance on Thom Hartman. Who’da thunk he’d be here now? (I used to say, he’s great but he’s so darned boring. I couldn’t possibly imagine the American public figuring it out. But, I was wrong.) Go, frickin’, Bernie!

  5. OGIS says:

    If he shows any chance of beating Hillary, he will have an accident.

  6. Rhonda Chavez says:

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  7. taxicolor says:

    Jon, as much as I appreciate your writing, I must object to your use of the phrase “beyond the Pale”. It is offensive. John A frequently used it and ignored my protests. Please look it up and find what it means before you use it again.

  8. FLL says:

    From your comment: “We have 100 Senators, so every last one did that, and why is that a big deal?”

    If you insisted that an American candidate endorse the destruction of Israel and the deportation of all Jewish settlers and their descendents, you have an excuse to condemn virtually 100% of legislators at the federal level, not to mention the state level.

    Now… how do you use that excuse. If someone were inclined to support the Republican ticket, they would go to a progressive/liberal blog and write a character assassination piece about every last Democratic candidate (with a cut-and-paste statement about supporting the existence of Israel) and ignore mention of Republican candidates (other than a cut-and-paste disclaimer about “all Democrats and all Republicans” being equally bad). Well, what a happy coincidence! That matches up perfectly with the goal of supporting the Republican ticket. See how easy things are? (Assuming the readers are all idiots.)

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    There are no differences between centrist zionists and right centrist zionists from the point of view of ending zionist apartheid, ethnic cleansing and land theft.

    He says he’s critical of wars but he consistently votes for war budgets. That’s what characterized social democrats since the first world war when each national social democratic party supported the war effort in their nation. That’s why they became pariahs for leftists, who opposed all wars between imperialist powers. It’s why the left despises BS.

    “I am voting against the war credits bill today for the following reasons. None of the peoples involved in this war wanted it, and it did not break out to promote their welfare–not in Germany or anywhere else. It is an imperialist war, a war to dominate the capitalist world market and secure for industrial and financial capital the possession of important territories for settlement.

    In terms of the arms race, this is a preventive war launched by the pro-war forces in Germany and Austria in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and secret diplomacy.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    Sanders is a tool of the MIC, the worst for or corporatism. He’ll pull an Obama. He has no choice.

  11. pyradius says:

    As lofty as his speeches, Obama was always corporate controlled and had no history to back up his campaign rhetoric. In the case of Sanders, he has decades of Congressional effort that backs up what he is saying on the trail.

  12. Weston Frazer says:

    You should acctually read the articles you posted…

    “This relative silence on Israel-related issues, however, seems to have broken during and after the 2014 Gaza conflict, during which 72 Israelis and over 2,100 Palestinians were killed, the majority of them civilians. In an undated statement on his Senate website , Sanders decried “the Israeli attacks that killed hundreds of innocent people – including many women and children,” calling the bombings “disproportionate” and “completely unacceptable.”

    “Pro-Israel lobbyists have been among those to find Sanders elusive. “He’s someone who’s sort of avoided everyone,” said Ben Chouake, who leads the hawkish pro-Israel group NORPAC. “He’s one of the few offices that, when we try to get an appointment to come talk to him, we just can’t get in…”

    They also, in his pro-Israel stance category, had him being one of 100 Senate co-sponsers to recognize 60 years of Israel. We have 100 Senators, so every last one did that, and why is that a big deal?

    Below you talk about how he’s going to increase the fighting in the Middle East, why do you say that? He’s extremely critical of wars, if only for economic reasons. It’s nonsensical to think he’d increase interventionism.

  13. Bill_Perdue says:

    The problem with Obama and the Democrats TPP is the massive economic dislocations it will cause, similar to those caused by Clintons NAFTA. The US has been ruled by the rich and the banksters since the civil war and talk of sovereignty is a joke.

  14. Bill_Perdue says:

    Medical care under Humana/GSKcare is going to get worse, and soon.

    1) Health Care Sleaze: The Person Who Ran Medicare Is Now in Charge of the Insurance Lobby – Latest swing of revolving door puts former Medicare czar in charge of health insurance lobby. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s biggest lobbying and PR group, announced Wednesday that its new president, starting next month, will be none other than Marilyn Tavenner, who served as the chief administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services from 2013 until she stepped down in February.

    Tavenner’s appointment comes just a few months after the industry recruitedformer Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat, to head its newest front group, the Better Medicare Alliance.

    These two hires tell us all we need to know about where insurance companies see their pot of gold in the not-too-distant future. Some insurers, in fact, have already discovered that taxpayer-supplied pot of gold and want to make doubly sure that nobody in Washington dares take it away.”

    2) “The health insurance giant Anthem announced Friday that it is buying its behemoth rival Cigna for $54.2 billion, launching the largest such merger the country has ever seen and reducing the number of major U.S. insurers to a paltry three.

    Analysts and human rights campaigners warn that the move is poised to further slash access to healthcare and hike prices across the country, illustrating the problems with the for-profit model in terms of delivering vital services.

    The mega deal comes less than a month after insurance giant Aetna acquired Humana for $37 billion, part of a nationwide push to consolidate in what the Wall Street Journal referred to earlier this year as an “oligopoly wave.”

    The Anthem and Cigna merger is expected to be finalized in 2016, after which the joint company will provide coverage for at least 53 million people.

    Numerous studies show that insurance mergers lead to higher premiums, including a 2012analysis of a 1999 merger between Aetna and Prudential, as well as a report released in February which showed having more, not less, insurers in the insurance marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act leads to lower premiums.”

  15. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s Humana/GSKcare and it was passed the old fashioned way. Politicians betrayed the public option, or socialized medicine or whatever you want to call it. That and not a boondoggle for the rich like Humana/GSKcare is what working people need.

  16. Bill_Perdue says:

    One of the problems with Democrat/Republicans is that think winning is more important than actually helping working people, women, people of color and the LGBT communities. They put partisanship ahead of the needs of the people. And ironically, that causes them to lose when people desert them in droves. That’s why your party lost in 2010 and in 2014.

    It doesn’t matter what BS says. Obama made promises to and then he systematically broke them. Remember?

    public option –

    union busting –

    end the war –

  17. ScoBot says:

    “Bernie Sanders is in a position to do just fine in a general election.” Yes. This is my hope. It is a hope GIVEN, not PROMISED !

  18. Bill_Perdue says:

    Where have you been. He defended the murderous attack on Palestine by zionists. Anyone who supports the existence of the zionist colony in Palestine is a zionists.

  19. GregH3000 says:

    Like my avatar suggests, I can’t afford it and I’m not eligible for Medicare. There are thousands of middle aged guys like me who don’t have access to care and so do the best we can to take care of ourselves, or use the emergency room if we have no other choice.

    The ADA is a lobbyist’s wet dream, which became clearer when we learned Obama was selling out single payer behind closed doors while simultaneously claiming it was still on the table in March 2009. I’m glad you’re seeing improvement in people’s lives, but all that unnecessary bureaucracy for the sake of insurance companies’ bottom lines, CEO salaries and executive perks galore just inflate the cost of health care and make it tougher for the poor like myself to get access to care.

  20. zomgitsjesus says:

    Turns out Mrs Inevitable, isn’t.

  21. Mister Godiva says:

    as a president , should he get elected, he will have veto powers.

  22. Mister Godiva says:

    Every single day , every single article or opinion piece i read about Bernie always contain these 2 phrases ” he can’t / wont win” and his ultimate success would be ” hes pushing Hillary more to the left” . I cant’t believe how dismissive the media is towards him. its extremely irritating that the media is treating Hillary like a sure thing as if it’s already in the bag for her. we need to do something about this.

  23. Knottwhole says:

    After the disaster of Obamacare?
    It’s the ACA. As a nurse, I’ve seen a great improvement of healthcare for those who couldn’t afford it before. So, please don’t knock something you’ve evidently never needed.
    As for the two party system, you couldn’t be more right.

  24. Knottwhole says:

    “So sure, you can say that Sanders has little to no chance of beating Hillary Clinton in a primary campaign”.

    that may be what you say.

  25. pyradius says:

    As the longest serving Independent I am pretty sure Bernie has a good idea of what is needed to win, and running 3rd party is not it.

    As for sell-out, I think he sees it more as some lives saved while pushing for more. The guy who forced the audit of the Fed is a sellout?

    Show me another candidate who would ever speak like this:

  26. Doug105 says:


  27. FLL says:

    You’re missing certain subtleties. Sanders certainly isn’t a prozionist supporter of Netanyahu down here on the planet earth, but that is how he’s described in a galaxy far, far away. Said far away galaxy is also the home address of a few Internet loudmouths. Deliberate misinformation, you say? No kidding.

  28. hooter says:

    Saying that Sanders is prozionist is complete and deliberate misinformation. Give one single link, name one bill, anything that supports your lie. Sanders boycotted Bibi’s speech to Congress and has called for the mid-east countries to lead their own fight instead of us always picking up the bill. Now that won’t please the other candidates who depend on money from defense contractors but that is his stance. He is also the only Senator who fights to take care of vets when they come home while the rest only support them getting their asses shot off. So keep on spreading your misinformation as it only betrays your lack of confidence in the R’s.

  29. Bill_Perdue says:

    I wonder. They and the Clintons tried very hard to minimize Obama with racist comments and propaganda in 2008 and it didn’t work. One reason was that Obama made a lot of promises (none of which he kept) and succeeded in outflanking HRH HRC from the (fake) left.

    public option –

    union busting –

    end the war –

  30. hooter says:

    Sanders is the only honest candidate in the race. Love him or hate him, he is who he says he is. I like that he is one of the few who is fighting against rigged trade deals that undermine our national sovereignty.

  31. Bill_Perdue says:

    BS is doing well in the polls and drawing crowds.

    His campaign could take off the way Obama’s did in 2008, but that’s unimportant from the point of view of radically changing society by persecuting racists and ending gun violence by taking away the guns of the cops.

    His election won’t end wars of aggression against Arab and muslim nations, it’ll probably increase. BS is a rabid supporter of the zionist colony in Palestine and their version of peace is a piece of Lebanon, a chunk of syria, a bit of Turkey and Egypt and swallowing Palestine, and Palestinians whole. BS won’t end border racism or the steep decline in the income of working people and it won’t end the endless attacks on unions by the state and federal governments.

    Obama pretended to be a reformer and then betrayed everyone who elected him except for ‘people’ like Goldman Sachs and Aetna. BS, a Democrat, will do the same. It’s what Democrat politicians do. Republicans are more honest about being reactionaries.

    What BS will do is help split the Democrats, just as Trump is doing theor their cousins in the Republican party.

  32. GregH3000 says:

    After the disaster of Obamacare, with lie after lie, I stopped voting. I finally gave up on thinking the Demopubs were any better than the Rethugs, and the more research I did about how this country is actually a corporation, and how Congress is not empowered to represent we the people (bank bailouts anyone?), I realized I was right.

    Anyone who still gives any energy to this two party duopoly thinks like a child. All that hot air about hope and change; you may as well believe in the Easter bunny. I don’t mean to sound callous, but please grow up and stop voting; put your energy elsewhere, in your communities, for example, and educate others to follow your example.

    Please remember who gave a crucial vote to Obamacare in exchange for some health care centers in VT: Bernie Sanders. He’s a sell out like all the rest when push comes to shove.

  33. wfcollins says:

    Sanders has a much higher chance of winning the Democratic nomination than he does the general election. He is like Trump. He appeals more to one end of the party. Regardless of the positions he proposes, he won’t be able to get them passed. Although he may generate voter enthusiasm on the left, he will generate as much or more enthusiasm based on opposition on the right with the socialist label. I think Sanders fans often fail to see how negatively that socialism is perceived no matter how it is framed.

  34. Jamesi3m says:

    We don’t elect generic candidates. We elect well vetted and over exposed candidates>

  35. Indigo says:

    I think you’re right about taking Bernie out of the game but at the same time, Howard Dean was an easy target. Bernie isn’t quite that easy.

  36. Indigo says:

    That’s quite the Trojan horse link there. Very messy.

  37. nicho says:

    Don’t worry. The Hillary gang will find some way to paint Bernie as crazy before next January. It took the coporatists only three weeks to sabotage Howard Dean in 2003.

  38. Edeiwmurk Nivek says:

    Meanwhile, polls also show that Hillary would lose to any of the Republican contenders in all the key swing states.

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