Bernie Sanders — who is absolutely electable — leads in Iowa for the first time

As FiveThirtyEight has already written, Bernie Sanders could win both Iowa and New Hampshire and then lose to Hillary Clinton everywhere else.

That didn’t seem very likely in early July, but it looks entirely possible now.

A Quinnipiac poll released earlier today was the first to show Sanders leading Clinton in Iowa. Sanders already holds a solid lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average for New Hampshire. While the 41-40 split in Iowa was within the margin of error, and other recent polls have shown Clinton with a (narrowing) lead, it’s still a big deal. Especially since Clinton’s standing would likely further deteriorate if Joe Biden officially throws his hat in the ring.

Sanders was an afterthought when he first entered the race — a protest candidate with no real shot at winning. Now, he’s got The New York Times writing (admittedly contrived and premature) articles about the Democratic establishment looking for a Plan B in case Hillary implodes.

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

Things could get worse for Hillary before they get better. As Ryan Cooper argued in The Week earlier today, much of Hillary’s buoyancy in the polls comes from her assumed strength in the general election relative to Sanders, but that assumption may not hold. Were Sanders to win the nomination, the Democratic base would have no problem coalescing around him, and party elites would realize that, with Republicans controlling Congress, they wouldn’t have to worry about any of Sanders’s proposed tax increases on the wealthy taking effect. Faced with the prospect of a President Bush or Trump, the Democratic Party should have no problem forming a coalition around Sanders.

As Cooper wrote, “The difference between any two Democratic presidents is going to be relatively tiny compared to that between a Democrat and a Republican.”

I’d take Cooper’s argument a step further: The case against Sanders’s electability is based on the assumption that because he calls himself a socialist, he’s too extreme to be President. But he isn’t. As I’ve written before, as measured by DW-Nominate, Sanders’s voting record makes him about as liberal as Republican Senator David Vitter is conservative. And Vitter isn’t known for being two standard deviations more conservative than his colleagues; he’s known for canoodling women who are not his wife, paying for the experience and pulling strings to have journalists who ask about it fired. In the last Congress, Sanders wasn’t even the farthest-left Democrat in the Senate, with Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin both registering more liberal voting records.

What’s more, what constitutes the center in Washington bears little resemblance to what constitutes the middle in the rest of the country. When you ask voters how they feel about socialism, they bristle, but when you ask them about the policies that social democrats like Sanders advocate, they love them. From polling conducted by the Progressive Change Institute:

  • 77% of likely 2016 voters support universal Pre-K
  • 71% support letting people buy into Medicare, and 51% support “Medicare-for-all” single payer health insurance
  • 71% support a large-scale ($400 billion/year) infrastructure program
  • 70% support a “Green New Deal,” entailing a massive investment in green energy jobs
  • 59% support the establishment of a basic income
  • 59% support raising the top marginal tax rate to 50% (the rate during Reagan’s presidency), and 54% support the creation of a new tax bracket for millionaires and billionaires.
  • 55% support a financial transactions tax

You can check out PCI’s full results and methodology here.

Americans also feel that our economic distribution should be far more equal — and that’s without understanding how absurdly unequal it already is:

inequality-page25_actualdistribwithlegend-thumb-454x189-35192

All this is to say that many of the planks in Sanders’s platform are simply assumed by the media as being extremely liberal, despite the fact that they enjoy support from a majority of the electorate. And that’s to say nothing of unlikely voters, who are both disproportionately liberal on economic issues and more likely to engage in the political process if they feel there’s a candidate in the race who actually represents their interests — a claim Hillary Clinton can’t make with any credibility. Give Sanders a platform to make his case to the American people during the general election — once they’ve actually started paying attention to politics — and there’s every reason to believe they’ll respond favorably.

What’s more, independent voters don’t actually exist, at least not to a significant degree. So even if all of the above weren’t true — if Sanders really was an “extreme” liberal who turned off moderates — it wouldn’t matter. His ability to energize the base and engage new voters would more than make up for any ground he gave up in the middle.

The one remaining case for Hillary’s electability would be that, as a former Secretary of State, she has foreign policy credentials that Sanders lacks. But with the media’s incessant (and ridiculously unfair) focus on her private email server, along with Republicans’ incessant (and ridiculously unfair) focus on Benghazi, that card has been taken off the table. It’s sad and unfair, but it’s a political reality.

So while one poll in Iowa does not an election make, today’s poll is part of a trend line that should make election observers take Sanders a bit more seriously as a contender. It’s high time they start at least pondering what a general election matchup pitting Sanders against any one of the current Republican candidates would look like.

They might be surprised at what they find.


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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22 Responses to “Bernie Sanders — who is absolutely electable — leads in Iowa for the first time”

  1. midwestmomof2 says:

    Bernie is calling for MASS ACTION. And he has been consistent with his policies for 40 years. He knows we need to show up and elect like-minded people to the Senate and House.

  2. savoy6 says:

    “The American people would never knowingly vote for socialism; but under the guise of ‘liberalism’ they would adopt every fragment of the socialist platform until one day America would be Socialist without knowing how it came about.”
    ~ American socialist Norman Mattoon Thomas

    This oft cited (but dubiously sourced) quotation is frequently heard during U.S. political debates.. whether or not it’s legitimate is irrelevant, because the spirit of the quote is in fact legitimate… and this quote, this notion, has gained renewed relevance with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

  3. Ekopy says:

    He’s been rumored to be considering a run.

  4. TruthSayer says:

    No other candidate is confronting real issues in America like Bernie. He is offering real solutions to issues that have been plaguing our nation. Ill be voting for Bernie in 2016 because he is the one to lead our nation into a new age.

  5. TruthSayer says:

    Biden isn’t even running for president.

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  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    Violence always originates with the rich and the rightwing. The English attacked the farmers militia in Concord and Lexington and the slavers fired on Ft. Sumter. We hope they won’t be so violent when the time comes for substantive and fundamental change.

    Voting does not produce change. Mass action does.

  8. mark_in_toronto says:

    Sounds like civil war to me. Good luck with that.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    The two party system is this country is very brittle and when people break to the left it won’t be expressed in electoral activity, but in huge fights to organize the unorganized, end wars of aggression, end domestic spying, for living wages for workers, students, single heads of households and retirees, for an police campaigns of racist murders and for socialized medicine, housing and education.

    Working people know the score and they don’t need Princeton researchers to tell them that the system is fixed and cannot change. Before it changes it’ll break and splinter. When it does we’ll compel real change by creating a workers state.

    That is the only real solution.

  10. mark_in_toronto says:

    Leave the Democratic Party and go where? I find it amazing that your two-party system has lasted this long. If there ever was a time for at least ONE new party . . . oh . . . forget it.

  11. Bill_Perdue says:

    You can chew on all the empty promises you can digest. I prefer to build mass movements for change given the fact that the US is not a democracy and that elections are meaningless.

    Socialists and leftists will avidly monitor how many people are interested in the BS campaign and how many people will leave the Democrat Party as he and it turns right, which he will do if elected. Alternatively, we’ll be interested in how many people finally break with the Democrat party if the BS campaign fizzles.

  12. mark_in_toronto says:

    Elections are just a popularity contest a la “America’s Got Talent” where people can compare their favorite to others.
    But, I’ll take Bernie’s empty promises over Trump’s any day and if nothing else, Bernie’s campaign is bringing attention to real issues instead of a directionless path of constant division and confrontation.

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  15. cricketcuff says:

    I really don’t think that Bernie is electable. And, as much as I hate to say this as a liberal, there has always been something about Hillary that is off-putting and just a little nasty. I’m liking Biden more and more.

  16. Bill_Perdue says:

    The problem is that Obama does nothing to end the reign of police violence.

    Killer racist cops are committing crimes against humanity and he refuses to order their arrest and prosecution.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    The question of electability is unimportant, given the facts that the US is not a democracy and elections have no impact on policy. “A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

    Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often. It’s beyond alarming.

    As Gilens and Page write, ‘the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.” http://mic.com/articles/87719/princeton-concludes-what-kind-of-government-america-really-has-and-it-s-not-a-democracy

    What is important are political programs. In that context the Democrats are a right wing party controlled by the rich, just like the Republicans.

    As for BS, his politics are consist of empty promises, support for the wars of aggression by the rich and support for the racist zionist colony in Palestine. He’s a stalking horse to fool people into voting Democrat, just as Trumps racist and violence inciting racism and misogyny is drawing people back into the Republican party.

  18. Jon Green says:

    Forgive me for questioning your use of “we” progressives there with your anti-“Obama’s War on Police” avatar.

  19. Skye Winspur says:

    That’s one of the most comprehensive issues polls I’ve ever seen. (It especially heartens me to know that 59% of respondents support a guaranteed minimum income – so I don’t need to be ashamed to bring that up in polite conversation.) Just as Americans can be made to look blisteringly stupid with poll questions like “Do you believe Obama is a Muslim?”, they can look awfully compassionate and, well, socialist, when given questions like these.

  20. crbngville says:

    Go Bernie!

  21. guest says:

    We progressives should perhaps question trickle-up poverty policies. Have they worked in Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore? Just asking.

  22. 2karmanot says:

    Go Bernie!

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