I have lots of debates on twitter why I think Bernie Sanders cannot beat Trump so since it is tough to explain in 280 characters, I thought I would write up why. For starters these are just predictions what I think is most likely and I am willing to admit I have been wrong before so won’t go as far as saying Sanders has no chance of beating Trump, I will just say the odds are not very good. If you look around the globe, there aren’t very many left of centre leaders and the few you have like Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern, and Pedro Sanchez are all fairly moderate never mind none of their wins were very convincing and in fact first two lost the popular vote while latter had to form a very uneasy alliance. Whether it be Andrea Howarth in Ontario, Bill Shorten in Australia or in the most extreme case, Jeremy Corbyn; those running on bold left wing platforms have generally fallen short even if earlier polls suggested they had a chance. And in each of those cases, the more scrutiny they got, the worse they did in polls. Now off course US is different than other countries; still the fact Trump’s win lines up with the global trend towards right wing populism means you cannot completely ignore global trends. There have been a few successes like recent Mexican and Argentina election but those are developing countries that have little in common with the US.
Many point to polls showing Sanders beating Trump especially in key swing states, but if you look at most recent ones, numbers aren’t nearly as favourable. While a year ago, Sanders had an approval rating of around +10, his net approval according to RCP average is now -6 and getting worse each month. In many key states, he had double digit leads earlier, but now is barely ahead. That is not a surprise as many like his authenticity thus no surprise he polled high and when no one thought he had much of a chance that made sense. But as the possibility of him becoming president goes from a far fetched idea to a plausible one, people start thinking what does President Sanders mean. And some are starting to say, yes I like this guy, but I am not sure about his policies. And for those who think the decline will stop or reverse, I think it is more likely to get worse. GOP and others in business community fearful of him will bombard airwaves with attack ads and 6 months of those can really damage one’s approval. Lets remember Clinton at this point going into 2016 had better numbers than he did, so I think odds are if history is any indication, approval ratings of whomever is chosen as Democrat leader will fall.
One of the claims many Sanders’ supporters make is his policies are popular and he can win over many Trump supporters. While both are unconventional politicians and both won at anger at establishment, there are some key differences. Medicare for all may be popular notionally, but moment you tell people the costs or it means they lose their plan even if they like it, support plummets. And this is just one example, many of his other policies that are totally pie in the sky ones. Jeremy Corbyn’s policies individually polled reasonably well in UK, but ended up leading to a catastrophe as people’s pragmatism kicked in realizing they may sound nice in theory, but they were totally unrealistic and there is no reason to think with Sanders same thing won’t happen. He plans to raise taxes on rich which polls show is popular, but if you look at states who have had state initiatives on this, usually support tends to be much lower than what initial polls showed. That can easily be explained that most understand the rich will change behavior when you hike their taxes. They may not understand the details of behavioral changes like economists do, but still intuitively understand it does happen to some degree. That means government will be short for revenue and therefore they will have to look elsewhere and many quite rightly fear tax hikes on the rich today means tax hikes for the middle class tomorrow. Only way you can sell tax hikes on rich is either have them time limited to deal with deficit or use tax hikes on rich to cut for middle class and lower incomes like Austria and Canada have done. But off course doing the latter will ensure his new programs aren’t affordable. So much like with Corbyn, his policies may be popular on the surface, but dig a little deeper and that is not the case. Trump by contrast didn’t have any grand promises and was mostly bluster so his win was more based on emotional connections without any impact on one’s personal life whereas with Sanders the fact it will have an impact on people’s personal lives negates that initial emotional impact.
Many point to electoral map how Sanders is popular in the Midwest and this will win back states like Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania yet if you look at polls in those states, gap is closing and his lead over Trump is smaller than what Clinton’s was at this point in 2016. As someone who is travelled a fair bit to Middle America, those thinking Sanders will sell there don’t understand the culture. A lot comes down to who connects at an emotional level as well as policies. Most in those states hate Washington and last thing they want is someone who will make the federal government bigger and more powerful. If you don’t trust Washington bureaucrats, why would you want to give them more power. Also as we’ve seen throughout the world, people in those areas tend to strongly dislike your campus SJWs and the fact a lot of Sanders supporters are from that group is exactly the thing that will scare them away. The days of your blue collar union guy winning are over as unions aren’t as powerful as they once were and that was before the left dominated the intellectual urban class like they do today. Never mind many Sanders’ supporters completely ignore electoral history, both recent and further back. Mondale and McGovern got clobbered on similar platforms and while a lot has changed since then; voters who were old enough to vote then generally have much higher turnouts. Never mind in recent midterms and state elections, it is moderate Democrats who are flipping red districts and states blue, not left wingers. Left wingers are winning in very safe urban areas but not anywhere else so that should be a warning they may be popular there but not elsewhere.
Finally a big problem Sanders crowd ignores is demographics. Amongst older voters, Sanders is very unpopular and that group generally votes while he may be popular amongst younger voters, there is no guarantee they will show up and even if they do, that only works if they can hold onto the older voters like Obama was successfully able to do; won’t work if it scares away older voters like Corbyn did. Reality is Democrats have lost rural America and their gains will come from winning middle class suburbs with large number of college educated whites. That group traditionally voted GOP, but many are turned off by Trump and if Democrats choose a moderate leader, they can win those over. But chose someone as left wing as Sanders, many of them will hold their nose and vote for Trump or not vote at all. Case in point is a few polls show Sanders trailing Trump in Virginia and that should be a huge alarm bell as this group has many from that said demographic. So in states like Michigan or Pennsylvania, its possible Sanders may gain in some industrial towns that went for Obama and flipped to Trump, but there is an even greater danger he will cost them the middle class suburbs of Detroit and Philadelphia which are key to winning. Other than wishful thinking, there is no recent example of a strongly left wing Democrat winning in swing areas. Never mind a majority of Americans still view socialism negatively and in particular it is through the roof amognst over 50 crowd who generally vote. Simple math shows in elections, getting a voter from the other party to crossover has twice the impact of a non-voter showing up and voting for you.
In summary, Sanders can win, but odds are quite low and many on left thinking he is odds on favourite are doing so more on wishful thinking than reality. Many of these same people earlier suggested Podemos was going to win in Spain, but that never happened (although they are a junior partner in government) and many of those same a year ago said the same thing about Corbyn when in fact he led them to worst disaster since 1935. Some will blame Brexit or anti-Semitism, but polls showed it was a combination of many things and even without those two still would have lost, just maybe not quite as badly. Many are going on idea if someone as non-traditional as Trump can win, then surely Sanders can. But they forget with Trump, there were already signs that was possible. The tea party wave in midterm elections suggested there was a public appetite on the right for non-traditional politics whereas you have not seen any corresponding wave on the left, in fact quite the opposite. That is not to say I think Biden is a great choice, in fact as per my earlier blog with predictions, I believe the more I see, the more confident I feel that Trump is going to be re-elected even though I absolutely want him to lose.