Pragmatism in the Democratic Primary

Many Democratic Primary voters like both candidates in the 2016 primary. And I respect anyone’s decision to vote with their heart- by all means, do so. But, personally, I want the candidate I support in the Democratic Primary to demonstrably be the strongest general election candidate. I want the candidate I support in the Democratic Primary to have a track record of success in election after election. I want the candidate I support to be able to turn out both independents and new voters, and to be able to differentiate themselves from their opponents.

So, on all of these counts, regardless of how I feel about his opponent, I want Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee.

Now, I understand that many people feel strongly about Hillary. She has significant foreign policy experience, a pretty strong legislative record, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s already been in the White House. She’s a tough debater, and has connections to some of the most powerful people in the world. Of course, this is not to mention it would undoubtedly break barriers having a woman President.

But the job of a party’s primary is to select a candidate that has the best chance to win the general election. Hillary Clinton is not that candidate.

Bernie Sanders has the highest favorability of any candidate running for President in 2016, and it’s only climbing. As of March 2nd, his favorability average is +12.8%, and Hillary Clinton’s is 26 points lower at -14% (and dropping by the day). Favorability is critical to general elections, and choosing the only candidate in the race with a positive favorability has historically been a strong strategy for success.

Stats pre-2012 from fivethirtyeight.com here, updated with 2012 and 2016 numbers from RCP and Huffpo Averages

The two exceptions to positive favorability leading to a general election victory over the past three decades of elections have been when both candidates have a positive favorability rating. There has not been an instance of a candidate with negative favorability winning in over 30 years. Personally, I don’t want to take the risk of finding out what happens when both candidates have negative favorability ratings (Senator Sanders is the only candidate with positive favorability on either side of the aisle).

I might be willing to cast aside these doubts if Bernie Sanders weren’t outperforming Hillary Clinton in nearly every head-to-head comparison poll available (here is the most recent as of this article, where Bernie’s lowest margin of victory is a whopping +8% and Hillary loses to both Cruz and Rubio).

RealClearPolitics Average of National Polling as of 3/2/16
Updated RCP Average- as of 4/7/16 with the new top three contenders

And even then, I might be able to disregard those doubts if she were a much stronger performer in battleground states like New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, or Ohio. But the only state of these where Secretary Clinton is currently a stronger general election candidate than Bernie is Florida, and even then only marginally (1–2%). On the other hand, in head-to-head polling, Bernie crushes Hillary in New Hampshire, Colorado, and Minnesota (which, by the way, is only a battleground state if Hillary is the nominee), and edges her performances against Trump, Rubio, and Cruz in Ohio (I wasn’t able to find any polls for head-to-head matchups in Nevada or Iowa). Even aside from head-to-head performances, which you can potentially dismiss, Bernie won NH, CO, and MN by enormous margins, essentially tied her in Iowa, and lost by a tight margin in Nevada, showing that the Democratic base will more likely turn out for him there. Her crushing victories, although much stronger victories than Bernie’s, have been exclusively in states that will, with near-certainty, go red in the 2016 general (GA, AL, TX, SC).

Bernie Sanders has won the last 12 elections straight. Hillary Clinton has won two total, and lost this very race once before. Bernie raised $43 million in February, and Hillary raised $30 million, the second month in a row where his campaign has outraised hers. He is significantly stronger than Hillary with Independents, and even enjoys activist support from Republicans. He has had a consistent message for more than thirty years, and is immune to attacks of “flip-flopping”. Hillary has changed her opinion on the TPP, same-sex marriage, a bankruptcy reform bill lobbied for by and benefitting credit card companies, whether she’s a moderate or progressive, and who is to blame for the housing crisis, to name a few. Bernie Sanders differs from Republicans in several key areas in which they’re politically weak: voting against the Iraq War, voting against the Patriot Act in 2001 and 2006, and in accepting vast sums of money from billionaires. Hillary Clinton has common ground with Republicans on the same issues.

There’s an old saying: Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line. And I know that within the party, Hillary Clinton is beloved; in fact, she is the most beloved candidate by the party establishment in the history of the United States. But we can’t afford to fall in love and cede the White House to a Republican in 2016. There’s simply too much at stake.