Earlier this week I sent a private note to one of America’s highest-ranking Democrats with a link to the RealClearPolitics page that lists every general election match-up poll pitting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.
A five-minute scan of this page reveals more about American politics than all other media coverage of the campaign combined. The polling finds that Sanders consistently defeats all four GOP candidates and consistently runs stronger than does Clinton in match-ups against them.
I am arguing that the data are screaming a message that cannot be denied: Across the universe of match-up polls, Sanders runs stronger than Clinton, Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Kasich. Period.
In other words, the totality of polling suggests that Sanders is the most electable candidate in either party.
Political insiders, consultants and pundits respond that if the Vermont Independent is nominated as the Democratic nominee, Republican attacks will destroy him, which may or may not be true. I am not arguing here that Sanders should be nominated. I am arguing that the data are screaming a message that cannot be denied: Across the universe of match-up polls, Sanders runs stronger than Clinton, Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Kasich. Period.
I am a Kennedy Democrat and learned politics from Kenny O’Donnell, the close friend and trusted aide to John and Robert Kennedy. When I was a young man working for Birch Bayh, the former Democratic senator from Indiana, my bosses would take me to the old Mayflower Hotel on late Friday afternoons, where Kenny would hold court and tell us stories about Jack and Bobby.
One day he told us why JFK chose Lyndon Johnson as his vice president. Kenny and Bobby had argued against LBJ for weeks. Finally JFK told them to give him numbers showing any other way he could receive enough electoral votes to become president. They couldn’t. Kennedy chose Johnson.
Polls do not tell us everything about elections, but if read correctly, they can tell us a lot. Pundits can repeat ad nauseam that nothing Trump says hurts “Teflon Don.” Really? Then why do polls show that both Clinton and Sanders would beat him badly?
Similarly, there is no question that data show Sanders outperforms Clinton against every GOP opponent and outperforms every Republican candidate, without exception, in general election match-ups. He is the only candidate in either party who can make a credible
data-based claim to being the most electable.
What would a clear-eyed political strategist such as Kenny O’Donnell tell Democrats today in light of the data?
Kenny would probably say that Sanders taps into deep currents of public revulsion against a politics and economy rigged by insiders, that he taps into economic anxiety that is far deeper with many voters than economic data suggests, doing so with an authenticity and trustworthiness that is a rare and precious commodity in politics today. He would say Sanders offers a progressive populist message that is more powerful and appealing than anything offered by the trickle-down economics of conservatives and the hate-filled politics of Trump, that the senator inspires devotion and enthusiasm from small-donor supporters that is greater than any presidential candidate in history and wins support from political independents greater than is achieved by Clinton or any Republican.
These are assertions of fact backed by reams of data.
Hillary Clinton remains the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. If she is the pick, to prevail in November she would be well-advised to consider with the clear-eyed political clarity of Kenny O’Donnell and JFK why Sanders runs so strong in general election match-ups, why her trust numbers and the enthusiasm she generates are dangerously low and how she can change this.
As the campaign approaches, the best move the former secretary of State can make is not to calculate when the time is right to move to the right but to reach out to Sanders and his supporters with sincerity and conviction and say to them, in word and deed: “I hear you.”
If she does, whoever is on the ballot in November will be the most electable and will win.