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Would Sanders Have Won?

According to an analysis published in Mother Jones, in a word, no. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

Using the DW-NOMINATE system that ranks politicians by how liberal they are, nobody below 15 on their scale (meaning that they are less liberal than 15% of Congress) has ever won the presidency. Bernie Sanders scores a 1.

The next most liberal candidate for president was George McGovern, and he was crushed. Next was Walter Mondale, who was also crushed.

Every few years, the Democrats nominate someone is too far to the left of the country, and they lose, badly. So badly they become the butt of jokes. This is sad for us progressives, but it is just reality.

So if you think that Hillary Clinton lost because she wasn’t progressive enough to excite the Democratic Party, just remember that the Democratic Party is bigger than you might think, and includes lots of voters who are relatively conservative, even compared to Clinton.

The way to win elections is not to pick more progressive candidates. The way to win is to educate voters on the advantages of progressive policies, so they will support more progressive policies, and as a result, more progressive candidates.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has done an analysis of the voting trends before and after FBI Director James Comey sent his infamous letter to Congress. Silver stated that Comey’s letter had a “large, measurable impact on the race”. How large? Silver says that if Comey had kept quiet, then Hilary Clinton would have easily won. Silver has high credibility in this regard, as he was one of the few political analysts who predicted that Trump had a reasonable chance of winning. But when Comey’s letter was released, remaining voters turned away from Clinton, and by the time Comey sent his final letter saying that the “new” evidence was not significant, it was too late. Personally, I’m amazed that Comey has not lost his job.

Also published on Medium.



  1. Arthanyel wrote:

    Hillary lost for many reasons, but the biggest reason is in line with what Bernie was campaigning on: that the system is rigged against the 99% and we need a political revolution to undo the crony capitalism and plutocracy we have now. And Hillary was perceived as a poster child of the current broken system.

    Trump was seen by many as the only chance for change, and they were so convinced change was needed they ignored that the change they voted for is TERRIBLE.

    Would Bernie have won? We will never know. The analysis cited is of no value – EVERY analysis said there was no way for Trump to win either, and HE did. I would rather have taken my chances.

    I dont think Bernie would have won against a mainstream conservative candidate, but he might have beaten TRUMP as he would have sucked out many of the primal screamers for change and everyone that did vote for Hillary to stop Trump would have voted for him, for the same reasons.

    Bottom line – we need daily, concerted effort at the state level AND federal level to stop the conservative slide, stop voter suppression, and get good candidates who are change agents in play – while articulating what the Democratic Party is SUPPOSED to be the party of the working people and 99% against the corporate titans and the 1%.

    And while it is important to support freedom and equal rights for all citizens, we should stop making them the lead. Here is a simple idea: government should stay out of people’s private business. What they do in their own homes, with each other, or with their bodies should NOT be the government’s business. That brings in some of the libertarians as ell, and addresses the identify politics without slapping people in the face.

    Sunday, December 18, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Mike wrote:

    Liberal scale in not the only metric, and each election has its own unique environment. Gore was boring, Kerry was boring, Clinton was boring, Sanders filled stadiums, and would have drawn people in the rust belt. No Doubt.

    Sunday, December 18, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  3. Mike wrote:

    If you think Bernie was “less liberal than 15% of Congress” I think you’re smoking something, most likely, that’s a typo.

    That said, as I’ve said before, in a change election, DWS and the Democratic elite pushed for and nominated the least change candidate possible. We’ve seen the results and portions of the “blue wall” decided that they didn’t like being taken for granted.

    Yes, HRC won primaries in states she was never going to win in the general election; but to dismiss Bernie as a viable Democratic candidate because he won states that allowed non-Democratic voters to vote in the Democratic primary was the height of arrogance.

    I know you’re desperate to justify your and the Democratic national party’s belief in HRC, but the fact is that the Democratic national party is astonishingly removed from progressives, and seems to have no idea how to communicate a coherent message to progressives and moderates.

    The Mother Jones article blithely ignores the reality of the 2016 election, as did the Democratic national machine.

    Monday, December 19, 2016 at 12:20 am | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    Mike, read the post again. Bernie scored a 1, which means he was less liberal than 1% of Congress. Not 15%.

    I totally agree that this is not proof. There is no way to know what would have happened if Bernie had been nominated. But the simple truth was that he was not nominated.

    Monday, December 19, 2016 at 1:05 am | Permalink
  5. ebdoug wrote:

    Excuse me, Hillary did not lose. 2.8 million more votes for Hillary than voted for Trump. Please don’t forget that. When the east and west liberals have to move inland, Liberals will win.

    And today is the day we could have thrown him out, but no one is brave enough to do that.

    Monday, December 19, 2016 at 4:44 am | Permalink
  6. Kentucky Outsider wrote:

    My problem is very basic. How can we vote for a party platform instead of a candidate in this country? You can still have a party leader but they represent a specific agenda for what the party stands for and how the party plans to govern. If they don’t win a majority they need to compromise with the other parties to make a coalition. Too often in the past we have seen examples of a citizenry voting for a strong ideologue who can say anything they want, make ridiculous promises, lie and distort the truth and by their strong personality (with a little help from the outside), make it all seem plausible and realistic to a majority of the electorate.

    Monday, December 19, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  7. Michael wrote:

    “Gore was boring, Kerry was boring, Clinton was boring…” One thing that never surprises me about the electorate (this isn’t actually aimed at Mike) is the gap between what people say they want compared to what they vote for. People often say they would prefer someone who is competent and knows how to make things work…right before they go and vote for a charismatic buffoon. The whole “Who would you rather have a beer with?” thing.

    As for Sanders, not a snowball’s chance in hell. The label “socialism” is completely anathema to the Boomer generation, even when they agree with the actual policies proposed. The right wing has been very effective in vilifying certain terms. Case in point: Notice how nobody prefers the term “liberal” over “progressive” anymore?

    Monday, December 19, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  8. redjon wrote:

    There continues to be a problem with definitions… Using actual ones, “progressive” is the polar opposite of “conservative,” while “liberal” is the polar opposite of “bigot.” This past election being an excellent example of the very basic realities of those definitions.

    Monday, December 19, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  9. Mike wrote:

    Michael: Clinton didn’t, so far as I understand, do well with the boomer genration, but she also didn’t do well with younger voters. Those younger voters were the ones that, I think, would have come out for Bernie.

    All of this is merely an intellectual party game at this point, but had the Dem establishment not tried to hide the Dem debates, maybe this is a different conversation.

    What is clear is that the Dem establishment doesn’t seem to see any way forward. My view is replicate what the Repubs did with Obama (who was a vastly better man and candidate) and fight everything at every stage and make sure that Trump has to fight for everything – while constantly discussing his enormous conflicts of interest.

    Monday, December 19, 2016 at 9:20 pm | Permalink
  10. Jonah wrote:

    I like some things about Bernie but sometimes I think to myself I dislike more things than I like about him. Perhaps that is from his public persona where he always seems to be attacking businesses to the point of me getting exasperated. Instead of talking about was of getting people to work he is always talking about benefits for the unemployed. I don’t hear stuff about reeducating manufacturing industry workers so that they can find safer, perhaps better paid jobs in the tech world.

    Bernie lost proposition 61. He lost it badly and he lost it in california a liberal haven. HE may have lost it because the pharma industry put in a lot of money into winning prop61 but nevertheless it shows how Bernies ideas sometimes hit a wall.

    There is no guarantee he would have won. People may have tired of his repetitive tired message of its the pharma industries fault or its the banks fault. At some point he has to solve the problem and adopting policies that makes the us look like france is probable not the way to go.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 2:45 am | Permalink
  11. Ralph wrote:

    Jonah – your points are well taken and its arguable that Bernie might have served himself, and the country, better with a message that focused more on practical solutions than painting the business community and moneyed interests as the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the straw huts of the middle and lower classes, so to speak. Yes, he did stress education, healthcare and tax reforms, as most would agree is desperately needed, but the solutions that he did propose, like free state colleges, single payer healthcare, and much higher taxes on the rich and businesses, were categorically condemned by Republicans as socialism and as being essentially un-American (or as you said, trying to turn us into France or Canada). So regardless of the validity or practicality of his arguments and proposals, if Republicans are good at anything, it’s convincing a large segment of the public that anything that isn’t pure and free capitalism is tantamount to the evils of failed socialism or even communism. (Along with bringing the reliable 3G’s – God, guns and gays – into the fray as needed.)

    I agreed with most of what Bernie proposed but he probably bit off more than most were willing to chew at this point. Americans apparently need to be gently backed into gov’t sponsored and regulated markets, like healthcare, that have repeatedly failed to respond to normal free market forces. For example, who shops around for, say, a new hip or emergency heart surgery when you can’t even get straight up pricing info for most medical services? And why do our drugs often cost many times more than other countries pay? Hint: ask your bought and paid for Congressman. So much of this negative sentiment, or ignorance (“Keep your gov’t hands off my Medicare!”), is the result of the loss of confidence and trust in our gov’t and social institutions generally, often for valid reasons, which is perhaps an even greater challenge to progressive change.

    BTW, Prop 61 was not defeated “badly” in CA. The vote was 53-47 against regulating drug prices to be no more than the VA pays. And although polls indicated that support for Proposition 61 was around 57 percent, the opposition forces (mostly Big Pharma) threw enormously more money at it relative to its supporters. As reported by Ballotpedia, “No on 61 outraised supporters six-to-one. As of November 15, 2016, opponents raised $109 million, while Californians for Lower Drug Prices received $19.06 million. The top ten donors to No on 61 were all pharmaceutical companies or companies with interests in the pharmaceutical drug industry. Over 99 percent of contributions to Californians for Lower Drug Prices came from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.”,_Drug_Price_Standards_(2016)

    So whether or not one believes healthcare should be profit-driven, let alone blatantly profiteering, or if drug prices need stronger regulations, it’s clear that most people and businesses are deeply concerned and alarmed about the continually escalating healthcare costs and insurance rates that far exceed the general inflation rate for many years now. The system we have is a very complex mix of free-market and gov’t sponsored/regulated services and products, so the solutions won’t be simple either. The recent examples of drug price gouging has brought the issue front and center, at least for pharmaceuticals. Obamacare has its merits and shortcomings but, hopefully, our new and (ahem) improved Congress and Administration will not callously repeal its best features and leave millions without coverage that were able to come under its umbrella, as Trump and some other conservatives have (ahem) promised. We’ll soon find out.

    Happy Winter Solstice to all (or whatever your religious or pagan church calls it)!

    Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink