Hillary Clinton is facing a myriad of challenges in her bid to become president, but losing the Democratic nomination to Bernie Sanders is not one. Ironically while Clinton was widely considered to be far to the left of her husband’s Administration, she is now facing a party that has moved strongly to her left. Sanders is capturing the imagination and passions of not just the left but younger, more idealistic voters. He is the new, shiny object (though six years older than Clinton), promising an idealistic world with no college tuition and Medicare for all. Good luck trying to explain to his fans that Sanders’s proposals are totally unrealistic and financially untenable.
But having said all of that, and no matter what happened in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders is not going to be the Democratic nominee. He fought Clinton to a virtual tie Iowa and will likely do comparably well in most of the other 14 caucus states. The caucus process inherently favors strongly ideological candidates because they have the most passionate supporters. After all, few normal people bother to attend caucuses in Iowa or anywhere else, as a comparison of turnout in caucuses and elections shows.
Sanders won New Hampshire by a huge margin and will likely win most if not all of the other five New England states (Maine is a caucus state). But it is worth remembering that the states with caucuses tend to be small. Colorado, Minnesota, Washington state and Iowa are the largest. New England states are small as well; Massachusetts is the only state in the region of any real size. Put it all together, as my colleague David Wasserman has pointed out, a candidate winning 100 percent of all caucus and New England delegates would still only have 36 percent of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.
While there is obviously no national Democratic primary, the national polls do give an indicator of what is down the road. A recent Quinnipiac University poll, which showed Clinton’s national advantage over Sanders down to 44 to 42 percent, got a great deal of media coverage. But it should be pointed out that she leads widely in polls taken since the first of the year by large news organizations: ABC News/Washington Post (+19), CBS/New York Times (+7), CNN (+14), Fox (+12) and NBC/Wall Street Journal (+25).
On March 1, Sanders will likely win Massachusetts and Vermont. The Colorado and Minnesota caucuses will probably be close, but give Sanders the advantage. The outlook is less propitious for him in the Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia primaries.
Then there are super delegates, in other words, the establishment. All congressmen, senators, governors, state chairs and national committee members are super delegates, and very few support Sanders. The current super delegate count is 362 for Clinton to eight for Sanders, with 342 outstanding. In short, it’s tough to see Sanders winning 2,383 delegates, which is a majority of the 4,764 who can vote at the convention.
What should be more concerning for Clinton backers is the general election.
Democrats and liberals are not her problem. In the January NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll, Clinton was viewed positively by 71 percent of Democrats, neutrally by 15 percent and negatively by 14 percent, a net plus of 57 points. Among liberals, 65 percent have a positive impression of her, 10 percent were neutral, and 25 percent were negative, a net plus of 40 points.
Predictably just seven percent of Republicans view Clinton positively, five percent have neutral feelings, 88 percent see her negatively, a net minus of 81 points. Similarly, 16 percent of conservatives have positive feelings toward her, seven percent were neutral, and 76 percent were negative, a net minus of 60 points.
That leaves independents and moderates. She is in big trouble with independents. Just of 35 percent had a positive view of her, 11 percent were neutral, and whopping 54 percent were negative, a net minus of 19 points. Moderates were 44 percent positive, 13 percent neutral, and 43 percent negative, a net plus of one point, well within the margin of error. By comparison, in the last general election, Obama lost independents by five points but won moderates by 15 points.
So how would Clinton do in the general election. An old joke comes to mind. A woman is asked how her husband is, and she replies, “compared to what.” The answer to how would Clinton do in the general election comes down to “compared to whom.” Against a non-polarizing Republican, Clinton would have a real challenge with independents and moderates. Against a highly controversial Republican, it might be more of a fair fight.
In conversations with Democrats, I found them gravely concerned about the general election because of the divisions in their party. In similar talks with Republicans, who are also fragmented, I found them really worried about November as well. The truth is, each side has a lot to worry about.