December 28, 2015
He’s in! Bernie has joined TrumpWorld. In case you took a couple day break from anxiously tracking every campaign tremor, Bernie Sanders is now actively contrasting himself with Donald Trump. This makes sense on all sorts of levels. Might not work, but absolutely the right play.
Bernie needed press stat.
For weeks, Berners have complained their guy is getting ignored by various mainstream media outlets. Data shows they’re right. He’s especially overlooked by the network nightly news shows, which skew much older in their viewing demographic.
Perhaps un-coincidentally, Bernie trails Hillary by an extra large margin among relatively senior voters. CNN shows him down 5 among those under-55, down 34 with the 55-and-over crowd.
As we know from other polling, Millennial voters are even more favorably disposed than Gen Xers. The less dependent on traditional media, the more likely to support Bernie.
Even if he turns out under-30 or under-35 voters at record levels, without doing more to reach out to middle aged voters, the numbers don’t work.
After spending a few weeks without exposure and another week complaining Trump is getting all the attention, Bernie has settled on doing what works. Talking directly about Trump.
This should ensure maximum possible coverage over the next couple weeks. If he can bait Trump into taking a break from Hillary to attack him, all the better.
Some voters really are in play for both candidates.
People have compared Trump and Sanders as two outsiders making an impact this year, but few actually consider whether voters are choosing between the two. It’s hard to measure right now, but I think it’s very likely.
Remember, in many states, voters can actually choose one or the other in the primary. Some states (South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, etc.) allow any registered voter to pick either side of the fence. Others (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, etc.) allow registered Independents to choose.
In most Northeastern states, Indpendents outnumber Republicans and in most Southern states, registered Democrats have become very used to voting for Republicans. However, polling questions aren’t yet set up to catch this.
They do ask voters which primary they plan to vote in, but then shift to asking about the respective candidates in that primary.
When they ask about second choices (depending on how the pollster attacks it, somewhere between half and three-fourths of voters have not firmly made up their mind), they are restricted to the same primary.
So, while they recognize that a Trump voter might shift to Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, whomever, there’s no mechanism to see if Sanders is a fallback.
Same goes for someone currently leaning toward voting in the Democratic primary. We can find out if Hillary or Martin O’Malley are a second choice, but not Trump.
So, I can’t prove a large pack of voters is considering both. There is some circumstantial evidence. We know a bunch of voters are favoring outsiders. They both qualify. We know many voters are anti-Hillary. Her approval ratings are solidly negative among Independents.
If you aren’t a partisan Democrat or partisan Republican, and believe both parties are out to screw you, both may serve as an alternative.
If you are a very consistent Tea Party supporter, not a chance. Ted Cruz is the alternative, Sanders is way too pro-government. If you are from the McCain-Graham school of foreign policy, neither are an option.
But, if you are non-interventionist, both are an option, the difference is how bellicose you want your president. Both Bernie and Donald tell you the game is rigged, that super PACs control candidates.
Each say Wall Street speculators are getting away with murder. The pair constantly mentions the need to create good middle class manufacturing jobs. Neither are very specific.
Bernie blames greedy companies, Trump incompetent politicians, but the message is pretty similar. Supporters of Sanders need to trust government intervention. Supporters of Trump an all-powerful chief executive.
We’ve already seen with Ben Carson that some Trump voters are looking for a less egotistical option. While many fixate on Trump’s appeal to right-wing voters, much of his strength is with self-described moderates.
While Sanders is definitely presenting himself as a left-wing candidate, the CNN poll actually shows him doing better with self-described moderates than liberals (not by much, but still…)
For ideologically inconsistent anti-establishment independents (this isn’t a limited group), both candidates are actually in play. Bernie is reminding them he’s an option.
Bernie needs constant contrast with Hillary.
Most Democrats like Hillary. She lost in 2008 because they liked Barack Obama even more (though Hillary actually won more primary votes). Most Democrats like Bill Clinton (as do a majority of Americans). Most Democrats want to avoid a Republican president in 2017.
If Bernie and Hillary are six of one, half dozen of the other, Hillary wins. She does very well in debates, and there’s only one more scheduled before voting starts anyway. The big takeaway each time is that she’s more than capable enough. We haven’t seen her debate a quality GOP opponent, but Clinton more than holds up against Sanders and O’Malley.
As mentioned above, media opportunities are limited, so he needs to make them count. Sanders isn’t comfortable attacking Hillary, and it wouldn’t likely work well anyway, definitely not in closed Democrat-only primaries.
He’s got different views on foreign policy, but struggles to articulate them as a real alternative vision. His biggest burden is to show he would be more effective as a general election candidate.
Entering the Trump debate is his best chance. Regardless of what insiders and pundits think, many voters assume Trump will be the nominee. Hillary and Trump have spent the past several days mixing it up and The Donald is escalating.
How better to show he can deliver next fall than to join the pseudo campaign now. Sanders already has marginally better numbers in polling matchups with Trump, but that’s not a viable selling point.
Bernie is using very different anti-Trump language from Hillary, and it’s likely to appeal more to Independents, while ideally convincing some wavering Democrats he’s viable.
National numbers will affect Iowa.
Bernie needs to win Iowa to have any chance at the nomination. He’s trailing in Iowa. The most favorable polls have him losing by single digits, the most negative would argue we shouldn’t even worry about this.
As mentioned previously, there are three voter buckets Sanders needs to dip in to close the Iowa gap.
First-time or occasional voters need to know their effort is worth it. If the extra exposure boosts his national polling a little, creating a positive momentum story, they’re more likely to turn out.
O’Malley supporters who will need to choose another candidate in Iowa caucuses when their man doesn’t hit 15% in the room are more likely to favor Bernie if he’s a more legit chance to stop Hillary.
The Clinton-leaners are more likely to change their mind for a viable Sanders too. Especially if he’s shown himself as a good Trump-foil rather than a Hillary-attacker, if a few thousand Iowans decide they want a longer process, it becomes an option.
While Hillary is still a strong favorite to win Iowa and an even more likely nominee, the latest strategy shift indicates Bernie is more willing to do what it takes to compete while still holding to his core principles and tone.
Two things to watch. Does he keep this up for another couple weeks? If so, when the post-New Year’s polling comes out, did Bernie pick up the necessary couple/few points to get himself on track?
If yes to both, Iowa gets increasingly interesting.