March 25, 2016
There’s a new Bloomberg poll. It shows Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton 49 to 48. That’s effectively a tie. Within the margin of error. Etc. Sounds like very good news for Bernie, right?
J. Ann Selzer runs the poll. She’s best known for surveying the Iowa Caucus, but has a strong reputation overall. FiveThirtyEight has her at the top of their pollster rankings. I’m completely certain she has a strong handle on basic math.
The poll covers individuals who say they have voted or plan to vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses. At the beginning of the cycle, you screen for likely voters, now in half the states, people actually have participated.
Speaking of which, the poll shows a slight disparity. Among those yet to vote, Clinton leads 50 to 47. See a problem here?
If Bernie is narrowly ahead overall, but Hillary has a slight edge among those yet to vote, Sanders would have done better with those who already did. Except Clinton has 2 million more actual votes.
People are lying. The question is why.
There’s more evidence of dishonesty. An additional question asked who respondents voted for in the 2012 general election. Twenty-one percent said they didn’t vote. That’s already a little questionable. More people vote in the fall than the spring. It’s unlikely that many are participating now but didn’t then.
Either they claim to have voted or that they’re planning to and didn’t/aren’t, or they’ve conveniently forgotten they did in 2012. Something is off. This is also the least suspicious part.
An additional 5% claim not to remember who they voted for in 2012. Really? If you’re reading this, you probably care more about politics than the average bear, but do you remember who you voted for? Do you know anyone who doesn’t remember who they voted for? How many people do you know who have forgotten a single presidential vote, regardless of how recent?
It gets better. Forty-four percent of respondents say they voted for Barack Obama. Thirty percent say they voted for Mitt Romney. That’s a 14 point gap. A full 59% of the people who can remember they voted, say it was for Obama.
While the election wasn’t a nail-biter, it also wasn’t Nixon/McGovern or Reagan/Mondale. Obama won by 4 points, not double digits. Why would people decide not to admit they picked Mitt?
Because he’s not popular right now. They queried the same voters on current favorability for Obama and Romney.
Obama: 57% favorable, 42% unfavorable
Romney: 32% favorable, 58% unfavorable
You’ll notice the close relationship between the percentage who feel favorably about Romney and say they voted for him. Bloomberg/Selzer has tracked Romney’s rating going back to 2010. This is the first time his unfavorable number exceeds 50%.
Democrats have never liked Romney very much. Now Trumpers have joined them. The result is a terrible rating. As a point of comparison, Paul Ryan is 40/38 to the good.
Assuming I’ve convinced you that respondents lie, hoping we’ve made a little progress on why, time to go back to Bernie and Hillary. We need to find out why they’re lying and if there’s anything predictive about it.
Our respondent pool was asked about attributes and issues. The results won’t surprise you. They correspond to the narrative that Democratic voters have Bernie in their hearts and Hillary in their minds. At least when it comes to executing the job.
Better temperament for the job: Hillary 51/39
Better dealing with Putin: Hillary 56/31
Better working with Congress: Hillary 53/36
Most appropriate life experience: Hillary 60/31
Knows the most about getting things done: Hillary 58/32
Can best combat Islamic terrorism: Hillary 65/21
Better at managing the economy: Hillary 50/40
It’s very clear Democrats think Clinton is more able to handle the presidency. The soft issues are another story.
Will fight hardest for the middle class: Bernie 62/30
Cares the most about people like you: Bernie 59/33
Is the most honest and trustworthy: Bernie 64/25
On the issues themselves, Bernie’s narrative is now wholly owned by the voting base.
Should trade policy have more restrictions? Yes 65%, No 22%
Overall result of NAFTA? Bad 44%, Good 29%
There were a couple Made in America questions that got strongly Trumpian responses. On trade policy, Sanders and Trump aren’t that far apart.
The inescapable conclusion/inference is that voters want to vote for Bernie, but actually are voting for Hillary. There are some voters who like Hillary better on both feelings and execution. They all voted for her. Same goes for Bernie.
Simplifying a bit, about a third of voters like Bernie better on feelings, Hillary better on execution. These are the people with a tough choice. At the actual ballot box, about two-thirds are choosing her. When asked what they did, about 60% say they picked him.
Staying with our conflicted third of the Democratic electorate, a third picked Hillary and admit it. A third picked Bernie and happily proclaim it. Most of the rest are the liars.
If Bernie had turned the liars into voters, he’d find himself ahead right now. If he can going forward, he can at least turn up the heat. It’s getting extremely late, but this shows the jailbreak potential within the electorate.
We’ve noted the Grand Canyon-sized gap between Bernie’s poll numbers and results in caucus states. Surveys showed him in a close race in places like Kansas, Utah and Idaho, only to have him win landslides.
The enthusiasm makes it easier to endure a lengthy caucus process. It also influences people who entered the room liking Bernie better, but planning on voting for Hillary. When the room is noticeably pro-Bernie, it’s harder to stick with the candidate you like less but think will do the job better.
So far, this effect is contained in these smaller caucus states. Had Sanders won Nevada, there’s no telling what might have happened afterwards. Had he won Missouri and Illinois, no telling.
He didn’t. The liars stuck with Hillary. Not only that, they are apparently less likely to fib if they haven’t voted yet. Even the Clinton campaign would tell you the upcoming states are more favorable to Sanders than those who have voted.
The South is done voting. If we think the gap going forward is smaller, quite possibly very close to the 50/47 Clinton advantage shown in the poll, it means the conflicted voters are being mostly honest about their intentions.
We’ve heard of voters being coy about what they’ll do. During the 1982 California Gubernatorial election, the Bradley Effect was invented. Polls showed African American Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley leading his GOP opponent George Deukmejian, but he wound up narrowly losing.
Some theorized white respondents didn’t want to say they were voting against a black candidate. There’s some conjecture about whether this actually happened, or they just messed up the poll. Either way, you get the idea.
In Britain, they call this the Shy Tory Factor. Same deal. In multiple recent elections, polls have underestimated the vote share for the Conservative Party. Maybe voters don’t want to admit their choice, maybe the sample is off.
Regardless, the issue is before the vote, not after it like we’re finding here. We explained why caucus polls underestimate Bernie’s support, but he’s sometimes shortchanged in primary polling too. In Michigan, they showed him at a big deficit, but he narrowly won.
Most of his defeats were more than foreshadowed by the polling. The only way I can square this is by figuring ahead of the vote people are talking themselves in to Hillary. This is at the front of their mind and they aren’t afraid to tell the pollsters. After all, they’ve had this debate with themselves and Hillary won.
After is when the regret sets in and they wish they’d gone with him. Hillary has won their state, so she’s on track. Having done the responsible thing, they are free to pretend they voted their heart.
Perhaps the description/explanation is laying it on a bit thick, but the point holds. Until individual state polls in places like New York and New Jersey are regularly showing Sanders even or ahead, Hillary is still plenty safe.
But she got far closer to losing than many realize. There is also a thin reed of hope for Sanders. He’s likely to win the next 5 contests. While his delegate math still looks like the Greek treasury, you never know what going multiple weeks without a Clinton win will do to perception.
She was extremely fortunate to escape Nevada and hold on in Missouri and Illinois. Had they gone the other way….
NOTE: We mentioned President Obama’s favorability rating was 57/42 to the good. If that sounds high to you, it’s different from the job performance question. On that measure, he’s ahead 50/44.
It’s his best performance review since early 2013, and best favorability number since late 2009. It’s a good time for Hillary to tether herself to a third term.
ANOTHER NOTE: Romney’s current status is even worse than it appeared above. Bloomberg broke favorability into very favorable/mostly favorable/etc. Obama got 30% very favorable. Romney was 7%.
FINAL NOTE: Trump is at 12% on that measure. If you figure Republicans and GOP leaners are about 40% of the electorate, and 30% of those are completely in the tank for Trump, that’s 12%. Another 17% are mostly favorable on him. Those are the voters who will decide the Republican nomination.