By Kent R. Kroeger (June 1, 2019)
If I didn’t know better, I’d think the mainstream media is trying to undercut the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
“Polls show Sanders losing support, as others such as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris gain ground,” argues CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson.
The Morning Consult headlined in its recent Democratic nomination poll summary: “Sanders on the decline with 18–29 year-olds. Throughout March, Bernie Sanders had 45 percent of the first choice vote share among America’s youngest voters. That support has steadily declined and currently sits at 33 percent.”
“He can’t grow, and if he can’t hold his most important supporters? His path to the nomination, already near-zero, becomes effectively zero,” concludes The DailyKos.com.
‘Bernie is so 2016' echoes around dinner conversations from Greenwich Village to the Upper East Side. The liberal establishment can hardly contain their collective grin.
“He (Bernie Sanders) evokes an ersatz George McGovern: a candidate who inspires great passion among a slice of the electorate just large enough to win his party’s nomination, before losing to an incumbent president steeped in criminality. In more ways than one, America cannot afford him,” writes Richard North Patterson. “Sanders is a political tooth fairy, asking voters to chase a fantasy down a rabbit hole to nowhere. But magical thinking won’t beat Trump. The reckoning of 2020 demands a candidate with the discipline, talent, realism and resolve to make our collective reality better. Whoever that might be, it isn’t Bernie Sanders.”
But are these stories of Bernie’s demise true?
Similar to the Trump-Russia collusion myth, the ‘Bernie is fading’ narrative is based more on wishful thinking than reality.
The truth is….
According to RealClearPolitics’ polling averages, Sanders was pulling just under 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters when consistent polling on the nomination started late last year (see Figure 1). Apart from a period around his candidacy announcement, when his support grew into the mid-20s, Sanders’ polling has hovered within 5 percentage points of 20 percent.
In fact, the top four candidates — Joe Biden, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — have seen few substantive changes in their support levels since last year, though Biden’s support has grown somewhat (about 10 percentage points since the beginning of 2019). And contrary Nia-Malika Henderson’s claim about Harris and Warren’s surge, neither has seen any support growth.
Figure 1: Weekly Polling Averages for 2020 Democratic Nomination Race
However, Sanders’ critics are correct about one thing: 20 percent is not enough to win the Democratic nomination. He must grow his support beyond his current base (which consists of much more than just millennials and left-wing progressives, when you dig deeper into the data). And with over 20 candidates in the race, building upon his base is not going to be easy in the near-term.
But this is still early June and the Democrats have not even held a debate yet. To argue Sanders’ chance for the nomination is ‘effectively zero’ isn’t just wrong, it is unfair. Deliberately so, I would add.
“The Democratic nomination will be about who can most likely beat Trump,” said one Democratic pundit during a recent roundtable discussion on the nomination race. And Bernie Sanders can’t beat Trump was the implication.
Substance and policy be damned, the Democratic Party is saying to its core voters, ignoring that fact that the 2020 Democrat nominee employed the same policy-free strategy — and lost to the Orange Mephistopheles.
This is the message the Democratic Party establishment wants every Democrat to internalize between now and the February 2020 caucus in Iowa.
But will it work this time?