Home > News > Here's one important way Bernie Sanders is like Sarah Palin
177 views 3 min 0 Comment

Here's one important way Bernie Sanders is like Sarah Palin

- July 29, 2015

(Photos by J. Scott Applewhite and Craig Ruttle/Associated Press)
A new Huffington Post/Pollster poll of Democratic activists has good news and bad news for Bernie Sanders.  The good news?  These activists like him even more than Hillary Rodham Clinton: 65 percent have a “very favorable” view of Sanders, while 50 percent have a very favorable view of Clinton.  The bad news? Only 36 percent believe he can win the general election, while 87 percent believe Clinton can win in November.
Now let’s take a trip back to August 2011.  The good folks at Pollster did a very similar poll of Republican party leaders in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.  Back then, Sarah Palin was appealing to these leaders in key respects.  Most notably, 76 percent said that they agreed with Palin’s stands on issues.  But when asked whether she could beat President Obama in 2012, only 37 percent thought so.
In other words, Sanders is now like Palin was then: popular with the base, but seen as unelectable.
This matters a lot. We’re used to reading simplistic portrayals of primary voters as single-minded ideologues clamoring for a candidate equally faithful to the party’s core principles.
In reality, many primary voters are pragmatists. Sure, it’s nice to find a candidate who shares your every view.  But even primary voters — allegedly the hardcore of the party — want to win the general election.
This is why in 2012, simply telling Republican voters how the Republican candidates fared against Obama in the Intrade prediction market was enough to shift their views toward the more electable candidates.
And it’s why, as Lynn Vavreck and I describe in the Gamble, nearly half — half! — of Romney’s supporters actually placed themselves ideologically closer to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.  But nearly all of these voters also believed Romney could beat Obama, and that was apparently enough to put them in his camp.
Perceived electability is perhaps as important, and maybe more important, than ideological purity.  This is arguably one reason why Clinton, although less popular than Sanders with these activists, still out-polled him — 54 percent to 37 percent — when activists had to choose one candidate to support.
The importance of electability is also good news for Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, who are the candidates that the largest fraction of Republican activists believe can win the general election.  (Although the prediction markets give the nod to Jeb Bush.) But perceived electability can shift too: it declined for Gingrich and Santorum in early 2012.
In primary elections, ideological bona fides are not enough.  In fact, they can even be a liability.  The perceived ability to win in November is key too.