Updated by Jeff Stein on February 5, 2016, 3:00 p.m. ET
Bernie Sanders has gone from long-shot candidate to a real contender for the Democratic nomination for president.
Were Democrats to make the “democratic socialist” from Vermont their nominee, would he have a chance of winning a general election?
We posed that question to six of the country’s top political scientists, and their answers were broadly consistent: Under some unlikely circumstances, Sanders could win a general election. But nominating him would make it significantly more difficult for Democrats to keep the White House.
“[Sanders’s] political views are more toward the ideological pole than the average voter’s,” said John Sides, a professor in political science at George Washington University, in an email. “Absent a very favorable set of conditions, nominating a candidate like Sanders as opposed to a more moderate Democrat creates the risk of a penalty at the ballot box.”
The famous social science experiment that shows why Sanders would be easy to beat
But that in turn raises another (perhaps more obvious) question: What turns people off from extreme ideas? Why are voters less likely to support candidates who propose more radical solutions?
That question may be answered by a series of famous social science studies conducted several decades ago by Princeton University professor Daniel Kahneman, according to Bruce Miroff, a political science professor at the University at Albany.
The researchers found that people were much more upset by the prospect of losing some amount of their money than they were made happy by the prospect of gaining the same amount. The upshot: People have a strong psychological fear of loss — even when they know it might result in a better long-term outcome.
“If you offer people the opportunity for gain against the fear of loss, the fear of loss is twice as psychologically powerful as the hope for gain,” Miroff said.
This phenomenon is called “loss aversion,” and it holds true for political psychology as well as behavioral economics, according to Miroff.
There are many of good examples of this at work in our political system: the revolt against “Hillarycare” in the 1990s, the panic over George Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security in the early 2000s, and, more recently, the public souring on Obamacare. (Obama’s promise that people who liked their plan could keep it was dubbed the lie of the year.)
This dynamic could hurt Sanders, who proposes policies that promise a big upside — but only through serious disruption that the other side will portray as fundamentally dangerous and risky, Miroff said.
“Once the opposition starts saying, ‘That may help some people, but most of you are going to lose what you already got,’ the polls start plummeting,” Miroff said.
In a general election, for instance, Republicans could effectively (and accurately) portray Sanders’s single-payer health care proposal as one that would lead many people to lose what they already know and like. The long-term gains of reducing national health spending and increasing overall insurance rates would be abstract gains for many voters, and thus hard to sell against the fear of loss.
“Anyone who stakes out positions that will affect huge numbers of people — in that, the advantage goes to the opposition, because they can stoke fear,” Miroff said.
How voters decide who to vote for in elections
Fear of sudden, dramatic change could impede Sanders in a general election. But just as powerfully, Republicans could also successfully portray Sanders as out of step with the average American’s political views, according to the academics interviewed for this story.
There isn’t a lot of doubt that this would have a big impact in an election. Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.
“They look and identify themselves on a liberal-conservative dimension, and they pick who is closer to them,” said Andrew Reeves, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis. “From that perspective, Sanders is positioned fairly far out there on the left.”
There is some evidence that this year might be different, and that an unprecedented level of dissatisfaction with American government could lead the public to choose candidates who promise to break with the status quo. But even that force is very unlikely to override our most basic models for how voters act, Reeves said.
“Are [voters] going to abandon someone who is most close to them ideologically to go with someone who will shake things up?” Reeves said. “I don’t think there’s evidence to that effect yet.”
As Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes, President Barack Obama won in 2012 even though most voters found themselves more ideologically aligned with Mitt Romney. Sanders would have an even bigger ideological gap to close.
Chart from professors Lynn Vavreck and John Sides.
The history of “movement candidacies” in American presidential politics isn’t encouraging for Bernie fans
The social science research on voter tendencies is supported by modern American political history, which most of the experts referenced in expressing doubt with Sanders’s general election chances.
The two most frequently cited examples were the failed candidacies of George McGovern, the Democratic nominee who lost in a 24-point landslide to Richard Nixon in 1972, and Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee who carried just six states in 1964.
George McGovern speaks to many ILGWU supporters at an open-air campaign rally, Oct. 15, 1972
George McGovern at a campaign rally on October 15, 1972. McGovern’s defeat should give pause to liberals thinking Bernie Sanders could realign the electoral map overnight, political scientists say. (Courtesy of the Kheel Center at Cornell University)
None of the professors thought Sanders would, if nominated, lose by such huge margins. But they saw the historical comparison as telling of the steep odds facing anyone who breaks sharply from the political consensus, especially if the Republicans nominate a candidate — like Marco Rubio — perceived as within the mainstream.
“I think Sanders-Rubio is McGovern-Nixon,” said Seth McKee, a political science professor at Texas Tech University. “I think it’d be a blowout: I’d discount [Sanders] maybe 10 percent.”
Jedediah Purdy, a Duke University law professor who has written about American political identity, said that Sanders is trying to pull off something largely unprecedented in so quickly shifting his party’s platform.
Purdy framed it like this: Some presidential candidates really can transform the electoral landscape and capture the White House. But to do so successfully, these candidates are normally building on the groundwork laid by similar, prior campaigns.
“Goldwater’s movement campaign and the lessons mainstream Republicans took from it afterward made [Ronald] Reagan’s campaign possible in 1980 by rearranging the whole political landscape,” Purdy said in an email.
There’s not a lot of reason to believe Sanders could bring about this degree of change with his profoundly different platform, Purdy said.
“Sanders is trying to achieve realignment much more quickly than that,” Purdy said. “In terms of the suddenness and degree of his break with the mainstream, he looks like Goldwater in 1964 more than like Reagan.”
How much, exactly, would Democrats be hurt by nominating Sanders?
Let’s say you’re a Democrat who prefers Sanders to Clinton, but you worry that nominating Sanders would throw the presidency to a Republican. Is there a way to quantify the risk you’d be taking in rolling the dice with the less electable candidate?
Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, said his best “ballpark estimate” is that Sanders would cost the Democratic Party 2 to 3 percentage points in a general election compared with a more conventional nominee.
“It’s not as big an effect as flipping a growing economy to one in recession,” Masket said. “It’s more like flipping a growing economy to a stalled one.”
Miroff, a political science professor at the University at Albany, said he thinks Masket’s estimate is likely too conservative.
“I’d say it’d have to be considerably higher than 2 to 3 points. I’m thinking the loss would be in the vicinity of 6 to 10 points,” Miroff said.
Republicans would find it easy to tie Sanders to the “socialist” label, Miroff said, adding that only 25 percent of the public trusts the government to carry out policies effectively.
“(Sanders) really has made radical, socialistic statements in the past about the redistribution of wealth and the expropriation of the oil industry,” Miroff said. “The full force of a Republican attack would find Sanders to be a convenient target.”
bernie sanders sentences
Bernie Sanders announces his campaign. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Why those head-to-head general election polls are “absolutely worthless”
In defense of their candidate’s electability, Sanders supporters have often turned to general election polls that show him doing well in head-to-head matchups with potential Republicans.
Sanders himself has recently embraced this argument, telling ABC News that he was the most electable candidate in part because of a poll showing him beating Donald Trump in a general election.
“Take a look at recent polls in which Bernie Sanders is matched with Republican candidates Trump on down [and] Hillary Clinton is matched with Republican candidates,” he said.
But it’s regarded as blindingly obvious among political scientists that these findings are essentially illusory, and that general election polls this far out are about as predictive now as a weather forecast for Election Day.
“The impressions people have of the eventual nominees months from now will be so different from today,” said McKee, the Texas Tech professor. “That’s a nice thing to point to, but what does a head-to-head poll mean in early February? … It’s worthless. It’s absolutely worthless.”
Was this article helpful?
NO. I’d never vote for a president that lies, and has a shameful history in foreign policy, was involved in the Whitewater case [Memos show Hillary ‘guilty of criminal fraud’ in Whitewater.
Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2016/02/memos-show-hillary-guilty-of-criminal-fraud-in-whitewater/#xffBdd9Be6xRSWpP.99received millions of dollars from big corporations, while bodies of Americans like the ambassador to Lybia Chris Stevens who had a horrific death because Mrs Clinton didn’t respond to Stevens his request for more protection. / Laura Bilbao
NEW YORK – Washington-based watchdog Judicial Watch has released 246 pages of previously undisclosed internal memos from Ken Starr’s Office of Independent Council investigation in 1998 showing prosecutors had evidence that Hillary Clinton and her associate Webb Hubbell at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas, were guilty of criminal fraud in the Whitewater affair.
Judicial Watch said the newly released documents also show Clinton and Hubbell engaged in a criminal cover-up conspiracy that included destroying material documents and lying under oath to federal authorities.
Their efforts, Judicial Watch said, were aimed at preventing the Whitewater affair from denying Bill Clinton the White House in 1992 and from derailing his presidency in its first term.
The ‘Stop Hillary’ campaign is on fire! Join the surging response to this theme: ‘Clinton for prosecution, not president’
In an presage of the drama unfolding as the FBI investigates the private email server Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state, the newly released documents also show that Starr declined prosecution in 1998 only out of concern a jury would not convict the first lady.
“These new Hillary Clinton prosecution memos are damning and dramatic,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Hillary Clinton’s bank fraud, obstruction, lies and other fraud began in Arkansas, continued in the White House and actually accelerated because of the suicide of her friend Vincent Foster.”
The memos suggest that if Clinton weren’t first lady, she would have been successfully prosecuted in federal court.
“As we continue the court fight to get the actual draft indictment of Hillary Clinton we first uncovered in this investigation, Americans would do well to read these memos,” Fitton said. “If you want to understand the deplorable ethics and corruption at the Clinton State Department, these documents provide important background.”
An April 20, 1998, memo by the “HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton) Team” addressed to “All OIC Attorneys” outlines the conclusions reached by the federal prosecutors:
Hillary Clinton’s legal work at the Rose Law Firm with Webb Hubbell included a criminal scheme to defraud a local savings and loan bank arranging fraudulent loan purchases in a real estate transaction known as “Castle Grande.”
The criminal fraud committed by Clinton and Hubbell was further complicated by a criminal cover-up scheme.
The criminal cover-up perpetrated by Clinton and Hubbell was accomplished by the following acts: (1) destroying legal files regarding the fraudulent transaction, (2) lying under oath to federal investigators, including the FDIC and Congress, (3) removing incriminating records from Vince Foster’s office after his death, and (4) destroying other records, including Rose Law Firm records that would provide incriminating evidence against Clinton and Hubbell in the Whitewater scandal.
The memo said that during the 1992 campaign for president, media inquires caused Hillary Clinton, Hubbell and Foster to collect additional Rose Law Firm records relating to Hillary Clinton’s work for Madison Guarantee Savings and Loan.
Judicial Watch noted Hillary Clinton, according to Starr’s federal prosecutors, drafted an option agreement that concealed from federal bank examiners a fraudulent $300,000 cross-loan in the Castle Grande transaction.
Judicial Watch said Clinton’s subsequent concealment of her role in the fraudulent transaction, including the hiding of her Rose Law Firm billing records concerning her legal work for Madison, were the subject of an Office of Independent Council, or OIC, obstruction of justice probe.
Finally, Judicial Watch found that the 1998 memo included substantial evidence Clinton and her former Rose Law Firm partners Hubbell and Foster – both of whom went on to senior positions in the Bill Clinton presidency – as complicit in activities that “facilitated crimes.”
Vince Foster’s office
The memo confirmed that when Foster died, on or about July 20, 1993, Hillary Clinton, most likely with the complicity of White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, removed from Foster’s office Whitewater-related documents that Clinton did not want disclosed to the public.
Subsequently, Clinton managed to move the documents to a hiding place adjacent to her White House office, where they were found two years after Foster died.
Regarding the removal of documents from Foster’s office after his death, the OIC prosecutors’ memo stated:
On the evening of July 22nd , Thomas Castleton, an intern in the White House, assisted [Maggie] Williams [Hillary Clinton’s chief-of-staff] in carrying the box of personal documents [removed from Foster’s office] up to the 2nd floor of the Residence of the White House. Williams told Castleton that the documents were going to be given to the Clintons’ attorney, after they had been reviewed by Hillary Clinton and the President. Castleton placed the box in a closet in Hillary Clinton’s office, Room 323. That closet is approximately 30 feet from the table in the Book Room, Room 319A, where the billing records were found two years later.
The memo said two copies “of the most significant of these records, Hillary Clinton’s billing records for the work she did for MGSL, are known to exist – one set was discovered in a briefcase in Vince Foster’s attic in July 1997; the other set was the Book Room adjacent to Hillary Clinton’s office in August 1995 and publicly released in January 1996.”
The memo said Clinton and Hubbell committed perjury under oath, prefiguring the criminal offense that caused Bill Clinton to be impeached over the Monica Lewinsky affair.
A key paragraph reads:
Between January 1994 and February 1996 both Hillary Clinton and Hubbell made numerous sworn statements to the RTC [Resolution Trust Company], the FDIC, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and to OIC. Each of these reflected and embodied materially inaccurate stories relating to: how the RLF [Rose Law Firm] came to be retained by MGSL; Hillary Clinton’s role in the IDC/Castle Grande venture; Hillary Clinton’s role in representing MGSL before state agencies; Hubbell’s representations to the RTC and FDIC regarding Hillary Clinton’s role in the IDC/Castle Grande venture; and the removal of records from RFL.
Judicial Watch further said the newly released documents proved Hubbell received several “jobs” from Clinton supporters for which he apparently did little or no work.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Unruly Hearts will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article.