Report: A precise look at Sanders vs Trump in 2016. (Introduction)

[December 2017]

by Dem Detective

Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America in 2016. How could this have happened? By now, there has been much analysis. Sexism played a role: Hillary Clinton would have been the first female president, and Donald Trump was a male alternative. Racism played a role: although Hillary Clinton is not immune to racism, Donald Trump used openly racist rhetoric during his campaign and appealed to a certain portion of the electorate. The racist undertones and overtones appealed to people like David Duke, former KKK grand wizard, who endorsed Donald Trump (and Trump refused to reject the endorsement); it appealed to other white nationalist groups, like Stormfront and others; and it even appealed to a simple underlying, systemic racial bias that still exists in the United States.

After all, the country was built largely on the backs of slavery. Gains have been made, as evident through U.S. history, but we have not seen a full apology or reparation by the United States government or its people. Racism is still too real, and the civil rights movement did not accomplish all it intended. Donald Trump certainly appealed to this part of the United States that still exists.

But that is only part of the story. Remember, Barack Obama was elected president less than a decade previous: in 2008, and again in 2012. A black man was president of the United States for eight full years before Donald Trump was elected.

Xenophobia played a role. Donald Trump lamented that “those people” from across the border, and around the world, are coming to America, enjoying “our” country, “taking” our jobs, and threatening national security. In addition, “bad trade deals” allowed workers around the world to once again take “our” jobs, in just another way.

Xenophobia was the bridge between racism and “economic anxiety,” which undoubtedly played a role in Trump’s rise. In the wake of the election, some pundits would argue that “economic anxiety” is simply an “excuse” for Trump’s win; it is just a cover for “social” and “moral” issues, like sexism, racism, xenophobia, and religious values. Hillary Clinton once stated that Trump voters were a “basket of deplorables,” and the underlying message of this statement was that Trump’s supporters are just bad people (racist and sexist) who would automatically vote for a bad person (a racist and sexist).

What these certain pundits missed is that economic anxiety doesn’t mean “poor,” or even near poverty. It means economically insecure — which all but the very top had become. The economic conditions leading up to Trump will be explored in this report.

Others have complained that the electoral college allowed Donald Trump to win the presidency without winning the popular vote, which is true. The electoral college is a relic of a more ancient time, when values and circumstances in the United States were different, and there is a good argument for abolishing it. And yet the seasoned Clinton campaign was well aware of the electoral college. Its existence is not a good enough excuse for why Clinton lost to Donald Trump, especially when the Clinton campaign deliberately directed campaign resources to pad the popular vote in strongly Democratic-leaning, large cities that she was already going to win.

Then there are critics who prefer to blame entire countries (Russia), or blame “The Kremlin” more specifically, or just “Putin” himself. Foreign entities supposedly colluded with the Trump campaign, directly or indirectly, through meager propaganda efforts on social media, and potentially with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks (though this assertion remains unproven). In the end, these forces may have played a minor role, but due to such undefined and small amount of “influence” are better understood as scapegoatingthat has been used to dismiss the major flaws in U.S. democracy, media, and government, as well as some more significant factors that got Donald Trump into the White House.

Others point to “The Comey Letter.” Hillary Clinton was polling above Donald Trump, and then James Comey — FBI director at the time, who was leading Hillary’s “emails” investigation — released a letter saying that the investigation may be re-opened. This event would coincide with a small downward trend in Clinton’s polling numbers, and Clinton (and others) point to James Comey as another reason, or even the reason, that she lost the election.

As Hillary Clinton would write in her post-election memoir, “What Happened?,” there is endless blame to go around. Intellectuals and critics like Cornel West and Glenn Greenwald, and independent news outlets like The Intercept and The Young Turks have been accused of “helping Trump win.” Celebrities like Susan Sarandon have been blamed for Donald Trump. Third party presidential candidates like Jill Stein; third party voters (all of them); and third parties existing in the first place (the Green Party) have all been blamed for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

There are many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, that much is clear. The most substantial reason, however, has been continuously avoided in mainstream political discourse.

Hillary Clinton was not a good candidate for the times — especially against a “populist” opponent.

No decent candidate would have lost to Donald Trump, and a good candidate, the right kind of candidate, would have easily beaten him.

Donald Trump is a compulsive liar, an entertainer, a con-artist, and a phony businessman, who would have never gotten anywhere without an inheritance from his father. He is a sexual predator, accused many times over the years, and openly admitting on tape — leading right up to the election — of committing sexual assault. Trump acts like the worst kind of toddler and cannot stand even the possibility of “losing” anything to anyone. He is, arguably, the worst kind of person America has to offer. And in a way, Donald Trump is the culmination of virtually everything that is bad about the United States — its history and much of its underlying ideology.

Donald Trump did not become president because he was a good candidate, or a good person.

Along with Hillary Clinton, as we will see, Donald Trump was actually broadly disliked among the electorate. But he was ultimately able to win because he filled a political vacuum. He entered a void left by the Democratic Party, which offered little hope, few real solutions, and was truly complicit in the road to a corrupt political system and “rigged” economy.

Donald Trump won because Hillary Clinton was vulnerable to an electorate who, by 2016, had come to overwhelmingly despise political corruption — and Hillary Clinton, for many real and significant reasons, was a personification of this corrupt system that the electorate had come to despise.

No decent candidate would have lost to Trump, and Bernie Sanders was not just a decent candidate. It would actually be difficult to imagine a more fitting candidate than Bernie Sanders to win the 2016 general election versus Donald Trump. And in this report, it will be explored why this is true.

Though we cannot perfectly predict the future, and we cannot be absolutely, one-hundred-percent sure of each possibility that “could have” or “would have” happened –we are not looking for proof. We are looking for strong evidence, and strong arguments.

The available evidence had always shown that Bernie Sanders was an excellent candidate to run against Donald Trump, and at the very least, would have been a much better candidate against Trump than Clinton — who barely lost in the end. Even more likely than a small victory, though, a Sanders vs. Trump election would have been a blowout. In favor of Sanders.

And the arguments for Sanders vs Trump, along with the supporting evidence, were more solid than the arguments for Clinton vs Trump. In this report, the arguments will be presented alongside the evidence, and afterward, to explain it.

To determine whether Bernie Sanders would have won, we must explore from several angles. It would be important, for example, to look at the conditions leading up to the 2016 election. What was the electorate looking for in a presidential candidate? And which candidate — Sanders or Clinton — or Trump — better fit what most people really wanted?

This is not the only predictor of who would have won, or lost, but it is one significant piece of the puzzle that is required to hone our prediction.

It will be explored in this report why Hillary Clinton was extremely vulnerable against Donald Trump — and how Trump was able to exploit these vulnerabilities. This is what happened in reality. Clinton’s weaknesses played right into Donald Trump’s “strengths,” or at least the ones he projected.

It will also be explored why Bernie Sanders would have been the reverse case. While Hillary Clinton played right into Trump’s scheme, there is little Trump could have done to erode the support for Bernie Sanders. Sanders really was the perfect candidate to face Donald Trump, and the report will explore why this is true.

Before we get into the explanations, though, we will take a look at the data. The explanations will serve to reinforce the data, and its very likely trajectory. During the 2016 primary elections, polls had long shown that Sanders would beat Trump (and any Republican) in the general election, while Hillary Clinton had much smaller margins of victory, and less room for error.

Polls do not predict everything perfectly. They are not always right, and the 2016 election showed how this can be true. But they are done for a reason — and most of the time, they are accurate within their margin of error. When polls showed Sanders beating Trump by ten or twenty points — and Clinton beating Trump by half of that — that is not “the truth” of who would have eventually won — but it is a considerable data point, and this data cannot be easily dismissed.

We can then use that data alongside other more anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, — to reinforce the case that Bernie would have won. And if you disagree, I invite you to prove me wrong.

There are some counter-arguments to the assertion that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump. Let’s look at them up front.

The main defense rests on a complete disregard of polling data, for one, and a confident assumption that Sanders’ large base of support would have inevitably eroded within the course of a few months. Sanders would’ve dropped in popularity, so the argument goes, by an even more significant rate/amount than Hillary Clinton.

Bernie Sanders “hasn’t been vetted yet,” “hasn’t been attacked by the Republicans yet,” and therefore, something will inevitably pop up that will bring him down.

As you may see, this argument is more “hopeful” than concrete. It does not make a very good “argument” — it is more of a wish, a faithful guess, or simply a fear.

There is also the argument that Sanders would have lost the general election because “he couldn’t even win the primary” (he lost to Hillary Clinton by N votes, who then lost to Donald Trump). But this is not just a failure to consider the classic game “rock, paper, scissors,” it is a fundamental misunderstanding of U.S. elections. The winner of a primary election is not automatically the better candidate for the general election. Not only do primary elections and general elections work differently, and have different levels of awareness and voter turnout, they also have different electorates.

So to make this argument, you’d have to argue that whoever wins the primary election is automatically the best candidate for a general election. It is clearly not a legitimate argument.

Bernie Sanders had a major lead with Independents, unaffiliated voters, and young voters, a large amount of whom were disenfranchised from the Democratic primary elections.

Bernie Sanders had a stronger grassroots campaign, and more enthusiastic base, which would have increased voter turnout in the general election.

Bernie Sanders’ popularity rises as he gains exposure, even as evident in December 2017 (when this report is being written), while Clinton’s tends to do the opposite. More time between the primary and the general election would have meant more exposure to Sanders and his ideas. Generally, we can view through 2015 and 2016 that exposure increased Sanders’ popularity and support, while it eroded Clinton’s. The trend likely would have continued, instead of reversed. For Sanders to lose to Trump, it would have had to reverse drastically, and in the report we will look at why this is highly unlikely, even despite an increase in “attacks.” (It’s mainly because the people attacking Sanders were more disliked than Sanders, and the noble way in which Sanders always handled those attacks).

Hillary Clinton continued to alienate Sanders supporters after the primary election, and ignored their advice (to campaign in Wisconsin, for example), while Sanders would have attempted to broaden the political coalition — as evident by his endorsing and campaigning for Clinton leading up to the general election, and his continued coalition-building and fight against the Republican administration beyond 2016.

Put it all together, and what we find is that both Clinton and Sanders would have won the same solid “blue states” in a general election, but Sanders would have won many of the important swing states that Clinton lost to Trump, thus winning him the general election.

The available evidence, and the arguments to reinforce the evidence, strongly support this final outcome.

And so the report will proceed in several sections:

  1. Polling data (favored Sanders)
  2. Favorability or “popularity” ratings (favored Sanders)
  3. Conditions/issues leading up to the 2016 presidential election (favored Sanders)
  4. Hillary Clinton’s vulnerability and particular weakness against Donald Trump in 2016. (Or: why “what happened” happened.)
  5. Bernie Sanders’ rising popularity and particular strengths against Donald Trump in 2016. (Or: how Bernie Sanders would have defeated Donald Trump.)
  6. Conclusion: Why it still matters.

>> Chapter 1: Polling data

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