New analysis details the evidence that Sanders could beat Trump — and has 'hidden and underappreciated general election strength'

New analysis details the evidence that Sanders could beat Trump — and has 'hidden and underappreciated general election strength'
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Credit: Gage Skidmore

Many Blue Dog Democrats and Never Trump conservatives are in a state of panic over the possibility that Sen. Bernie Sanders will win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and compete against Donald Trump in the general election. The argument against nominating Sanders is that a self-described “democratic socialist” would inevitably lose to Trump, recalling the colossal defeat that George McGovern suffered when President Richard Nixon was reelected in 1972.


But the Center for American Progress’ Steve Phillips, who hosts the “Democracy in Color” podcast, strongly disagrees with that assertion — and he outlines Sanders’ potential path to 270 or more electoral votes in an op-ed for the New York Times.

Phillips (author of the book, “Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority”) is confident in Sanders’ ability to win the popular vote against Trump, noting that countless polls have shown the Vermont senator defeating Trump in hypothetical matchups. But even though the 2016 Democratic nominee, Hilary Clinton, won almost 3 million more votes than the current president, it was Trump who came out ahead in the Electoral College to win the election. So, Phillip gets into specifics on Sanders’ potential path to an Electoral College victory.

Acknowledging that “the Electoral College is what matters most,” Phillips observes that Sanders has been “outperforming Mr. Trump in polls of the pivotal battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In the one poll showing significant Trump strength in Wisconsin, Quinnipiac, Mr. Sanders still fares the best of the Democratic contenders.”

According to Phillips, Sanders’ performance in the recent Democratic presidential contests in New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa offer valuable insights on how well he would perform against Trump in the general election.

“It is not just the fact that Mr. Sanders won the popular vote in all three states, it is how he won that portends hidden and underappreciated general election strength,” Phillips explains, adding that Sanders fared well with “young people and Latinos in particular.”

“In Nevada,” Phillips writes, “he received about 70% of the vote in the most heavily Latino precincts. These particular strengths matter because the composition of the electorate in 2020 will be appreciably different than it was in 2016. Pew Research projects that this will be the most racially diverse electorate ever, with people of color making up fully one-third of all eligible voters.”

Another state that Phillips believes would be in play for Sanders is Arizona, which has evolved into a swing state. Phillips notes that Trump won Arizona “by 91,000 votes” in 2016 and that “160,000 Latinos have turned 18 in that state since then.”

One area in which Phillips believes Sanders needs to step up his game is among older African-Americans. Phillips notes that although Sanders enjoys “strong support among younger African-Americans,” he needs to make his African-American outreach even more aggressive — and one way to do that would be “by choosing as his running mate an African-American with strong electoral appeal such as Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives who received more African-American votes in a statewide election than anyone not named Barack Obama.”

Phillips believes that the number of 2016 Clinton voters who would vote for Trump this year “just because Mr. Sanders was the nominee” is “infinitesimally small.”

The author stresses, “The empirical evidence shows that there is no need for alarm about Mr. Sanders being the Democratic nominee, and even some cause for confidence.”

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