New Poll: Sanders is a Better General Election Candidate than Clinton

At first glance, the new Quinnipiac Poll released yesterday does not change the dynamics of the Democratic primary race. It polls Clinton at 43, Sanders at 25 and Biden at 18, which is broadly in line with other national polls. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer any hints of which age groups made up which part of the demographic sample like the CNN poll that this site took to task earlier this week.  However, to its credit the Q poll regularly polls general election match ups for Sanders, which is not the case for most others who stick to Hillary Clinton or occasionally Biden. The poll has given us a wide open window into the electability of each candidate, and by most conventional measures, Sanders performs better than Clinton as a general election candidate.

A Note About Vice President Biden

It should be noted that among all these metrics which are discussed, Joe Biden performed better than Secretary Clinton or Senator Sanders. However, those numbers carry one large caveat – Biden is presently not a candidate, but an above the fray serving vice president and a grieving father who tragically lost his son to brain cancer. His numbers are without a doubt going to be worse the moment he declares and becomes subject to both attacks and scrutiny of his record. This is why I find his numbers in this poll to be unrepresentative of what they will look like as soon as he is in the race. If he declares we will have to re-examine his performance, but as of now this is a strictly Clinton v. Sanders comparison.

Head to Head Match-ups

Although these numbers are perhaps the least relevant at this early stage in the election, they are worth mentioning because they offer a snapshot of where the public is at this time. Clinton continues to enjoy an enormous advantage in name recognition as only 2% of registered voters believed they had not heard enough about Clinton, while 36% of them said the same about Bernie Sanders.  Yet despite this enormous advantage, Bernie Sanders is not only competitive, but better against the top Republicans compared to Hillary Clinton. Here are the comparisons, with the emboldened result representing the better matchup for Democrats.

Trump Bush Carson Fiorina
Clinton Clinton +2 Bush +2 Carson + 7 Fiorina + 1
Sanders Sanders+ 5 Tie Carson + 10 Fiorina + 1

Before my fellow progressives lose heart and/or their minds over so many Republicans leading, bear this in mind: the survey included 737 Republicans and only 587 Democrats and 250 independents. Not exactly a representative sample of the national electorate because Democrats outnumber Republicans in both party registration as well as presidential level turnouts, and independents are severely underrepresented in this survey. If I had to guess, I would say the reason the poll sampled more Republicans is because the GOP primaries have over a dozen candidates, most of whom attract single digit support. As a result they needed a much smaller margin or error than the Democratic side, which is accomplished by taking larger sample.

Such as the sample is, Sanders does better than Clinton in a head to head against Jeb Bush and Donald Trump,who are the odds on favorites to be the nominees from the establishment and outsider wings of the GOP. Both do equally well against Fiorina, which to me is a non issue because Carly Fiorina’s candidacy is a walking disaster. Her effective debate performance will only bring her into the media’s firing line with stories like her blatant lies about the Planned Parenthood video that even Fox News challenged, her long standing support for Obamacare-style individual mandate, and her disastrous record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard (including this attack ad in the 2010 California Senate Race which turned her long odds of winning into non existent ones). Hillary seems to do better than Bernie against Ben Carson. While I intend to do a story on him because his candidacy, or more accurately what the success of his candidacy to date says about the GOP fascinates me, suffice it to say for now that I believe him to be less likely to win the GOP nomination than either Bush or Trump. Bernie is not only holding his own compared to Hillary, but he is doing better than her against the two candidates who are top contenders for the GOP nomination

Bernie has Room to Grow in the Base

When this site analyzed an earlier Q poll which compared head to head matchups against Republicans, we correctly predicted that Bernie’s support among African American voters, then in the low to mid 70s, would continue to grow as more voters became familiar with him. This most recent Q poll has already shown an improvement for Bernie with black voters which now reaches with some candidates in the mid 70s to mid 80s only a month later, with the exception of his matchup against Carson, the only black candidate in the presidential race. We note that 48% of black voters still haven’t heard enough about Sanders to have an opinion about him one way or the other according to this survey. As that number goes down, he will continue to climb among black voters and if given the nomination,would do as well as any white Democrat which is in the high 80s to low 90s.

Now for the Factors that Really Matter

If head to head match ups are of secondary importance, one has to ask what are the numbers that matter this far out when looking at a general election candidate? Those would be the numbers that show how voters perceive the candidate on questions of favorability, trustworthiness, leadership, caring about the average voter, foreign policy crisis management, and experience. Here is what the survey found:

Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders
Favorable / Unfavorable -14 Unfavorable +7 Favorable
Trustworthy / Untrustworthy -31 Untrustworthy +23 Trustworthy
Strong / Weak Leadership +12 Strong +16 Strong
Cares / Doesn’t Care about your needs -8 Doesn’t care +17 Cares
Foreign Policy Management +1 Confident +4 Confident
Has right Experience +27 Right Experience +2 Right Experience

As I said before, this sample skews more Republican than what the general electorate will likely be, so in reality both candidates do better than their stated results. However, the margins relative to each other show that Bernie does better on every single quality that matters in a general election, except experience. If 2008 was in any way instructive, it’s that Hillary Clinton can’t win on experience alone, not when her numbers on trustworthiness, favorability and caring about the needs of voters are upside down.

This doesn’t change the fact that Bernie Sanders still has ground to make up among Democratic voters, especially those over the age of 50. But among those Hillary voters there are a lot of Democrats who say “I like Bernie, but I worry he can’t win the general election.” Those are the people who need to see this poll to see that despite the Clinton narrative to that effect, the absolute opposite is true. Bernie is in fact, the best general election candidate the Democrats have in this race. If and when Joe Biden gets into this race, we can re examine how he stacks up against the two other major contenders. Until then, if Democrats want to win next November they need to feel the bern.

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