We are currently 5 months away from the first primary race of the 2016 election. In 5 month, anything can happen. I normally would not talk about polling for a race that is 5 months away, but the Hillary Clinton campaign’s message seems to be “Vote for Hillary because she is going to win.” The Clinton campaign’s argument against voting for Bernie Sanders seems to be: “We realize that Sanders is the best candidate, but the polls show that he is not going to win, so if you continue to support Sanders, you will hurt the party and make it more likely that a Republican is the next president.” In other words, the message is “Support Clinton now or bad things will happen and it will be your fault.”
National Polling Numbers
This being the centerpiece of the Clinton campaign (at least among her supporters), I feel that it is necessary to look at the polling information. The latest national polls tend to have Clinton polling between 51 and 58% while Sanders polls between 17 and 25%. I can understand why some people would buy into the myth that this is a certain victory, but I want to make the case that it is not.
Why These Numbers are Deceptive
The first thing I want to point out about these polls is that many of them also ask the favorability rating of the candidates. In a recent Wall Street Journal Poll, 37% had a positive view of Clinton, 14% were neutral, 48% had a negative view, and 1% didn’t have enough information to make a decision. On the other hand, when asked about Sanders, 24% had a positive view of him, 20% were neutral, 19% had a negative view, and 37% did not have enough information about him.
What seems the most important about those numbers is the percent of people who needed more information before making a decision. Only 1% of people needed more information about Clinton, but 37% of people needed more information about Sanders. In other words, as we would expect, 5 months before the first election of the primary, everyone has already heard about Clinton and made up their mind about her, but just over half of the people have heard of Sanders. This being the case, it would only make sense that, when called on the phone, read a list of names, and asked who they would support for president, most people would say Hillary Clinton. It would also make sense that, for 41% of the people polled, there is no way they would say Sanders because they haven’t heard about him, yet.
Because we are still half a year away from the start of the primary, and 41% of voters haven’t even heard of one of the top candidates, these polls are meaningless. The average voter does not pay much attention to the primary election this early. Furthermore, the campaigns have not really even began getting to work. The question we need to ask is not who people who have only heard of one candidate on the list will vote for, but who people who have heard of all of the candidates on the list will vote for.
Of Informed Voters, Sanders Has a Higher Favorability Rating
When we look at people who have actually heard of the candidates, I think we get a little better idea of what people are actually thinking. Of the people who have heard of Clinton, she has a net 11% unfavorability rating, meaning that 11% more people see her negatively than positively. Sanders, on the other hand, has a 5% favorability rating, meaning that, of the people who have heard of him, 5% more people view him favorably than unfavorably. I believe looking at the information from people who have actually heard of the candidates says a lot more about how people will vote than information from people who have not heard of both candidates.
How Cascading Effects Could Change Everything, Quickly
Another factor that is overlooked in the polls is the possibility of cascading effects impacting election results. When we look at the information we are given in the polls (concerning informed voters who have heard from all of the candidates), the next thing we have to wonder is why they chose to support one candidate and not the other. For many, they chose the candidate they agreed with the most, for some they chose the candidate who had the best personality, and for others it was the candidate they felt was most likely to win.
Sanders has two large liabilities. The first is that many people do not believe he has a chance of winning, and they want to be on the side of the winners. The second is that he refers to himself as a democratic socialist and many people are hesitant to be associated with someone known as a socialist. For many people, they want to support Sanders, but they are supporting Clinton because of one of these two reasons. Each of these people, however, have a threshold point that, if it is reached, will cause them to change their mind. For example, for some people, they are supporting Clinton because she has the best chance of winning, but if a poll shows Sanders at 30%, they will suddenly support him. For others, they will begin supporting him if he starts polling at 35%, 40%, 45%, or 50%. The factor that would really shock all of the “experts” looking at these polls is how fast everything will change if Sanders is able to reach some of these thresholds. For example, what if 5% of voters have a 35% threshold and Sanders suddenly reaches 35%? If this were to happen, we would see his support jump from 35% to 40% within a week, and then all of the people who were holding a 40% threshold would be convinced and his support would jump to perhaps 45% or 50% within a week after that.
The same would hold true for the socialist issue. Think about workers going on strike. A worker who goes on strike with only a small group runs a high risk of losing his job, but a worker who goes on strike with a large group runs a smaller risk of losing his job. Because of this, if only a few people are planning to go on strike, most people will resist going on strike because the numbers are too small and the risks are too high. Once thresholds are met, however, people start feeling safe and a movement happens quickly in a way that nobody expected. It is kind of like an audience at a concert. Most people don’t want to be the only person standing up and clapping at the end of the song. In fact, most people don’t want to stand up and clap unless most of the people in the room are already doing so. At the end of the song, however, one or two brave souls stand up and clap, and as they do, thresholds begin to be met and more and more people stand to their feet until everyone feels comfortable enough to do so. What the polls concerning this race do not show is where people hold their thresholds on this liability. Nobody wants to be the only person supporting someone who is considered to be a socialist, but as more and more people become vocal supporters, it becomes safer, thresholds are met, masses of people jump on the bandwagon, and a movement is born seemingly out of nowhere.
Early Primary States Matter More than Nationwide Polling
Furthermore, we must remember that the early states are much more important than the national polls. Iowa and New Hampshire are the first two states. Regardless of what happens on a national level before then, everything will change once we see how these two candidates perform in these states. If Sanders wins in these states, for example, he will go into the other states with great momentum. This being the case, it is important to note that the most recent poll (By Gravis Marketing) in New Hampshire has Clinton at 43% and Sanders at 39% with a 4.5% margin of error in a poll where Elizabeth Warren (whose views line up with Sanders) received 8%. Also of note, in this poll, both Democrats and Independents were more likely to support Sanders while only Republicans were more likely to support Clinton. Also of note is that Bernie Sanders led among African Americans and Hispanics while Hillary Clinton only led among whites.
Sanders has “Big Mo” on his side
Finally, we can already safely say that Bernie Sanders seems to have much more enthusiastic volunteers than Hillary Clinton. This can be seen through the amount of small donors for the campaigns, it can be seen in the number of people who attend his rallies, and it can be seen through the number of likes and shares on social media. If Sanders can turn these enthusiastic volunteers into an army of people who will knock on doors, make phone calls, register voters, put out signs, wear t-shirts, and talk to their friends and neighbors, he will be much more likely to gain new voters, especially in a day when the average voter in distrustful of the corporate media and political ads.
In conclusion, it is way too early to look at polling. My advice to everyone is to study the issues and decide for yourself what candidate best fits in with your values, beliefs, and ideology. Don’t feel like you need to choose based on who is going to win. It is too soon to even guess about that. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, don’t let anyone bully you into supporting a candidate you do not really support. We all have a right to vote and we all have a right to freedom of speech. Don’t let anyone take that away from you through intimidation.