First some setup. There are very few general election swing voters left. The floor for both parties used to be in the 37% range (Goldwater & McGovern). That left 25% of voters persuadable. Now that floor is closer to 45% and both sides were close to that at Hillary 48, Trump 46..
That leaves only 10% persuadable – but not persuadable in a traditional way. There are two remaining swing groups of about equal size, roughly 5% of the full electorate, and persuading these two groups is a mutually exclusive task.
(Aside: The Republicans in general and Trump in particular have moved far enough to the right that there is no breathing room for fringe parties of the far right; the Constitution Party polled just 0.15%.)The first swing group is roughly in the center: the tiny handful of pure Independents, along with moderate-right suburbanites who were turned off by Trump.
Some of these voters held their noses for Trump, and others scattered to McMullin or the Libertarians. Some, in 2016 and especially in 2018, went all the way to the Democrats, and that group may expand after four years of Trump and with a non-Hillary heading the Democratic ticket.
The other swing group is the left edge of the electorate. This brings us back to Sanders, and the unfortunate need to revisit 2016.
Leave aside all the discussion about How 2016 Went Down (the word “rigged” gets you blocked). It’s not relevant to the point here.
The vote totals show Sanders with 43% of the primary vote. (That was NOT 43% for “Socialism”.) Round that up to half for the sake of this discussion: half the primary vote, and in a 50-50 nation that’s 25% of the general electorate.
Half of that Sanders primary vote was simply Not Hillary. Whether that is misogyny, 25 years of anti-Hillary propaganda, or just general distaste does not matter. If you wanted to vote Not Hillary, Sanders was the only option – and 2020 will not be a binary primary.
So take away half of Sanders 2016 support and scatter it a dozen ways. That gets you down to 25% of the Democratic primary electorate and 12-13% of the whole electorate.
Within this share, about half of Sanders support was based on a policy/ideology preference of moving the Democrats in a more progressive direction. Sanders won all of this in 2016, but will now have to compete for it with several other candidates: Harris, Warren, Brown, whoever.
(Gabbard is barely viable anyway, but if Sanders gets in she is done, since the biggest thing people liked about her was her Sanders support. No one is going to pick The Surrogate over The Dude Himself.)This Move The Democrats Left share is actually bigger than 25% of the primary voters because many in this niche voted for Clinton anyway because of Woman President or various issues with Sanders (not a D, personal history, personal finances, etc). I count myself among this group.
So that’s ¾ of the 2016 Sanders voters. Now we are down to the ballpark of 12% of the primary electorate – which is VERY close to what Sanders is polling - and 6% of the general election voters, which is the third party/write-in share of the 2016 vote.
This group is responding specifically to Sanders and his rhetorical style – the Millionaires And Billionaires, the Oligarchy, the specific word Socialism, and his historic hostility to, and refusal to join, the Democratic Party.
I understand this because I used to BE this. You may call me “establishment” now but I spend a whole grad school semester writing a Bernie Sanders paper – in 19-freakin-90, back when Jesse Jackson was considered the bleeding left edge.
So I think it’s a good thing that these voters have someone speaking to them, which I did not get to have during that stage of my political growth.
And Sanders and his supporters have pushed the left edge of the Overton Window quite a ways (but not as far as Trumpism has pushed it in the opposite direction).
Some share of these voters – let’s again say half – will, in a swing state or a close race, “hold their noses” for the Democratic nominee just as I did for Dukakis. This share will grow with a non-Hillary nominee. And as much as “hold my nose” grates on me, it’s a vote & we’ll take it.
This Hold My Nose vote is among that 10% that Sanders is polling now for the 2020 nomination. So that accounts for 7/8 of the Sanders vote. Let’s round that up to 90% of 2016 Sanders supporters: Reasonable people who play by the rules, written and unwritten. I have no quarrel with them.
Now we are down to the final group: Just 5 or 6% of primary voters, and 2 or 3% of the general election voters.
This group believes My Vote Has To Be Earned, but nothing can Earn it other than the Sanders issues worded in the Sanders style. They want The Revolution Now. They want to replace the Democrats with a Euro-style explicitly socialist party. Some get their kicks from disruption.
This fringe sliver also includes the personality cult. Every candidate has a little personality cult around them (Obama and Hillary both did and Trump sure does) but Sanders has a bigger share than any American politician other than the Pauls.
(Someone really needs to study the Libertarian-Socialist-Alternative-Bro-ЯevolutioИ dynamic. Bernie Sanders was the worst thing that ever happened to Rand Paul.)This final 2-3% of voters is unreachable. They are going to do what they are going to do: a write in, a Stein vote, a Libertarian vote.
Or even a Trolling Trump Susan Sarandon Things Have To Get Worse So The ЯevolutioИ Happens Faster vote. At each stage of caucus and convention process, through self-selection, these toxic voters make up a bigger share of the people showing up.
The only way to win these votes is to nominate Sanders. And in a cost-benefit analysis, that’s a net loss of votes.
The Sanders Style that turns on the hipsters in the grad student proletariat (again, this is only about 10% of ALL Sanders voters) turns OFF that 5% chunk in the middle that is trying to choose between the Democrat, a McMullin-style independent, or a reluctant Trump vote.
That’s where Hillary made gains in 2016 – and another candidate will be better positioned to build on those. That’s where we gained seats in 2018 – in the suburbs.
These reluctant Against Trump rather than For The Democrat voters will recoil at Revolution Rhetoric. Most Americans hear “socialism” & think of what the parlance of the left calls “tankies”: old-school Stalinists. Doesn’t matter if that’s “fair,” since when does “fair” matter?
It’s a tradeoff: If the Democratic nominee says the things s/he needs to Earn X number of Bernie Or Bust Votes, or is the person they want, s/he will lose Y number of Reluctant Moderate Against Trump votes. The idea is to get the largest number, and I contend that Y > X.
Electorate ½ D ½ R.
Ds ½ Hillary ½ Bernie.
Bernie 2016 was ½ Not Hillary ½ Move Ds Left.Move Ds Left is ½ Open To Other Progressives ½ Core Bernie.
Core Bernie is ½ Hold Nose for Nominee ½ Bernie or Bust.Don't waste energy on ½ of ½ of ½ of ½ of ½.
So candidates, reach out to the reasonable 90% of the 2016 Sanders vote – the Move The Democrats Left voters, and even to the Hold My Nose voters. But push back against the forces of destruction. They make noise out of all proportion to their numbers.