The importance of Sanders supporters in helping Trump

Nate Silver looks at the importance of supporters of Bernie Sanders in helping get Trump across the line against Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has gained on Hillary Clinton in recent national polls after becoming the presumptive GOP nominee this month. But Trump may also be helped by the ongoing primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Although Clinton’s substantial lead in pledged delegates (and larger lead in overall delegates) makes her the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, her lack of support from Sanders voters is harming her general election numbers.

According to the most recent YouGov poll, 61 percent of Sanders voters have an unfavorable view of Clinton, against just 38 percent with a favorable one. YouGov has been tracking these numbers for several months,1 and they’ve gradually gotten worse for Clinton:


The good news for Clinton is that she has the opportunity to gain ground among Sanders voters if and when she officially wraps up the nomination, just as Trump did among Republicans. Although many Sanders supporters will start the general election campaign with a negative view of Clinton, they aren’t necessarily eager to vote for Trump. In the YouGov poll, just 55 percent of Sanders supporters said they’d vote for Clinton over Trump in November. However, only 15 percent said they’d vote for Trump. That leaves 30 percent of Sanders voters who say they are undecided, would vote for a third-party candidate or would sit out the election.

Some of this was picked up in exit polls in recent primaries, but it is now gaining traction.

Overall throughout the primaries and caucuses, I estimate, Clinton is beating Sanders by 27 percentage points among self-identified Democrats but losing to Sanders by 31 points among voters who call themselves independents but voted in the Democratic primaries.2This might be confusing because we usually think of independent voters as being moderate. Sanders voters, however, are definitely to the left of Clinton, but a lot of them don’t like to call themselves Democrats. (Sanders himself, of course, has repeatedly been elected to Congress as an independent and did not officially declare himself to be a Democrat until November.) As a result, about 40 percent of Sanders’s primary and caucus voters identify as independent, as Republican or with some party other than Democrats, according to my estimates.

Thus, citing Clinton’s reasonably strong general election numbers among self-identified Democrats — she had the support of 87 percent of Democrats in a recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll in her matchup against Trump, for instance, and 83 percent in aFox News poll that showed her behind Trump nationally — may miss her problems among liberal-leaning, Sanders-voting independents. In the Fox News poll, only 30 percent of independents went for Clinton, and in the SurveyMonkey poll, just 36 percent did. But both surveys showed a large pool of undecided independents, potentially the Sanders voters that YouGov identified.

If Clinton wins over those voters, she’ll gain a few percentage points on Trump in national and swing state polls, and the race will potentially look more like it did in March and April, with Clinton having a fairly comfortable lead over Trump. If not, the general election could come down to the wire.

 Never underestimate Donald Trump, he seems to have an uncanny ability to convert people to his cause. But if even a fraction of those Democrat voters back Trump over Clinton then Hillary is not going to get there.

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  • JohnO

    Trump will be fighting the presidential election campaign with all his republican party united behind him and backing him as the only republican candidate than can possibly win the presidency. Clinton is going to be running as a gerry-mandered candidate with a fractious party loosely following her dubious leadership. While both candidates have policies that are not liked by their party at large this will only be a problem for Clinton as she can not sell her ideas. The FBI investigation looms large over Clinton and the “Islamic” downing of the latest airline crash is another plus for Trump who takes the hatred of Islam for the west seriously. I expect Trump to become next POTUS.

  • Simon

    Was listening to a pod cast the other day which they gamed an interesting scenario (not sure how plausible it is).

    But – if the Republican’s can somehow use some weird rule or just flat refuse to have Trump as their candidate, and the Democrats do the same to Sanders then is the following possible?

    What could happen is that there is a Trump/Sanders ticket which could destroy both parties. Now at first glance that sounds absurd – but – on some things they’re actually kind of similar – eg anti TPP, on foreign policy pretty similar etc. The whole socialism/capitalism would be a bit of a problem of course. But – the fact is whether a person is a Trump or Sander’s supporter the reason they are getting such popular support is because they are anti establishment, and as the article alludes if Hilary is the Democrat candidate actually a lot of Sander’s support would go to Trump anyway.

    Interesting times!

  • Boondecker

    What impresses me most about Trump is how he has thoroughly bamboozled even the most ardent and studious of pundits and repeatedly was able to prove them all wrong. If he is this good at running a campaign for GoP nominee with no previous experience, just imagine how good he will be running for the POTUS job with no previous experience. Hillary and her minions must be shaking in their collective boots not knowing what’s coming from the Don next.

    I rest assured he will have no problem with being a president with no previous experience too.

  • Observer

    Given Trump is probably closer to Sanders on some issues like trade policy and his criticism of Iraq and the Libya interventions, a reasonable portion of his supporters may consider he’s preferable to Clinton. Or simply sit it out. There seems to be a real loathing of Clinton, as the recent Nevada controversy highlighted.