Now that New York has spoken and any realistic chance for Bernie Sanders to catch Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates has vanished, it’s time to dispel the Sanders campaign myth that general election matchup polls should determine who gets the 2016 Democratic nomination. It’s true that Sanders is currently doing slightly better than Hillary Clinton in head-to-head polls against Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. But that has never been, and should never be, the deciding criteria when choosing a nominee. The proof is in history itself. Specifically, the Clinton-Obama race of 2008.
Each of the charts in this 2008 Gallop survey show Clinton doing better than then Sen. Barack Obama in head-to-head polls against John McCain in April and May of that year. Yet Democrats that year rightly nominated the person with more delegates — which is the only official metric of whom the party should nominate. And as you’ll recall, the guy with the big ears seemed to do okay in the general election.
Here’s another 2008 election projection shown in two head-to head maps that show Clinton to be the much stronger candidate against McCain than Obama. But again, this data – which was available to the superdelegates – held little if any sway. Because as every polling expert in the field knows, early matchup polls are unreliable predictors of what will happen in a general election. Journalists and Republicans know it, too.
The feckless ‘final plea’
So even if Sanders were to win California and make an impassioned final plea to the superdelegates, his odds of flipping a significant number are exceedingly slim.
Here is the final plea letter that then Sen. Clinton sent out to superdelegates in 2008 when she trailed Obama by less than 130 pledged delegates and they stood essentially tied in the popular vote. As you’ll see, she tried to sell many of the same general matchup arguments as the Sanders campaign is making now, including:
“I am also currently ahead of Senator McCain in Gallup national tracking polls, while Senator Obama is behind him. And nearly all independent analyses show that I am in a stronger position to win the Electoral College, primarily because I lead Senator McCain in Florida and Ohio, wrote Clinton.
That argument didn’t work then, and it is even less likely to work in 2016, when presumptive nominee Clinton will be leading by 200-300 in the pledged delegate count and 2 million to 3 million votes.
While it’s true that a number of undeclared superdelegates ultimately went with Obama late in the 2008 contest, only two to three dozen ever switched sides. Because, as Sanders superdelegate Sen. Jeff Merkley noted recently, most superdelegates are elected officials who consider their endorsement a solemn pledge. And few are likely to cross the Clintons knowing that Hillary is still quite likely to be the nominee and the next president. That would be one bad career move!
Sanders’ long odds
This year there are still about 197 superdelegates who have not declared their intention one way or the other, and they would be prime targets for a post-primaries Sanders appeal. But Sanders would have to win all of them…and then flip another 100 or more…to even come close to Clinton in overall delegates. How likely is that?
So, sorry, Sanders fans, but the idea that hundreds of superdelegates are going to hand the nomination to Sanders simply because of matchup polls is absurd. MSNBC won’t tell you that and neither will CNN, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
For all his impressive rallies and impressive caucus and primary showings, Bernie Sanders didn’t change the minds of enough voters to win the primary campaign, and he won’t change hundreds of superdelegates minds, either.