Is Clinton really the practical choice to beat Trump? The data says no.

Conventional wisdom says only Clinton can beat Trump. All the polling data says otherwise.

I keep being told that I have to get behind Hillary Clinton because she’s the only one who can beat Trump in November. That would be a more compelling argument if there were any evidence that it’s actually true. Instead, every single poll I have seen shows the exact opposite. Have a look at the latest from NBC News.

Clinton and Sanders vs Trump NBC poll

Now check the absolutely harrowing news from today’s Quinnipiac poll, which shows Clinton and Trump in a dead heat in three swing states.


FLORIDA: Clinton 43 – Trump 42; Sanders 44 – Trump 42
OHIO: Clinton 39 – Trump 43; Sanders 43 – Trump 41
PENNSYLVANIA: Clinton 43 – Trump 42; Sanders 47 – Trump 41

That, ladies and gentlemen, could easily be all the margin Trump needs.

At this stage, can we stop relying on things that sound sensible and logical to us and pay hard attention to actual data? Please? The evidence says that Sanders, not Clinton, is the practical choice. Uninformed “pragmatism” may wind up having massive consequences for us all.


  • Interesting analysis of the Quinnipiac poll from the Washington Post:

    The analyst, Phillip Bump, warns against reading too much into the poll. But he also points out the limitations of his own criticisms. So while I found it interesting, the WaPo analysis essentially boils down to “it’s too early to say with any confidence.”

    At this point, though, the math doesn’t work in Sanders’ favor. If he can successfully take the nomination at this point, it’ll be one of the biggest political upsets in our lifetimes.

    • A: yes, it’s too early.

      B: It’s a weird-ass year, regardless.

      C: The math is against him on the nomination. He has a better chance in the general, though. If you think that says something interesting about the party process, I probably agree with you.

  • jstephenobrien

    I’ve been reading a lot of stuff by a lot of political scientists and others (including Nate Silver and his group at Based on what I’ve read, I’m very skeptical of this sort of “evidence” for the following reasons:

    1. Comparisons of candidates as if the “elections were held today” are notoriously inaccurate six months out.

    2. Some candidates tend to do a lot better in these early surveys than they end up doing in the general election, and the primary reason (many think) is that the ones who have the largest swings between early polls and late polls are those that are least defined and well-known. Clinton and Trump are known commodities, both with very high negatives, because high negatives are what one who has been in politics on a national level for very long end up with (or, in Trump’s case, one who has been in the national spotlight for a long time and has made such controversial statements during his run this year). Sanders is a relative unknown to those who haven’t been paying attention, which is a very substantial majority of people. Polls like this don’t predict how well Sanders would do in November after many months of ads defining him by featuring him linked to words, images, and general tropes like “socialist,” “communist,” “death panels,” “never had a real job,” “too old,” “too radical,” “draft dodger,” “confiscatory taxes,” and the like. Fair? Nope. But that’s democracy in America for you. It doesn’t have to be fair.

    3. Silver and his crew believe that early polls pitting Trump against Clinton might be more accurate than usual, because both are so well-known, and opinions have hardened. It’s unlikely either can redefine the other.

    4. Swing state races are bound to be closer than national polls because … they’re swing states. What the Quinnipiac poll doesn’t tell us is how those numbers would change after four months or so of negative advertising against Sanders. In addition, a single poll is subject to a reasonable probability of error. Multiple polls, weighted for past performance accuracy, are really all I tend to pay attention to, anymore.

    5. The fact remains that, historically, candidates that are too far right of center or too far left of center in their voting records have had a difficult time being elected president. Clinton is to the left of Kerry on the DW-NOMINATE Common Space score, and not very far right of Hubert Humphrey. That’s problematic. Sanders, on the other hand, is left of Humphrey and Mondale, and just to the right of McGovern. Even more problematic.

    Is this year different? Could be. The evidence and opinions seem very mixed on this. Clearly, there is political ferment among the economic losers since the mid-1970s — non-college-educated white males. They tend to be Trump supporters. There is also ferment among college-educated, white liberals, and especially the young who are in college or are college educated. Perhaps they see themselves with diminished expectations, and are looking for a savior, but that’s speculation on my part. Regardless, they tend to be Sanders supporters.

    I seriously doubt anyone knows how college-educated, white males who would normally vote for, say, Jeb Bush, will break by percentages in the coming election, especially considering that Trump keeps changing his positions on things important to them (taxes, tariffs, etc.). I also doubt anyone knows whether Sanders supporters will turn out for Clinton, and some of that also probably depends on Trump, since the scarier he becomes, the more likely he is to get out the vote for his opponent.

    So, “electability” is an ephemeral concept at best even in more predictable years, but is especially difficult to ascertain this year. Regardless, I highly doubt your statement:

    “The evidence says that Sanders, not Clinton, is the practical choice. ”

    I don’t believe it’s that clear cut.

  • Sen. Sanders has not had a single negative ad run against him this campaign. To think that state of blissful innocence would continue in the general election would be foolish. His opponents were able to convince a substantial portion of the American people that John Kerry was a coward in the Vietnam war. Think what they can do with someone who has applauded Sandinistas and Hugo Chavez.

  • I don’t buy your argument. As a socialist he is very vulnerable. If not for the caucus process around the country he would never have had enough votes to even get on the ticket. I agree with chubbco….

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