Gut Checks, Narratives, and Feelings Are Not Enough

When the Clintonite faction of the Democratic Party is willing to incorporate the available research about the public’s opinion of Bernie Sanders into its analysis of the counterfactual in which he wins the nomination, it will have arrived at a place where its consideration of the recent election, and its thoughts about future elections and the direction of the party, deserve to be taken seriously.

Explaining away the quantitative evidence and then listing the contents of an oppo research file is not a legitimate attempt to answer the question, but should instead be considered as akin to a campaign ad one candidate would run against an opponent – less an attempt to accurately describe reality than to influence perceptions in order to advance or curtail someone’s power.



  1. Hmm. Scott’s take seems ok, if a bit over fiddly, yet doesn’t incorporate any specifics of Bernie’s polling. Would it be strengthened by noting his favourables?

    (It is interesting that Scott is much more on the “it’s unknowable” side here than he was on, say, Clinton’s likelihood of victory. He was definitely over-relying on campaign quality. and really more on Trump’s relatively poor campaign quality by traditional metrics.)

    Looking at some head to head matches, I find it difficult to believe that Bernie would have sustained double digit leads in an actual campaign. I think the idea that Republicans wouldn’t have come home or Bernie turnout advantages would have been that high to be rather implausible. (I trust that we agree that analyses like this are bonkers. Favorability, afaik, can’t be straightforwarded projected onto vote share in a “if the election were held to day, Bernie’s high favourability means he would trounce Trump”. The DNC conspiratorising isn’t confidence raising either.)

    So, what to say about Bernie’s polling data? Do we even need it?

    My go to move at the moment is to point to polarisation and the idea that campaign and candidate quality matter less than candidate status. That is, if you are a major party candidate, you have a shot in this era. That’s really enough to scotch all these “Bernie would have lost by even more!!!” moves. Now we add that the fundamentals favour the generic Republican and we’re back to how can someone as awful as Trump function at all. Either he’s sui generis (due to his media presence, for example) or partisanship is really that strong. (That is, we don’t know how a *bland* Trumpawful candidate would do. Though, Bernie isn’t bland, really.)

    Of course, this cuts both ways. Even if you think Clinton was a very bad candidate, if candidate quality doesn’t matter so much, it’s a bit moot. The strongest argument on this front is guessing that the press and FBI wouldn’t have run as hard against Sanders as Clinton. I think that’s pretty plausible.


    • I’m not singling out any one writer or piece; this willful ignorance has been epidemic among a broad segment of the punditocracy for close to a year.

      over-relying on campaign quality. and really more on Trump’s relatively poor campaign quality by traditional metrics

      Given the stories that keep coming out about the Clinton campaign’s determination to ignore the pleas for help coming from the Great Lakes states, as well as the concentration of effort on Arizona and Iowa and Florida, I’m not sure that the problem with that analysis was over-reliance on campaign quality, as opposed to overestimation of that particular campaign’s quality. That was some serious Mark Penn shit going on in their strategy. Similarly, Trump’s end-stage concentration on those Great Lakes states, and belief that he could outperform Romney among black and Latino voters, were widely derided as evidence of a poor campaign, when we all now realize his team outsmarted hers on those questions. So, no, I do not agree that we can dismiss campaign or candidate quality.

      It is quite silly to take hypothetical matchups or favorability numbers and “straightforwardly” turn them into election outcome predictions, but it is quite a bit more silly to ignore them and develop your position on the question based entirely on political narratives – especially when your political narratives and guestimations of how the voting public would respond to things have been rocked as severely as that of the Democratic establishment thinkers’ have been this year. In modern politics, anyone talking about a “landslide” is absurd, but if I absolutely had to choose between the two absurdities, I’d pick that of the blogger you linked to over Kevin Drum’s “screw the numbers” stenography of Kamp Klinton’s opposition research memo. Especially, as you’ve said, in a year in which the stories about Trump’s repellent behavior didn’t sink him.


      • I don’t know what credence to give the Clinton campaign post-mortems yet. I’m a bit wary of many post-mortems, which so often seem permeated with the assumption that losers must be idiots who made an easily pinpointed Fatal Mistake (I remember some of the awful Sanders campaign post-mortems) while winners must be strategic geniuses.

        The one thing I feel pretty confident of re: the result is that Comey and Russia were probably the proximate cause. Arguably Clinton could have done better to prevent it being this close and susceptible to FBI tomfoolery in the first place. I don’t know what precisely she should have done, though. I know I would have LIKED her to emphasize economic equality more and to hang Trump around the Republicans’ necks instead of pretending he’s sui generis, and I don’t think that would have hurt her any. So far my major takeaway is that there is absolutely no reason to avoid full-throated partisan advocacy of left-wing policies.

        Liked by 1 person

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