Is Bernie Too Liberal to Win?

After Bernie Sanders' convincing win in the New Hampshire primary, many establishment Democrats are renewing the argument that Bernie cannot win in November because he is too liberal. It doesn't hold up.

In her February 5th column, Washington Post writer Ruth Marcus expressed the establishment case:

The success of Sanders's full-throated progressivism among the party faithful is no surprise, especially in liberal-leaning Iowa and New Hampshire. But, notwithstanding the current head-to-head polls that he likes to cite, Sanders at the top of the Democratic ticket threatens a general-election disaster, and not just for the top spot. True, more Americans overall identify themselves as liberal -- up from 17 percent in 1992 to 24 percent in 2014, according to Gallup. But that leaves the vast majority with a different outlook, 34 percent who describe themselves as moderate, 38 percent conservative. How, exactly, are they going to respond to a democratic socialist's call for a political revolution?

Of course, what happens if Bernie is the Democratic nominee will depend upon whoever the Republican Presidential nominee is. If the GOP proffered Donald Trump - a nominee with historically high unfavorability ratings - the outcome might be different than if the GOP nominee was Governor John Kasich, for example.

But setting aside the context of voters' decision, Ruth Marcus argues that Sanders is too liberal for the 2016 electorate and uses a 2014 Gallup poll to support this contention. But more recent polls paint a more complex picture. A January 2016 Pew Research Poll found that the electorate is very polarized: Democrats have shifted to the left and Republicans have shifted to the right. "94 percent of Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican." "92 percent of Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat."

The most recent Gallup Poll found that, over the past 16 years, Democrats have increasingly embraced the "liberal" label and there are now more liberals (42 percent) than moderates (38 percent) and conservatives (17 percent) in the Party. (Dems are considerably more liberal now than they were during the Clinton presidency, 1992-2000).

A May 2015 Gallup Poll found that the 31 percent of all voters described themselves as "very liberal/liberal" on social issues and another 31 percent described themselves as "very conservative/conservative" on social issues.

This implies that if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, he will have about one-third of the electorate behind him (Democrats and fellow travelers) and one-third of the electorate dogmatically opposed (Republicans and fellow conservatives). Therefore, he and the other Democrats running for public office will have to attract vote from the middle third.

Bernie could attract independent/moderate voters on an issue-by-issue basis.

At the moment, the number one voter issue is the economy. If this trend continues, it plays to Bernie Sanders strengths. In the January 17th Democratic debate Sanders said:

Our campaign is about... thinking big. It is understanding that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we should have health care for every man, woman, and child as a right. That we should raise the minimum wage to at least 15 dollars an hour, that we have got to create millions of decent paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. So what my first days [in office will be] about is bringing American together to end the decline of the middle class, to tell the wealthiest people in this country that yes they are gonna start paying their fair share of taxes, and that we are going to have a government that works for all of us and not just big campaign contributors.
Sanders identified five key issues: healthcare, minimum wage, new jobs repairing our infrastructure, taxing the wealthy so they pay their fare share, and reducing the influence of money in politics.

How do Americans feel about these issues?

Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of Americans are in favor of raising taxes on individuals with incomes over $1 million. (This plurality includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.)

Recent polls shows that 75 percent of Americans favor raising the minimum wage to $12.50 by 2020 and 63 percent favor raising it to $15. (Among those who favor raising it to $12.50 are 53 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Democrats.)

Recent polls shows that a majority of Americans (58 percent) favor a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system.

Recent polls indicate that spending millions to repair America's crumbling infrastructure was a high priority for 65 percent of respondents.

Finally, recent polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans want a change in the campaign finance system: 48 percent think the current system should be scrapped and 38 percent believe it needs "fundamental changes."

These polls indicate that Bernie Sanders is running a campaign based upon issues. And his positions on the key issues resonate with the majority of Americans, Independents as well as Liberals. He is not "too liberal" to be elected.