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Bernie Sanders Has The Highest Floor — And It’s Pretty Damn Low

Today is June 6, that time of year that astronomers say is spring, meteorologists say is summer, and fancy-assed salad chains say is “early summer” and charge you $14 for a delicious bowl of greens that will leave you hungry three hours later. This is Silver Bulletpoints, the column where we tackle three topics related to the 2020 Democratic primary in 300 words or less.

Bulletpoint No. 1: Everybody has a low floor

Bernie Sanders has been getting better news in the polls recently, generally polling in the high teens instead of the mid-teens, as he was immediately after Joe Biden entered the race. It’s not a huge shift, and Sanders is off his March peak in the mid-20s. But he’s consolidated his hold on second place, while Biden’s numbers have declined slightly.

A recent YouGov poll, which asked Democrats to list all the candidates they were considering rather than requiring them to pick just one, also seems to suggest that Sanders has a relatively high floor of support. Among Democrats who were considering only one candidate, 28 percent were considering only Sanders, and 27 percent were considering only Biden. Everyone else was in the single digits on this question.

Here’s the catch, though: Only 28 percent of Democrats fell into the category of considering only one candidate. (By comparison, 67 percent are still considering multiple candidates, and 5 percent aren’t considering any current candidates.) So Sanders isn’t getting 28 percent of 100 percent — he’s getting 28 percent of 28 percent. That means just 8 percent of the overall Democratic electorate truly falls into the “Bernie or bust” category.

A different way to look at the Democratic electorate

Share of Democratic voters considering one candidate vs. multiple candidates, according to a May 18-21 poll

CATEGORY Share of voters
Considering multiple candidates 67%
Bernie Sanders or bust 8
Joe Biden or bust 8
Someone else or bust 6
Not considering any current candidates 5
Elizabeth Warren or bust 3
Beto O’Rourke or bust 1
Cory Booker or bust 1
Pete Buttigieg or bust 1
Kamala Harris or bust 1

Source: YouGov

So while Sanders might have a slightly higher floor than other candidates — about half of the voters who currently prefer Sanders are only considering Sanders — it’s still pretty low in the broader scheme of things. About two-thirds of Democratic voters are still up for grabs, and they’re probably going to take their time to make a decision.

Bulletpoint No. 2: Actually, the candidates care about Iowa and New Hampshire just as much as ever

The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin recently made a claim that struck some of us in the office as dubious: that various factors “have created more of a national primary than ever before,” different from past campaigns when candidates would spend “the vast majority of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

What’s Martin’s evidence? Democrats “have already combined to visit more than 30 states and territories … far more than in any past nominating contest,” he writes. But that doesn’t really prove the point. There are far more Democratic candidates than ever before, 23 by the Times’s count, and the campaign has gotten off to an earlier start than usual. It’s a lot easier to cover 50 states with that many candidates. And while there may have been a stray visit to Idaho or Mississippi, Democrats have already combined to hold around 800 events in Iowa and 500 in New Hampshire.

We don’t have a comprehensive list of candidate visits in every state, but we do have an extensive database of polls. The amount of polling in a state is generally a good proxy for the amount of attention that campaigns and the media are paying to it, since polling primary voters is expensive and organizations investing in polls want their results to be newsworthy.

So far, Iowa and New Hampshire are getting as much attention from pollsters as ever. They’ve combined for 40 percent of the state polls so far in our database, a slightly larger share than the long-term average of 35 percent in the year before the primary.

Pollsters are focusing on Iowa and N.H. as much as usual

Number of presidential polls in the year before the primary, by state

Year Party Iowa New Hampshire All states Share of polls in IA and NH
1980 D 3 5 26 31%
1980 R 3 3 13 46
1984 D 5 6 18 61
1988 D 13 14 40 68
1988 R 7 12 35 54
1992 D 3 9 36 33
1992 R 0 4 7 57
1996 R 10 11 65 32
2000 D 9 39 124 39
2000 R 10 36 103 45
2004 D 22 49 165 43
2008 D 78 66 472 31
2008 R 79 67 475 31
2012 R 67 46 280 40
2016 D 24 42 216 31
2016 R 29 54 293 28
2020* D 10 12 55 40
2020* R 2 6 21 38
Total 374 481 2,444 35

* Through June 4

There may be less emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire now than there was in the 1980s. But there’s no evidence that it’s less than in recent campaigns.

Bulletpoint No. 3: Younger Democrats care less about electability. Here’s a theory about why.

It’s no secret that older Democrats are more moderate than younger ones. Relatedly, older Democrats put more emphasis on electability. Last month’s Monmouth University New Hampshire poll asked Democrats whether they’d prefer a “Democrat [they] agree with on most issues but would have a hard time beating Donald Trump or a Democrat [they] do not agree with on most issues but would be a stronger candidate against Trump.” Among Democrats 65 or older, only 13 percent wanted the candidate they agreed with if the candidate would have a hard time beating Trump. But among Democrats younger than 50, 42 percent were willing to take a chance on the less electable candidate.

Share of New Hampshire Democrats who would prioritize issue agreement with a candidate vs. a candidate’s ability to beat Trump, according to a May 2-7 poll

Age Agree on issues Stronger against Trump
18-49 42% 55%
50-64 20 71
65+ 13 76


The cause and effect is difficult to sort out. Maybe younger voters deemphasize electability because they’re more liberal and think the concept is being used to prop up more moderate, establishment friendly candidates like Biden.

But it’s at least possible that some of the causality runs the other way: Younger voters are more liberal because their lived experience gives them less reason to think there’s an electoral penalty for liberalism.

Consider the experience of 27-year-old voters. As they were coming of age, they’d have seen George W. Bush’s popularity fall to pieces and a guy named Barack Hussein Obama upend the Hillary Clinton juggernaut and win in a landslide against John McCain. Then they’d have seen the supposedly cautious and “electable” Clinton lose to Trump.

This analysis has several issues, including that voters actually saw Trump as more moderate than Clinton in 2016. Still, younger Democrats don’t have a lot of the memories that might scare older Democrats, such as the landslide defeats of George McGovern, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale, or the electoral success of Bill Clinton running on a more moderate platform.

From ABC News:

Buttigieg: Would put my mayoral, military experience up ‘against … any competitor’

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.