If you’ve been following the Democratic presidential race at all, one talking point you’re likely to have heard uttered often by the Bernie Sanders campaign and his supporters is how much better the senator from Vermont does with independent voters than Hillary Clinton. It’s a line that’s been commonly featured as one of his biggest selling points for months.
Sadly for Sanders supporters, it’s not actually true.
Here’s what FiveThirtyEight.com found from a recent Gallup poll:
Most voters who identify as independent consistently vote for one party or the other in presidential elections. In a Gallup poll taken in early April, for instance, 41 percent of independents (who made up 44 percent of all respondents) leaned Democratic, and 36 percent leaned Republican. Just 23 percent of independents had no partisan preference.
In the Gallup poll, Sanders had a 35 percent favorable rating among independents who don’t lean toward either party. Clinton’s favorable rating with that group was 34 percent. Trump’s was a ridiculously low 16 percent.
You see, there are these people who are referred to as “closet partisans.” This means they’re voters who claim to be “independent,” but almost always side with one party or the other. While they refer to themselves as “independent,” they’re really not. That’s why this “independent group” makes up such a large percentage of the vote – yet there are very few actual independents in our government.
Now, Sanders does poll better with these “Democratic-leaning independents” (closet partisans) than Clinton does, but those aren’t true independents. When it comes to actual independents who don’t lean toward a particular party, the two are essentially even.
It makes sense that a candidate like Bernie Sanders would do well with “closet partisans.” These are folks who clearly lean toward one party, but don’t want to “sell out” by labeling themselves as a Democrat or a Republican – because that’s so “establishment.” So it shouldn’t be surprising that they would favor the life-long independent who’s built a large part of his campaign bashing the “establishment,” while painting himself as an “outsider”… despite the fact that he’s been in Congress for over a quarter century.
I know this because I used to be a closet partisan. Even though I always voted Democrat, I used to call myself an “independent” because I didn’t like labels. I still don’t, but we live in a world of labels and I don’t ever see myself doing anything but opposing the Republican party. Which means, even if I’m not in full agreement with everything Democrats are doing, I’m going to proudly support the party, while doing my best to fix it from within. I know that no matter what, this country cannot become what the GOP wants it to be. So, in my opinion, the best alternative to stopping Republicans is supporting Democrats – but making sure I’m always working to improve the party. This is why I’ve recently written two different articles voicing my belief that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a piss-poor chair of the DNC and she needs to go, immediately.
Like it or not, the simple reality is this: For every vote that doesn’t go to a Democratic candidate, even if it’s not for a Republican, it helps the Republican party.
When liberals unite, show up in large numbers and vote – we win nearly every single time. Unfortunately, far too many liberals tend to forget this during just about every single local, state and midterm election. I’ll never stop wondering how much more President Obama could have accomplished had liberals not let him down by taking the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections off.
But this idea that Sanders “crushes” Clinton when it comes to independent voters simply isn’t true – at least not according to the facts. He does better with “closet partisan” Democrats, but not true-to-life independent voters. And when it comes to those particular voters, both candidates perform about the same – and much better than Donald Trump.
While that might seem as if I’m nitpicking to “shill for Clinton,” this distinction does make a big difference. Someone who almost always votes Democrat is much more likely to still vote Democrat in November than someone who really and truly is an independent. While I know there are some who are true-to-life “Bernie or bust” individuals (I’ve heard from these folks plenty), it’s still a bit of a mystery as to just how many of those people are actual Democrats/liberals/closet partisans or they’re just libertarians and people who would have never supported a Democrat in the first place. Especially considering the growing evidence of conservative groups who’ve been doing some rather shady things to help further the divide between Clinton and Sanders supporters.
Ultimately, we’ll all find out in November who’s right.