Using prior election narratives as predictions of the current election season should make you roll your eyes. They are fun ideas to play with, comparing Bernie Sanders to Dean and McGovern, but not very informative. Even comparing 2007 Clinton to 2015 Clinton is greatly misleading, so don’t mistake the following data for that. I do think that it is useful to look back at this time in the last, open presidential primary as a measure of the overall presidential campaign season. It is also valuable to remember how different the environment was as a reminder to avoid such juxtapositions.
So, take a ride with me back to 2007, when George W. Bush was president, and Barack Obama had a babyface. The economy had yet to fall to pieces, and no one outside Alaska had yet ever heard of Sarah Palin. Gay marriage was opposed by most major Democratic candidates and only legal in Massachusetts. It was way, way back when we were 4 years into a war in Iraq and Afghanistan…
Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president on February 10, 3 months earlier in the calendar than Bernie Sanders would do. I was there on that freezing, seriously fucking freezing day that Obama announced his run. Obama had faced speculation about a run since his kick-ass DNC speech in 2004, so his name recognition was pretty high going in. It’s interesting to see that he hovered around the low 20%’s for so long into the campaign. He entered the 30%’s after winning the Iowa Caucus, but didn’t catch up to Hillary until Super Tuesday, halfway through the actual voting.
With Sanders’ late announcement and the wide gulf in name recognition, the current national polling is to be expected, no matter what the eventual fate of the Bernie Sanders campaign will be. Though he is ~10 points behind where Obama was at this time, Sanders has actually made greater gains since announcing than Obama did. There’s a lot of time left until people actually vote; It’s still very early.
At this time in 2007, Obama had been consistently in 3rd place behind Edwards and Clinton, though they were all close enough for it to be anyone’s game. The first debate was April 26, but the polls in Iowa didn’t really start to move until the fall and winter. It’s surprising to me how many debates passed before the field evolved toward what would be a decisive win for Obama and a disappointing 3rd place for Clinton: 38% Obama, 30% Edwards, 29% Clinton
Considering that Bernie’s name recognition was nil going in, and with only one front-runner in competition, there was no place to go but up for him. What is compelling in all of these 2016 polls is that Biden and O’Malley have not made any gains. This is a legit, pro-Sanders momentum that is showing a true 2-person race. However, it is worth repeating this with every analysis of the 2016 polls: It’s way too early to be sure.
New Hampshire Polls
New Hampshire was by far the most interesting story in the 2008 primary campaign. The polls proved to be wildly inaccurate, as an Obama lead and even momentum out of Iowa turned into a loss to Clinton in the Granite State, foreshadowing a long slog of a primary. Edwards support began draining to the two frontrunners, and his hope for a resurgence in South Carolina would not come.
As for the polls, at this point in the year, Edwards was slowly losing support, and wouldn’t really recover. During the fall, Obama’s support was actually falling in NH, despite gains in Iowa. A late surge in NH had many convinced he was in for a big win. Of course, we were reminded that we have to let people vote, and that New Hampshire voters don’t give a fuck about what anyone outside the state thinks.
Though New Hampshire revitalized Clinton’s campaign, New Hampshire polls are the ones that most have Bernie’s supporters doing happy dances. Bernie has gained 15 points in a couple weeks, which is corresponding to a drop in Clinton’s support. It’s easy to imagine Bernie even passing her in this state before the first debate. But again, it’s too early to tell.
FiveThirtyEight did a great piece on Iowa and New Hampshire’s demographics misleading us in their affinity for Bernie Sanders. Read it. It emphasizes the need for Sanders to campaign and show progress beyond the early states, so take these results with that in mind. Unfortunately, there is hardly any polling in the Carolinas, where I really want to see how Sanders performs. I believe that once Sanders is in the debates and gets to tell stories of his role in the Civil Rights movement, his support will broaden a great deal. We also need to hear more of his personal narrative for him to be for real. If anything is clear it is that we’ve only just gotten started. Despite the compelling story of the Sanders Surge of Berniementum, the GOP primary is still the circus to watch. I mean, fucking Trump can be called one of the frontrunners. I’m popping the popcorn already.