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Bernie Sanders supporters should worry about Beto O'Rourke

The Beto O'Rourke 2020 train seems to be gaining steam. Those backing other potential candidates want donors...

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 12:42 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 12:42 PM

The Beto O'Rourke 2020 train seems to be gaining steam. Those backing other potential candidates want donors and pundits to slow their Beto roll, however.

Among the most prominent critics are supporters of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders who believes the Texan isn't progressive enough.

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Sanders fans have at least some reason to worry. O'Rourke or really any other candidate with outsider appeal could eat into Sanders' base of young, independent-leaning voters.

If Sanders is going to win in 2020, he'll need to hold onto his support from 2016. He won more than 40% of the national primary vote, though he lost by low double-digits to Clinton nationally.

To answer whether Sanders can keep his backers, we have to understand what drove voters to him. Was it the fact that he was the progressive alternative to the more mainstream Hillary Clinton? If that were the case, O'Rourke could be vulnerable to attacks about his voting record.

O'Rourke has voted with President Donald Trump 29% of the time, while Sanders has voted with him just 14% of the time. Put another way, O'Rourke has voted more often with Trump than 80% of House Democrats. Only three senators have voted with Trump less often than Sanders.

Sanders' appeal in 2016, however, was mostly not based on ideology. You can see this best by looking at the 27 states with an entrance or exit poll. Among the approximately 25% of the electorate who identified as "very liberal", Clinton and Sanders won about an equal share of voters. That means Sanders only did slightly better among very liberal voters than he did among all voters.

So what was driving most voters towards Sanders? Remember, Sanders was not just a liberal alternative, he was seen as outside the party establishment (i.e. independent).

Sanders won the approximately 25% of people who identified as independents (instead of Democrats) in the average caucus or primary state by about 29 points. That's nearly 30 points higher than Sanders won by among very liberal voters. He won independents in 24 of the 27 states, even though he lost overall in 20 of the 27 contests polled.

It was this ability to separate himself out from the usual Democratic brand that likely helped spur a very large age gap in the primary.

Among the approximately 30% of the Democratic primary electorate who were under 40, Sanders beat Clinton by an average of about 27 points. That's about 39 points better than he did overall in these states, which he lost by an average of 12 points.

You'll also notice that the margin Sanders won by among independents (29 points) was about equal to his win among those under 40 (27 points). That shouldn't be too surprising because, according to the Pew Research Center, millennials (who make up the vast majority of those voters under 40) are the most likely part of the Democratic electorate to identify as independents.

It's not difficult to imagine an under-50 former member of Congress who spent just three terms in the House like O'Rourke being able to sell himself to young independent voters.

We can get a little deeper into the weeds and look at multiple factors at a time to see what best accounted for support for Sanders during the 2016 primary season. An academic study known Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES) allows us to do that well. It confirms what the entrance and exit polls suggest.

Among those under the age of 40, identifying as a Democrat or independent was nearly three times more important in explaining a person's 2016 primary vote choice than where they placed on the left-right spectrum. That is, young voter identifying as an independent was far more telling of their vote than how liberal they were.

Looking at all Democratic primary voters, I examined a person's age, race, ideology and whether they identified as a Democrat or independent in trying to explain vote choice. Ideology was the least important of these four variables in 2016. Age and party identification were by far the two most important.

In 2020, the question is whether Sanders can continue to appeal to independent-leaning young voters. With a load of young candidates with limited Washington experience likely to run, Sanders may find it more difficult to appeal to young voters the way he did in 2016.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 28770

Reported Deaths: 1092
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds224739
DeSoto144216
Madison124234
Jones109149
Neshoba97070
Lauderdale89479
Rankin86012
Forrest82942
Harrison79410
Scott75715
Copiah58016
Leake56519
Jackson55716
Holmes53641
Wayne52212
Lee51816
Oktibbeha51625
Washington5129
Yazoo4786
Leflore47449
Warren46317
Lowndes45912
Lincoln43734
Lamar4317
Grenada3965
Pike39312
Monroe37529
Lafayette3684
Attala35523
Newton3329
Sunflower3216
Covington3175
Bolivar29813
Panola2956
Adams28018
Simpson2713
Chickasaw26418
Tate2648
Marion26311
Pontotoc2616
Jasper2516
Noxubee2478
Pearl River24532
Clay24410
Winston2446
Claiborne23910
Marshall2123
Smith21111
Clarke20424
Coahoma1906
Union1819
Walthall1794
Kemper17614
Yalobusha1667
Lawrence1621
Carroll16111
Humphreys1309
Itawamba1308
Tippah12711
Webster12610
Calhoun1244
Montgomery1242
Hancock12313
Tallahatchie1153
Jefferson Davis1074
Prentiss1003
Greene968
Jefferson963
Wilkinson929
Tunica903
Amite842
George753
Tishomingo731
Choctaw724
Quitman690
Perry634
Alcorn601
Stone541
Franklin392
Benton270
Sharkey270
Issaquena81
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4532143
Montgomery3875102
Mobile3797134
Tuscaloosa210739
Marshall162210
Lee124537
Shelby110923
Madison11047
Morgan10203
Walker87123
Franklin86314
Dallas8419
Elmore83614
Baldwin7359
Etowah64413
DeKalb6415
Butler60727
Chambers60027
Tallapoosa57269
Autauga55312
Unassigned50724
Russell5030
Lowndes45820
Lauderdale4576
Houston4464
Limestone4290
Cullman4114
Pike4075
Colbert3775
Bullock3649
Coffee3592
Barbour3331
Covington3327
St. Clair3192
Marengo29911
Hale29621
Escambia2936
Wilcox2848
Talladega2827
Calhoun2805
Sumter27912
Clarke2686
Dale2620
Jackson2522
Winston2373
Blount2181
Pickens2176
Chilton2152
Marion20613
Monroe2052
Choctaw19212
Randolph1889
Conecuh1866
Greene1788
Macon1778
Bibb1761
Perry1541
Henry1303
Crenshaw1243
Washington1027
Lawrence1000
Cherokee797
Lamar711
Geneva700
Fayette671
Clay612
Coosa571
Cleburne301
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