Pollsters attribute Hillary Clinton's shrinking lead over Donald Trump in part to "resistance" from Bernie Sanders supporters

By Tierney McAfee
May 23, 2016 01:55 PM
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

A new national poll suggests that Bernie Sanders‘ continued presence in the Democratic primary has damaged front-runner [LINK” “” “” “0” ] by helping close the gap between the former secretary of state and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday shows that Clinton’s lead over the billionaire businessman has shrunk to just three points, with the former first lady “weighed down by resistance from [a] significant chunk of Sanders supporters,” as CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood tweeted.

Pollsters, too, have attributed Clinton’s shrinking lead in part to resistance from Sanders supporters.

While 88 percent of Clinton supporters said they would also back Sanders if he were the Democratic nominee, only 66 percent of Sanders backers said they would support Clinton over Trump.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed similar but less drastic results, with 20 percent of Sanders supporters saying they’d vote for Trump over Clinton.

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In a recent survey by The Guardian, 500 out of the 700 people polled said they would vote for Trump over Clinton if Sanders failed to win the Democratic nomination.

“They explained their unconventional position by expressing a variety of passionately held views on their shared commitment for protecting workers and against new wars, on their zeal for an alternative to the establishment, and on their desire to support anyone but Hillary Clinton,” The Guardian wrote.

As one respondent, a 34-year-old male IT technician, put it, “Bernie and Trump agree a lot on healthcare, Iraq war, campaign finance and trade. I really want to move on to something new, new ideas from outside the box. Maybe Donald Trump can provide that.”

Another male Sanders supporter explained, “Trump is an obnoxious vulgar blowhard who says foolish things. However, unlike Clinton – but like Sanders – at least he is an outsider who understands that the government and the economy are broken.”

Added a 55-year-old female respondent who described herself as a homemaker, “Both Trump and Sanders are non-establishment candidates who are not bought by the special interests that have control over policy and legislation because of their ‘bribes.’ ”

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Even Trump himself has praised the Vermont senator and encouraged him to run as an independent. “Bernie Sanders has a message that’s interesting. I’m going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them,” the mogul said on MSNBC last month.

And his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, recently pointed out the similarities between Trump and Sanders in an effort to target supporters of the self-described Democratic socialist, according to Politico. “You have two candidates in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders which have reignited a group of people who have been disenfranchised and disappointed with the way Washington, D.C., and career politicians have run the country,” Lewandowski said. “Bernie Sanders has large crowds – not as large as Mr. Trump’s, but large crowds – and so there is a level of excitement there for people about his messaging and we will bring those people in.”

Politico wrote in response that, “On the surface, Trump has a case to make that he’s a more natural home for frustrated ‘felt-the-Bern’ voters than Clinton is. He is a more vociferous critic of global trade rules than she is. He does less big dollar campaign fundraising than she does. And he is a greater skeptic of military intervention than she is.”

But while the strategy “makes sense” at first glance, in the end, Sanders and Trump are “practically opposites” in most meaningful ways, Politico concluded. And Democratic voters, particularly young Democratic voters, see that.

Politico pointed to Harvard’s Institute of Politics’ finding last month that voters under 30 years of age overwhelmingly prefer Clinton over Trump (61 percent to 25 percent).

But such voters, Sanders has argued, see supporting Clinton over Trump in November as “the lesser of two evils.”

“That’s what the American people are saying,” the Vermont senator said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “If you look at the favorability ratings of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both of them have very, very high unfavorables.”

“We need a campaign, an election, coming up which does not have two candidates who are really very, very strongly disliked,” Sanders continued. “I don’t want to see the American people voting for the lesser of two evils. I want the American people to be voting for a vision of economic justice, of social justice, of environmental justice, of racial justice. That is the campaign we are running, and that’s why we are getting the support we are.”

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Bernie Loses His Halo vs. #BernieOrBust

That support took a hit on Monday, however, when a Politico article titled “Bernie Loses His Halo” made waves on Twitter.

The piece began by asking, “Is the left turning on its darling, Bernie Sanders?” after Markos Moulitsas, the founder and publisher of the liberal weblog Daily Kos, criticized the candidate for doing too little to denounce death threats his supporters made toward members of the Nevada Democratic Party at a raucous convention on May 14. “The problem isn’t Bernie Sanders’ supporters,” Moulitsas wrote. “It’s Bernie Sanders himself [He] refuses to forcefully and unambiguously reject that violence, instead rationalizing and explaining it away with a mix of grievances and outright conspiracy theory.”

According to Politico, Moulitsas’ fault-finding signaled that “it’s no longer taboo in liberal circles to attack Sanders as he drags out the nomination process at a time when many are itching to turn their fire on Donald Trump. And if his reputation in the party is being damaged outside his base, that will make it harder for him to extract concessions from Clinton regarding the platform and party nomination rules at the convention.”

Sanders has not, however, lost much support among his most ardent supporters, Politico acknowledged.

Sanders backers fought back against the “fallen angel” assessment by getting the hashtag #BernieOrBust trending on Twitter on Monday.

And some BernieOrBust’ers blamed Democrats’ division not on Sanders but on the Democratic National Party, specifically Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom the senator spoke out against during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.

Sanders said he supported Wasserman Schultz’s Democratic opponent in her Aug. 30 primary, adding that if he was elected president, he would effectively terminate her chairmanship of the DNC.

“Clearly, I favor her opponent,” Sanders told anchor Jake Tapper. “His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz’s.”

Sanders’ campaign has long been critical of Wasserman Shultz’s performance as head of the DNC, claiming that the committee has rigged the system in Clinton’s favor.

Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, accused Wasserman Schultz of “throwing shade” at the senator after she told CNN he did not do enough to condemn his supporters’ reportedly violent behavior at the recent Nevada Democratic Convention.

Meanwhile, commentators have suggested that the anger and violence exhibited by some Sanders supporters at the convention are not a far cry from the kind of chaos that has marked Trump rallies.

“First of all, Bernie is a revolutionary. And what we’re seeing is revolutionary kinds of behavior. It’s the same anger that Donald Trump has tapped into,” said Jerry Crawford, a longtime Democratic activist, adviser and attorney.

Doug Gross, a longtime Republican activist, adviser and attorney, agreed that Trump and Sanders are similarly tapping into the angst of their people.

“It’s the same coin, just two different sides.”