How bad is it for Bernie Sanders? A new survey in Wisconsin released today by the highly respected Marquette Law poll gave the Vermont senator a solid lead, 49 percent, to 45 percent for Hillary Clinton — which is terrible news for Sanders if he hopes to capture the nomination. That’s because he would need to win by a much larger margin in Wisconsin — Nate Silver estimates a 16-percentage-point landslide — to get on pace to finish with more pledged delegates than Clinton.
And that’s not the worst of it. In New York, where Sanders would need to win by 4 percentage points, the latest poll from Quinnipiac as Clinton beating Sanders by 12 percentage points. The situation is even worse in Pennsylvania.
Of course, the polls can change, but there’s no particular reason to believe they will. And polls can be wrong, as they were in Michigan (where Sanders won despite a large polling lead for Clinton). Still, the polls have been accurate in many states this year.
Sanders is running an impressive campaign and winning lots of supporters, but he simply isn’t close to winning the nomination. Nor is that some sort of fluke related to the way Democrats do things. After all, since he gained on Clinton over the summer and fall, she’s maintained a fairly stable lead of about 10 percentage points in the primaries and caucuses.
He’s exceeded what he needed to do in caucus states. But he’s underperformed in primary states. That leaves him about 100 delegates short of where he would need to be at this point, and about 250 pledged delegates behind Clinton overall.
Of course, regardless of how we feel about superdelegates, they are a very real part of the Democratic process, and their support for Clinton — and lack of interest in Sanders — counts. The Sanders campaign has talked about attempting to recruit the supers, who are free to flip their loyalties, especially in states that have supported him.
However, most supers correctly appear to have concluded that Clinton is a much stronger general-election candidate. That’s true even though Sanders tends to run a bit better than the former secretary of state in current ballot tests. But political professionals apparently believe that those results would not hold up if Republicans were to begin attacking Sanders. Like Ted Cruz on the Republican side, Sanders would find it impossible to escape a reputation for ideological extremism that he has bragged about, and that would hurt him in the general election.
Sanders may win Wisconsin on April 5, and if he does, expect a full-scale freak-out by some sections of the press. Many reporters don’t like Clinton much, but what really would matter is that the media has an interest in keeping the illusion of a competitive primary in place. Unless the polls are wrong and Sanders wins three-quarters of Wisconsin’s delegates, don’t believe it. There’s only one competitive nomination battle in 2016, and it’s not on the Democratic side.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist covering U.S. politics.
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