Craig Paterson: How it really could have been President Sanders


Political campaigner Craig Paterson takes a look at the numbers and questions whether Bernie Sanders could have given the Democrats the path to the White House

OH what could have been. 

There will be ample time for theoretical analysis and soul searching over what has happened in the US but I wanted to look and see if Democrat Bernie Sanders could have beaten Republican Donald Trump. 

Thankfully, there is lots of money in American politics that allows for lots of data collection and exit polling.

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Going by the available data (and there is plenty of it), Donald Trump would have been defeated by Bernie Sanders on Tuesday night, had the Vermont senator been the one to face him.

When examining the states Hillary Clinton lost twice — the states Trump won, side-by-side with the states Bernie Sanders won during the Democratic primary — the similarities are striking. 

The Republican nominee likely saw this, as he tweeted in May that he was relieved to not to have to face Sanders in the general election: "I would rather run against Crooked Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders and that will happen because the books are cooked against Bernie!" he said.

In five states, Sanders won in the primaries where exit polling data is available — Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin — the demographics that helped Trump hit 270 electoral college votes were also the same key demographics that helped Sanders defeat Clinton in multiple primaries in different regions of the country.

The numbers suggest that there may have been enough Sanders votes in those pivotal states to have swung the election in his favour if the superdelegates and restrictive closed primaries weren’t part of the Democratic primary process. 
When we put this into an electoral map assuming that Sanders won white, rural rust belt voters in the traditionally blue states that Hillary Clinton lost on Tuesday night in a hypothetical Trump/Sanders general election matchup, it gives Sanders a victory with a 303-235 advantage in the electoral college.

Determining whether or not Sanders would have won the states Clinton lost is easy when looking at exit poll data taken during the Democratic primary. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown on those states.


Sanders beat Clinton by five points in Indiana’s 3 May primary. On Tuesday night, Trump beat Clinton by 20 points. While Indiana went to Mitt Romney in 2012, it’s worth remembering that Barack Obama won the state in 2008, meaning it isn’t a solidly red state.

What contributed most to Sanders’ primary win in Indiana was his dominance with white voters (57 per cent support) and men (59 percent support), who collectively made up 72 per cent and 42 per cent of voters, respectively. 

Sanders also excelled among poor and lower-middle class voters, winning the majority of voters who made less than $30,000, and between $30,000 and $50,000. 

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Sanders won the support of a whopping 72 per cent of independents, 54 per cent of voters who said free trade had a negative effect on jobs, and 60 per cent of voters who said they were "very worried" about the future of the US economy.

Comparatively, Donald Trump won 53 per cent of white voters in the Indiana Republican primary, and 59 per cent of men — roughly the same percentages Sanders won for those same demographics.

Trump also won 54 per cent of voters who made between $30,000 and $50,000 in 2015, and 53 per cent of voters who were "very worried" about the future of the economy.


The 8 March Michigan primary was perhaps Bernie Sanders’ most important victory, as pollsters widely and wrongly predicted a considerable victory for Clinton (Michigan seemingly a problem polling state for the experts) due to her strength with black voters in cities like Detroit and Flint. 

Sanders’ 50-48 win was largely due to his strength with rural, white voters disenfranchised by free trade deals backed by the Clintons, like Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement).

Much like Indiana, Sanders prevailed with the help of 55 per cent of male voters and 56 per cent of white voters. Fifty-four per cent of voters who made less than $50,000 supported Sanders, as well as 71 per cent of voters identifying as independent. 

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Nafta hate brought Sanders over the finish line, as 56 per cent of voters who said free trade was bad for job growth in Michigan picked Sanders. The Vermont senator did very well with voters who said they wanted an outsider in office, winning 84 per cent of that demographic. 

Sanders' strength wasn’t in inner cities, but in suburbs and rural areas, capturing 50 per cent and 57 per cent of voters, respectively.

Trump beat all four of his competitors in the Michigan primary along the same demographic lines. Trump won 53 per cent of men and 38 per cent of white voters (13 points better than his closest competitor, Ted Cruz). 

Among the $30,000 to $50,000 income demographic, Trump demolished Cruz by 21 points. Trump also won 45 per cent of voters who said free trade took away American jobs, which was 23 points higher than Cruz.

West Virginia

Voters in West Virginia largely live in rural areas, work blue-collar jobs, and are some of the poorest in the country. It’s no surprise Sanders won by 15 points in the 10 May primary, and that Trump beat Ted Cruz by 68 points. 

Democrats are well-represented in the West Virginia legislature, and because West Virginians just elected a Democrat for governor while simultaneously rejecting Hillary Clinton, it’s very possible Sanders would have won the state had he been the Democratic nominee. 

As was the pattern during the Democratic primary, Sanders won with white voters and men, capturing 52 per cent and 53 per cent of those demographics, respectively. 

Sen. Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton by 32 points in the $30,000 to $50,000 income demographic, and beat Clinton by 19 points among voters who made less than $30,000. Trump obliterated the competition in those same gender, race, and income demographics.


Clinton’s loss to Trump in Wisconsin was perhaps the most significant of the night, as Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican for president in more than 30 years. 

Wisconsin was also a state where Sanders notched a crushing victory over Clinton, winning by a 57-43 margin. Sanders won nearly two-thirds of male voters, and 59 per cent of whites, who made up 83 per cent of the electorate in the state’s 5 April primary. 

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Sanders defeated Clinton in all the income demographics, but did particularly well among middle class voters, capturing 54 per cent of the $30,000 to $50,000 demographic, along with 61 per cent of the state’s $50,000 to $99,000 demographic, who made up the largest percentage of primary voters. 

Among voters against free trade policies, Sanders won by a 60-39 margin. The numbers, if repeated in Ohio and Pennsylvania (and the data suggests so), would have seen Sanders take these states as well, giving him the White House with ease.

We’ll never know now what may have been, and thanks to the Washington elite of the Democratic party we’ll probably never get the chance to see President Sanders in office.

Picture courtesy of Randy Bayne

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