Sanders Gets Thumped Worse Than McGovern

In modern times, the exemplar for losing leftwing Democrats in a presidential election is the 1972 matchup between Richard Nixon (R) and George McGovern (D). Tricky Dick stomped McGovern in the election that November. McGovern has been held up as a cautionary tale ever since to show why Democrats must be center-right in order to win.

We're already seeing media pundits and establishment bros pushing the narrative that Bernie Sanders is the George McGovern of 2020. They assure us that if Sanders is the nominee, Trump will stomp him in the election this November.

But is that true? Consider the chart below. McGovern's best poll in national matchups with Nixon had him trailing by 16%. That was his best showing in polls between May and November of 1972. In the actual election, McGovern lost the popular vote by 23%.

McGovern 1972.png
Historical polling for US presidential elections -- Wikipedia

How about Sanders? Will he get thumped worse than McGovern? While it's still too early to make an apples to apples comparison, the most recent national poll has Sanders beating Trump by 3%. Within the margin of error, mind you, yet hardly the 20%+ consistent polling thump Richard Nixon gave George McGovern.

General Election: Trump vs. Sanders
CBS News/YouGov
Sanders 47, Trump 44
Sanders +3

We'll see how things evolve over time, but the takeaway here is that thus far, Bernie is no George. It's time to declutch the pearls and stow away the fainting couches.

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with your fancy facts and logic.
Doncha know that this is like the Nazis invading France?
what about the firing squads in Central Park? Go ahead and try to reason with them!

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@gjohnsit

But on this point, we are absolutely on the same page.

Reason, schmeason. They don't need no stinkin' facts.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

The problem with the wisdom that the Dem party needs to keep easing to the right to win elections is that eventually the Dems will become Republicans and the Rs will become Neo fascists.
Oh yeah. That happened.

I loved the analogy I found at this site last week pointing out that riding a bike requires constant minor corrections to avoid catastrophes. It also would seem obvious you need to steer (and lean) to the right in a fairly equal amount to steering and leaning to the left. We keep going right to the point we are going in the ditch.

I have older friends that talk about the "lessons learned from the McGovern loss". What they never seemed to learn is that a principled vote always is a wise decision. The only people who should have any regrets about McGovern v Nixon is the 60% of Americans who voted for a total crook.

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@wouldsman

I have older friends that talk about the "lessons learned from the McGovern loss".

Everything changed with 2008 and it's fall out.
TPTB have been trying to hold back the ocean's tide for over 10 years now.

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Wally's picture

@gjohnsit

. . . as a student organizer at my university. I shook his hand about a half dozen times, exchanged pleasantries and good wishes, and stood right next to him on two occasions when he gave speeches. I worked by butt off for him and spent a long very cold weekend in NH for him. I took the loss pretty hard and gave up on engaging in national level electoral politics (although I continued to vote alternatively Dem and Green or write-in) while continuing to be involved in several social justice causes and local electoral campaigns. I only got involved somewhat again in presidential politics when Bernie ran in 2016. Even then, my involvement was not that extensive, just basically financial contributions which is pretty much where I'm at this time around. In 2016, I only got enthusiastic when he won the Michigan primary but when I saw that he was going to fall short, I pretty much withdrew from it a few months before the convention. I just don't see much purpose being involved in a cause I definitively see as lost or even very unlikely to win. This time around, I don't see any other alternative but to max out my contributions given that he realy has a chance of winning this time, much more so than 2016, and because we are at a tipping point on many fronts. Despite becoming politically disillusioned as a result of McGovern's loss, I certainly don't regret all the time I spent working for him. I know in my heart that he was a good decent man (maybe not so good at politics). I feel the same way about Bernie but I think he's damn good at politics and at this point in time, he's our only freaking hope for the young and future generations -- plus I'd really like to enjoy a really big last hurrah on a personal level. Bernie's the chance of our lifetimes but if y'all think there's time to develop something comparable with the same kind of critical mass and enthusiasm Bernie has attained, good luck.

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orlbucfan's picture

@Wally 2 years later. I wasn't voting age yet, but I hated Trick the Dick and the FRightwingnut aka Powell Memo monsters even back then. Rec'd!!

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Inner and Outer Space: the Final Frontiers.

@Wally
His daughter struggled with alcoholism her entire adult life. She died outside in somebody's backyard, pretty much across the fence from my backyard.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

Granma's picture

@UntimelyRippd

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@gjohnsit @gjohnsit
The "moderate" Democrats are now to the right of Nixon on many policies, foreign and domestic.
EDIT to elaborate:
The Republicans are all off the charts to the right. McGovern might have done a lot better if he'd been running against Barry Goldwater.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

@wouldsman with the right and eventually you've halved the distance between where you were and the right. The dems ought to compromise with the left occasionally. They should try it once or twice.

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@Snode
left foot to the knife.

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1 user has voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

@wouldsman @wouldsman
but the story is that in 1975 a poll was taken of people who voted in 1972. 90% said they voted for McGovern. They obviously learned their lesson - and forgot it in 1980.

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A PROUD Hillary hater since 1993

PriceRip's picture

@wouldsman

          I have no regrets with what I learned then, and to continue the analogy: It was my first time on that particular bike. The loss was a learning experience. One of the major outcomes was that I managed to have good results "acting locally" over the following decades. But, most importantly, I know my limitations and have found ways to leverage what I have to maximize results.

          The problem is that this leads to the paradox of optimism coupled to pessimism. Knowing what can be done (even in a flawed world) must be tempered with the reality that many people are just fundamentally dishonest. Dealing with fundamental dishonesty is tricky, to say the least.

          From a certain perspective, the political landscape is rather familiar. If a few of the dominoes I am watching topple in just the right way, I can envision some fortuitous outcomes occurring in the foreseeable future.

          But (as with regard to anything connected with La Grande, OR) I know not to keep my hopes up and I certainly don't expect too much.


RIP

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"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesman. From a press briefing during the Vietnam war.

Raggedy Ann's picture

When Bernie wins in a landslide, they will be scratching their heads wondering how they got it so wrong.

-OR-

When the nomination is stolen from Bernie at the convention and the CIA asset runs against Herr Drumpf, they will be scratching their heads wondering how the CIA asset lost to Herr Drumpf.

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"When will our conscience's grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" Eleanor Roosevelt

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." Socrates (469-399 BC)

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Raggedy Ann

and the establishment Dems help Trump commit election fraud to win.

They'd rather have Trump than Bernie. They'd love it if they could use Bernie the same way they use McGovern and (in a slightly different way) Nader.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

from 1972 that I wasn't aware of. Do you have a cite?

Political historians here will note the dip for George in the July to August period -- that was as a result of the disastrous Dem convo where there was so much disorganization, so many identity groups that needed to have their say, that the nominee didn't get on stage for the most important speech of his life, introducing himself to the public, until 1:30 am. Also it was at that convo that McG named Eagleton as his VP, only to bow to a fierce media firestorm a few days later and unname him. Sarge Shriver, the eventual VP pick, was something like the 8th person McG tried to ask. Ted Kennedy, McG's first pick all along, turned him down before and after Eagleton.

Re the upcoming GE, there won't be a landslide for either side -- the country is far more polarized today than 48 yrs ago. Won't be any more landslides for a long time.

Trump is guaranteed his 43% min and 46% max and Dems can expect something in the 46-48% range as a minimum, would be my guess. Only serious election theft by Rs in some key R controlled states (like 2016) can save Trump.

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edg's picture

@wokkamile

Historical polling for United States presidential elections -- Wikipedia

Has Gallup poll results back to 1936.

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Cassiodorus's picture

Also Trump is no Nixon. Nixon was broadly popular; Trump isn't.

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"Scab of a nation, driven insane" -- Frank Zappa

Alligator Ed's picture

undoubtedly, one of the last few surviving members who did so. When he lost, I retreated back into the swamp until Bernie ran in 2016.

Now that politics has become a blood sport, I have continued to observe the fun. For those who are desirous of sanguinity (in the sense of red blood cells), just watch for the blood flowing in Milwaukee after the superdelegates steal the nomination from Bernie.

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Go to twitter and search the following:

@matthewstoller mcgovern

To see takes on if McGovern like Sanders. Stoller says that Nixon was the one seen as a populist.

*Don't need a twitter account. Just go to twitter.com

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Wally's picture

@MrWebster

But his sense of history in comparing Nixon and McGovern is more than a bit skewed.

Stoller claims McG was anti-union based on what?

I don't think his polling indicators prove any such claim.

Don't forget that these were days when labor union leaders were very much proponents of pushing the cold war.

McGovern was known as the "prairie populist."

I prefer at least part of the article Stoller was reacting against, namely: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/bernie-sanders-george-...
Here's a tiny sliver of it that Stoller completely ignores:

“He also proposed increased Social Security benefits, boosting union rights, steep hikes in taxes on the rich, and a universal basic income,” which he ultimately reworked into a jobs-guarantee proposal. Sanders’s policy platform includes all of those measures, right down to the federal jobs guarantee. It’s also worth pointing out that while McGovern’s pacifism (which was core to his rise to prominence on the left) finds its clear echo in Sanders, the Vietnam War made his foreign policy position more salient in 1972.

I think the conclusions some are drawing from Atlantic article, however, that Sanders will go down in flames like McGovern are ridiculous. Times are different today as the Atlantic article concludes. The US wasn't ready for McGovern in 1972 and he made some really stupid campaign mistakes. The time has come today for Bernie Sanders. There I agree with Stoller.

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@Wally with your points. See my below post -- it was more about what Nixon had done by the summer of '72 to set himself up nicely for a solid re-election than what McG did or didn't do, even with his major blunders.

Muskie, who would have been a stronger candidate, and antiwar enough, of course didn't make it much beyond NH (no doubt helped along by Nixon's dirty tricksters). He might have made the GE outcome a bit more interesting and held the party together, but my sense of it was that it was Nixon's election to lose, and running a Rose Garden safe campaign (no debates of course), with little pushback or scrutiny from the compliant MSM of the day, and of course with Sammy Davis Jr's endorsement to demonstrate Even Dick Nixon Likes Blacks, he managed to avoid grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

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@MrWebster up Stoller later, but in the meantime, it was (and is) more about perceptions, and how one campaign is able to depict the other, and not necessarily on the candidate's actual record.

In 1972, iirc there was the clever Nixon slogan against McG of "acid, amnesty and abortion". Iow, McG was painted as an extremist who if elected would lead to Americans tuning in and turning on, the complete impunity for draft dodgers, and abortion on demand at any stage.

Meanwhile Nixon had cleverly arranged to largely wind down US troop participation in the war. By the summer of '72 troops were no longer being drafted and sent to Nam, and iirc most of the action there was only defensive, no more dangerous outings into the jungle that got troops killed. So VN as an issue in the campaign was no longer a major selling point for the antiwar McG.

In addition, in 1972 Nixon had his famous trip to China, and then his trip to Moscow for an important arms treaty. Nixon was looking like a successful world statesman.

At home, the economy was in good shape.

McG suffered from a fractured party, with what I call the LBJ wing (conservative, pro-war) abandoning him for Nixon or sitting it out. Some idiots from that wing formed Democrats for Nixon which got a lot of pub. I believe LBJ's former right-hand man, ex Gov John Connally played a major role in that effort, and several prominent union leaders also came out against George.

Adding up all these factors (Nixon holding onto nearly all 13 keys in the Lichtmann calculus), the major issues on Nixon's side, and a divided DP, McG didn't stand a chance. The actual ideology of McG or Nixon was the least important consideration except as Nixon distorted McGovern to his advantage.

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The world is not the same place. I was in 6th grade my parents along with most stodgy folk thought the world was going to hell in a hand basket. Vietnam protests and old George Wallace trying to block the door of a school from being segregated. My father wanted to know what in the hell was wrong with people, a least once a day, usually during the news. I think.they saw Nixon as stable, and McGovern as turning the government over to the hippies.

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