Who Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump Polls Are Saying Would Win the Potential 2020 Match-up

When faced with questions about his electability, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the current frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic race, can point to a lot of recent polling in which he is leading President Donald Trump, often comfortably and by a wider margin than his rivals.

However, there are ominous signs for Sanders, an independent from Vermont and a democratic socialist, in polls from swing states that will decide who enters the White House on inauguration day 2021. And, so far out from the election, the polling either way is not reliable.

"They are especially unhelpful this round because the head-to-head match-ups are actually pretty close," Dr. Andrew Wroe, senior lecturer in American politics at the U.K.'s University of Kent, told Newsweek.

"None of the Democratic candidates has a particularly healthy lead over Trump in these hypothetical contests. Only a foolish gambler would set great store by them. Without a nominee, it's difficult and unwise to start making projections.

"And while Super Tuesday next week might help clarify the situation, it could still be months before the primary contest is sewn up, perhaps even going all the way to the Democratic convention in Wisconsin in mid-July."

Sanders promises a radical transformation of American politics and society if he is elected to the White House, including tax hikes on the wealthiest and a program of huge public investment. The Trump campaign wants to turn the election into a referendum on capitalism vs. socialism.

Moderates argue Sanders is too left-wing to win over the independents and conservatives needed to defeat Trump and his socialistic campaign will turn off too many voters—including some Democrats—to be successful at the election.

Supporters of the senator say his platform is for the kind of genuine change many Americans desire and appeals to voters across the different age, income, and racial groups. Sanders believes he can inspire that coalition to turn out and regain the White House.

"It's widely believed that nominating a more centrist candidate in the general election is a safer move," Dr. Thomas Gift, assistant professor in political science at University College London (UCL), told Newsweek.

"However, the Sanders campaign does make a reasonable case that choosing a centrist risks diminishing excitement among the liberal base."

FiveThirtyEight's average of national polling in the Democratic race shows Sanders is, by some distance, the frontrunner, having supplanted former Vice President Joe Biden, who in the early stages of the contest held a vast lead.

Sanders is polling at 28.9 percent. Second is Biden at 16.7 percent and third is billionaire Mike Bloomberg at 15.4 percent, both of whom are moderates.

Fourth is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive, at 12.7 percent, fifth is former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, another moderate, at 10.9 percent, and sixth is Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, also a moderate, at five percent.

In national head-to-head polling against the president, Sanders has a strong claim to be the candidate who most consistently comes up on top over Trump.

A recent Fox News poll had Sanders at 49 percent and Trump at 42 percent in an election head-to-head.

But while Sanders had a decent lead over Trump, it was Biden (49 percent to 41 percent) and Bloomberg (48 percent to 40 percent) who held slightly larger margins over the incumbent president.

Warren (46 percent to 43 percent) and Buttigieg (45 percent to 42 percent) held only three-point advantages over Trump.

The poll was of 1,000 registered voters reached by landline or cell phone between February 23 to 26 and had a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.

A YouGov poll for CBS News, however, put Sanders at 47 percent and Trump at 44 percent, the widest margin of all candidates mentioned in the survey of 10,000 registered voters, which took place between February 20 to 22. The margin of sampling error was 1.2 percent.

The poll had Biden leading Trump by just 47 percent to 45 percent. Warren led Trump by 46 percent to 45 percent and Buttigieg was tied with the president at 44 percent.

Trump had the upper hand over Bloomberg (45 percent to 42 percent) and Klobuchar (45 percent to 44 percent).

An ABC News/Washington Post poll had Sanders leading Trump by 51 percent to 45 percent, second only to Biden's advantage over the president (52 percent to 45 percent).

All candidates held a lead over Trump in the poll, including Bloomberg (50 percent to 45 percent), Buttigieg (49 percent to 46 percent), Klobuchar (46 percent to 48 percent), and Warren (48 percent to 47 percent).

The survey of 1,066 adults by landline and cell phone, which was conducted by Langer Research Associates, took place between February 14 to 17, and had a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

Emerson College Polling's head-to-head results have put Sanders as the only 2020 Democratic candidate that is beating Trump nationally. In Emerson's latest poll, Sanders leads Trump by 51 percent to 49 percent while all others trail the Republican president by at least two percentage points.

The Emerson poll of 1,250 registered voters took place between February 16 to 18 and had a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points.

And an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll put Sanders in front of Trump by 50 percent to 46 percent, though his margin was slimmer than Biden's and Bloomberg's in the same results.

Biden led Trump by 52 percent to 44 percent and Bloomberg led the president by 50 percent to 43 percent. Buttigieg (48 percent to 44 percent) and Klobuchar (48 percent to 45 percent) also had the advantage on Trump.

The poll of 900 registered voters was conducted by Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies between February 14 to 17 and has a margin of error of 3.27 percent.

Yet, while the national polls do show consistent support for Sanders over Trump, they do not definitively answer the electability question not least because of the distance to November.

"The national polls can be misleading indicators of who will ultimately win the presidency," UCL's Gift told Newsweek.

"Although they can provide a broad overview of the favorability of candidates, presidential races are ultimately determined by the Electoral College.

"That means a limited number of swing states—like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, etc—end up mattering the most."

Trump lost the popular vote by around three million in 2016 but still won the election because of the Electoral College system. In practice, the election will be won or lost in key battleground states that swing between Democrat and Republican.

Quinnipiac University recently polled on head-to-heads between Democratic candidates and Trump in three of the Rust Belt swing states that voted Trump four years ago: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. It presents a mixed picture for Sanders.

In Wisconsin, Trump defeats all of the Democratic candidates, the poll found. Trump beats Sanders by 50 percent to 43 percent.

He also beats Biden by 49 percent to 42 percent, Bloomberg by 49 percent to 41 percent, Buttigieg by 49 percent to 41 percent, Warren by 51 percent to 41 percent, and Klobuchar by 50 percent to 39 percent.

In Pennsylvania, however, Trump loses to all the 2020 candidates. Sanders defeats Trump by 48 percent to 44 percent, but this is a narrower margin of victory than Bloomberg (48 percent to 42 percent), Klobuchar (49 percent to 42 percent), and Biden (50 percent to 42 percent.)

Over in Michigan, again all Democratic candidates lead Trump, but this time Sanders is on top at 48 percent to 43 percent, followed by Bloomberg (47 percent to 42 percent) and Biden (47 percent to 43 percent).

Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow said at the time that it was the economy giving Trump "a strong tailwind" because it is a top issue among voters in all three states.

"These Wisconsin numbers are a red warning sign for Democrats that rebuilding the 'blue wall' in 2020 may not be so easy. But it's a long way to November," Snow said.

The Quinnipiac survey of between 823 and 849 registered voters in each state took place from February 12 to 18. It had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

Wroe told Newsweek that the "conventional wisdom" is Sanders must retake the Rust Belt states lost to Trump at the last election. But a winning strategy in the Rust Belt may come at a cost in other states.

"It's true that if just 40,000 people in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania had voted for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump, we would today be talking about the Republican challengers to President Clinton," Wroe said.

"But it is wrong to think that Sanders' task is as easy as peeling off 40,000 white working-class voters from the president. In doing that, he could hemorrhage votes elsewhere, particularly among educated suburban women who have been slowly moving into the Democratic camp.

"Elections are a complex game of multidimensional chess. It's axiomatic and obvious to say that any challenger must win the key swing states; actually winning them is a different matter."

Florida, which Trump also won in 2016, is another vital swing state because it carries with it a large number of electoral votes. At 29, it is joint third highest with New York, behind Texas, which has 38 electoral votes, and California, which has 55.

A UNF/First Coast News Florida Statewide Poll of voters in the state found that Bloomberg and Biden fared better against Trump than Sanders, who tied. The poll found that, in Florida, Bloomberg beat Trump 50 percent to 44 percent. Biden led Trump 49 percent to 48 percent.

But Sanders and Trump were 48 percent apiece in the poll of 725 registered Florida voters conducted by cell phone and landline between February 10 to 17. It had a margin of sampling error of 3.6 percentage points. Warren and Trump were also tied in Florida at 47 percent.

Still, with months until November's election, and a way to go before the Democratic convention formally nominates its rival to Trump, it is "too far out to offer anything other than a guestimate" about Sanders' chances in either contest, Wroe said.

"Trump himself would clearly love a face-off against Sanders, who personifies everything the president has been saying about the radical, socialist Democratic party," Wroe told Newsweek.

"There's no question that Sanders is loved, even worshiped, by his ardent followers, but to become president he needs ensure that ordinary, more centrist Democratic supporters will turn out for him rather than stay home.

"And beyond that, he also needs to win the votes of non-aligned moderates and independents. Sanders has a very long road to travel to reposition himself to appeal to the center-ground in American politics."

Wroe also noted Trump's "structural advantages," including the strong economy—with low inflation and unemployment, and robust GDP growth—and that the Republican party has "raised a staggering amount of money to fight the upcoming campaign."

"Hillary and the Democratic party outspent Trump hugely in 2016 and lost. Now, it's advantage Trump in the money stakes," Wroe told Newsweek.

"One upside for the Democrats is that Trump's personal popularity is below where it should be given the economic fundamentals, largely because he is, well, Trump.

"The fact that it's Trump in the White House should give the Democrats hope. Self-immolation comes naturally to him."

UCL's Gift told Newsweek that Sanders polls well in hypothetical head-to-heads against Trump but it is still early and "the president isn't in full-campaign mode yet."

Gift said a challenge for Sanders is selling democratic socialism in a growing, stable economy with low unemployment and that is perceived as strong.

"Although it's clear that not all the benefits of the Trump economy are being equitably distributed, and Sanders clearly taps into concerns about inequality, his case against Trump will be made that much harder as long as the U.S. economy stays afloat," Gift told Newsweek.

"A lot can change between now and the election once the Republican Party sets its sights on challenging whoever the Democratic nominee is. The potential for unforeseen events—including fluctuations in the economy—can also affect the dynamics of the race."

Bernie Sanders Donald Trump 2020 election polls
Democratic presidential frontrunner Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to supporters on February 27, 2020 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Sanders, a self described democratic-socialist, is under criticism from mainstream Democrats for his liberal positions and views on socialism, which they feel will make him vulnerable to U.S. President Donald Trump in the general election. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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