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Jacobin - September 4, 2019

"To unseat Donald Trump next November, his opponent will need a volunteer army in places that aren’t necessarily liberal strongholds. The data show that Bernie Sanders has that army."

When I talk to Democrats about the presidential primary, I hear the same thing over and over: “I’ll vote for whoever I think can beat Donald Trump.”

Fair enough. The problem is that there’s no way to know for sure who that might be. The latest polls show all of the top Democratic Party presidential candidates beating Trump in a general election. But then, these same polls also showed Hillary Clinton beating Trump, so who can trust them? In order to figure out who has the best chance of beating Trump, we’ll need to reason it out.

Electorally speaking, Trump won for two related reasons: in key swing states, a handful of former Obama voters opted for Trump over Clinton, and another handful decided to vote for nobody at all. To unseat Trump, the nominee will have to perform well in those swing areas. Instead of projecting our own fantasies about what voters (and potential voters) are looking for in a candidate, we should look at the supporter data that is already available.

The Daily Beastreports that in the 206 counties that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then went for Donald Trump in 2016, Bernie Sanders is raking in far and away the most individual donations. Sanders has received 81,841 donations from 33,185 donors in flipped counties. That’s roughly three times as much as runner-up Elizabeth Warren, who received 26,298 donations from 13,674 donors. Buttigieg comes in just under Warren, with Biden trailing closely behind.

It would be a mistake to draw a direct line from donors to voters. While it’s clear that Sanders has the most enthusiastic support base (he continues to break records for individual donations), we can’t just perform simple multiplication to predict the voter breakdown. Donor profiles differ from voter profiles in key ways: donors are more engaged in the political process, but plenty of semi-disengaged people will pull the lever in their state’s primary election, and plenty of even more disengaged people will do the same in the general election.

But we can still draw meaningful insights from this data. In particular, the fact that donors tend to be more politically engaged than non-donors makes the presence of passionate Sanders supporters in flipped counties especially important. ...
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