Is Bernie Sanders More Popular with Voters Than with Party Leaders?


There’s a gap in the Democratic Party between what ordinary voters think about Bernie Sanders and how party leaders view him, according to an analysis in The Atlantic by Professor Peter Beinart (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, The Graduate Center).

Most rank-and-file voters in the Democratic Party like Sanders, even if their first choice for president is someone else. But party officials don’t share that view, Beinart says.

“Judging by media coverage and the comments of party luminaries, you might think Democrats are bitterly polarized over Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid,” Beinart writes. Sanders ranks fourth in endorsements from party leaders, behind Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Endorsement Tracker.  

But among ordinary Democrats, “Sanders is strikingly popular, even with voters who favor his rivals.” A USA Today/IPSOS survey found Democrats view Sanders as the candidate who “best shares their values.” Another poll put Sanders’ favorability rating among Democrats nationally at 71%, which is higher than his five top rivals. His 19% unfavorability rating was tied for second lowest. In contrast, Bloomberg was viewed unfavorably by more than a third of Democratic voters. 

Beinart suggests there’s a “centrist bias” among party elites and journalists that “keeps party and media insiders from recognizing that Bloomberg … is a far more divisive figure among ordinary Democrats.” 

Well over 90% of voters who support Warren, Biden, and Pete Buttigieg say they would back Sanders against Donald Trump. The reverse, however, is not true: “Sanders voters are significantly more likely to say that they won’t back one of his rivals in the general election.” 

Of course, “none of this” means Sanders would beat Trump. But if Sanders receives only a plurality of delegates, party elites could “try to steer the nomination to Bloomberg or another moderate” through superdelegates on a second ballot at the convention. Sanders’ “nomination won’t tear the party apart,” Beinart says. But “denying him the nomination just might.” 

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Regular Democrats Just Aren’t Worried About Bernie
The Atlantic, 2020

Work By

Peter Beinart (Professor, Journalism) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools

Graduate School of Journalism