How Bernie’s 2020 Struggles Can Be Explained by 2016

What if everything we think we learned in the wake of the 2016 election was … wrong?

As of late Tuesday night, Joe Biden was outperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in many Michigan counties by double digits. Last week, Sanders’ share of young voters actually fell from four years ago. Many have viewed this as a consolidation of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party around Joe Biden. But if Sanders’ numbers so far—even among young voters—are lower than they were in 2016, perhaps the perceived strength of Bernie’s progressive movement four years ago was always better explained as an anti-Hillary vote. 

And if that’s the case, what does that mean for President Trump’s re-election chances in November?

Throughout the 2016 Democratic primary, turnout numbers were significantly lower than they had been in 2008. That was chalked up to the “once in a generation” candidacy of Barack Obama and the enthusiasm that it spurred across demographics that no candidate could be expected to replicate in 2016. Sanders won 23 contests that cycle, and Clinton didn’t clinch the nomination until June after a single-digit win over Sanders in California. Bernie Sanders’ strong performance—running as a self-described socialist who was suddenly turning out large and enthusiastic crowds with his anti-corruption message—surprised everyone, including the Clinton team. 

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