Matt Yglesias looks at the "who is more electable" argument among the Democrats and comes up with much the same analysis as myself and several commenters: Bernie is more likable as a person, but his refusal to moderate his positions for the general more than eliminates that advantage over Clinton, the example Yglesias uses is carbon taxes.
According to Harvard political scientist Stephen Ansolabehere's meta-analysis of 25 separate surveys:
- 75 to 80 percent of Americans favor EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions
- 45 to 55 percent favor cap and trade
- 25 to 45 percent favor a carbon tax
That's why Clinton won't embrace a carbon tax. She wants to win in November.
EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions is almost certainly not the optimal policy for combatting climate change. But it is popular and political defensible, as well as being something a Democratic president can do without majority support in congress. But despite its popularity, EPA regulatory authority has been under relentless attack from congressional Republicans and conservative judges and all the GOP candidates for president have promised to roll it back.
Politics is full of tradeoffs, but to Clinton (like Barack Obama before her) there actually is no tradeoff here. The right thing to do if you care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to maximize the Democratic Party's odds of controlling the White House in order to deploy EPA regulatory levers. Taking an unpopular climate-related stance in pursuit of a policy goal that wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell in congress is pointless and counterproductive.
Which is an excellent point, and that brings us to why Clinton is more electable in the general than Sanders:
If it were just carbon taxes, Sander's issue positions probably wouldn't be enough to outweigh his poll numbers in the eyes of most political insiders.
But Sanders — quite proudly and openly — takes these kind of stances on a wide range of issues. He markets himself in the primary, accurately, as the bolder, more politically courageous candidate.
- While Clinton has clearly tried to signal sympathy with death penalty opponents and their concern about racial bias, Sanders outright calls for an end to executions.
- While Clinton tries to reassure fracking opponents that she understands the need for tight regulations, but she also wants communities that like fracking to know she won't stand in the way of their economic development — while Sanders promises a blanket ban.
- Hillary Clinton proposes only relatively modest, overwhelmingly popular tweaks to the tax code while Sanders proposes to soak the rich to a much greater extent while also asking more of the middle class.
- Hillary Clinton hews to the stale, politically safe orthodoxy on Israel policy while Sanders offers a breathe of fresh air.
- Sanders is even willing to promise to let people who've already been deported from the United States back into the country if they have family living here.
On all of these topics you don't need to question Sanders on the substance to see that it's not a mystery why national Democrats rarely take these stances. They are not popular. Sometimes in life you have to do the right thing, whether it's popular or not. But if you want to understand why the Democratic Party establishment is so skeptical of Sanders' electability despite his strong current poll numbers this is why — Bernie Sanders says he is the candidate who is willing to take tough stands for progressive causes, and the establishment fears he is telling the truth.
And I respect Sanders for taking these positions. But they are useless if he loses, best case is that Clinton adopts some of the more feasible positions, worst case Sanders hurts Clinton so badly that Trump or Cruz wins and sets all of these positions back a couple decades.
Politics aren't pretty.
The counter-argument is that Trump/Cruz are themselves so unelectable that Sanders can win and win easily. The polls are starting to show that he would win, but that would arguably leave a Republican Congress in charge of at least the House and that Clinton's skill and negotiations would get through the things that could get passed, like Obama has done.
Granted, that hasn't been as much as I'd like, but that's not Obama's fault, nor would it be Clinton's fault or Sanders's fault in 2017 with a GOP House. (It would be ours for the GOP House thing.)
It's a pretty solid argument for pragmatism for either side, and of course I would vote for either over any Republican.