In 1948, the media thought that Republican presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey had the election in the bag. Rather stiff and pompous, the governor of New York and former district attorney was known as “the only man who could strut sitting down,” and he held a huge lead over incumbent president Harry S. Truman in the polls. This was his second presidential election: In 1944, he had been the GOP nominee and done better against Franklin D. Roosevelt than any previous Republican. With Harry S. Truman being seen as a weak replacement for FDR and Dewey being seen as the Republican champion whose time had come, virtually all media outlets called the presidency early for Dewey.
The plainspoken Truman lacked the poise and polish of Dewey, but he was a dedicated and vocal campaigner who hit the ground running. Dewey, the undeniable frontrunner, ran a staid and cautious campaign by comparison. With polls the week before election day still showing Dewey with a significant lead, media outlets began preparing their stories in advance. Infamously, the Chicago Tribune churned out 150,000 newspapers proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman” before last-minute reports revealed that Truman had pulled the most famous upset in U.S. presidential electoral history. Someone gave Truman a copy of the controversial newspaper and a photograph of the re-elected president with the erroneous headline made history.
Perhaps more media tycoons should be students of history, for they are on their way to being doomed to repeat it. The mainstream media’s continued adulation of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and condescending coverage of progressive challenger Bernie Sanders, is causing a repeat of the media mistakes of ’48. Today, with Clinton’s slide in the polls having reversed since her solid debate performance on October 13, the media is recklessly proclaiming that she is once again the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee. Pundits are suggesting that Sanders has “reached his peak” in terms of public support. Some believe that this is Bernie Sanders’ “last stand.”
These pundits need to take a step back and realize that the election is still very much up in the air…and that Bernie Sanders’ support is likely far stronger than contemporary polls suggest.
For example, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are far more likely than Hillary Clinton’s to be underrepresented in traditional telephone polls. Sanders’ supporters skew younger, meaning more of them rely on cell phones instead of land lines. As younger voters, they are also less likely to be in phone books, on call lists, or to have previously registered as Democrats. These young voters may also simply be more busy and less able or willing to respond to polls. As college students or entry-level workers, they have their noses to the grindstone and cannot usually take personal calls during work hours.
More telling than opinion polls, which may be highly biased, is the statistic revealing that Bernie Sanders has more political donors than any other politician in U.S. history. This data, which reveal more than 750,000 individual contributions, is more objective than polls that might rely on questions intended to portray one candidate in a more favorable light. And, given that many media tycoons have contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it stands to reason that polling questions from these media outlets are biased, consciously or subconsciously, in her favor.
And, even if Clinton does actually enjoy a substantial lead in nationwide Democratic support, it cannot be ignored that her support is highly elastic. Clinton’s support and power are largely based on the perception that she, and only she, can beat the Republican presidential nominee. Liberals seem to prefer Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals and political record far more than Clinton’s. Despite hours of exhaustive reading, it appears that the only non-feminist argument in favor of Clinton is the idea that she is “better positioned” to achieve liberal aims.
Bernie Sanders’ supporters, by contrast, support him because they believe, often passionately, in his policy proposals. They will not abandon him. Clinton’s supporters will abandon her campaign in droves once she begins to struggle again.
A look at the 1948 general election reveals a surprising number of similarities with today’s Democratic race. The frontrunner is a New York politician who is known for being stiff, pompous, and entitled. The older challenger is a plainspoken man who eschews fancy galas for gruff, rousing speeches. The New Yorker, a lawyer by training, is more conservative and has run for president before. The more liberal candidate bounced around during his younger days, not establishing himself until a bit later in life. Like a lawyer, the New York politician spoke broadly and offered few details. Like a populist, the older challenger gave voters specifics and defended his record.
Sound familiar? Bernie2016!