What if Bernie Sanders starts winning?
There has been a lot of pretty hostile posts – mostly from 538 – arguing that Bernie Sanders has no chance, has no momentum, and that we should probably pay no attention to him. I understand this view. It is the default view that political scientists are taught to adopt as well. What is the most likely to happen is what will probably happen. It is a sort of occam’s razor.
That said, what will the folks at 538 do if (a) Sanders starts rising in the polls or (b) wins some caucuses/primaries? How will they explain that someone with no chance suddenly developed a chance? These primaries and caucuses are fickle. Especially considering that national polls don’t really matter in these cases – the state level polls are what matter and a poll out today has Sanders pretty high in New Hampshire (but still low other places).
Again, Clinton will probably get the nomination but relying on national popularity is how Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in 2008. I know that popular press media loves the horse race and perhaps the 538 people are trying to counterbalance that trend by downplaying the horse race but I imagine there must be a nice medium. These things can change – especially in primary elections. Flatly stating that someone has no chance and that we should ignore them seems pretty risky considering whomever says that will look silly if that person wins.