Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 18. (Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Linda May Kallestein from the Norwegian magazine Innsikt has some questions about Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) chances of winning the presidential race in 2016. Below are her questions and my replies:

Linda May Kallestein: When Bernie Sanders announced that he was running in the primaries as a Democratic candidate, it seemed as if very few believed he could stand a chance at becoming the Democratic president candidate, especially up against Hillary Clinton. The latest polls show that he has taken a huge step forward, and he is pulling in exceptionally large crowds at his rallies. How realistic of a chance does Sanders have at becoming the Democratic candidate — and even winning the general election in 2016?

Andrew Gelman: Primary elections are unpredictable. These two prediction markets give Sanders a 10 percent chance to win the nomination: New Zealand’s ipredict and Microsoft’s PredictWise.

If Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, I expect that his extreme left positions (in the U.S. context) would cost him something like two percentage points in the general election. Also I assume he’d have more trouble raising money, maybe that could cost him another percentage point or two.

LMK: Sanders has used the labels “socialist” and “social democrat” about himself. For many Americans the sound of these equals Communism. Perhaps even more so as Sanders calls for a “politcial revolution.” Some commenters have used Venezuela and Greece as example of failed socialistic nations, claiming that that is what the USA is headed for if ever a candidate like Sanders were to become president. Why, then, do many of his ideas and policies seem to go home with so many people?

AG: At this stage in the campaign, voters are not so familiar with a candidate’s detailed positions.

LMK: Who is likely to find Sanders to be a good candidate for president? Who could be a “typical” Sanders supporter?

AG: I expect these would be voters on the left wing of the Democratic Party.

LMK: Who is likely NOT to find Sanders to be a good candidate?

AG: More conservative and moderate voters. But if Sanders is nominated, he will get most Democrats of all stripes.

LMK: The mainstream media has seemed not to care much about Sanders. Why? And is this now changing, or will Sanders have to rely on social media and word of mouth in the following months?

AG: The first primaries are still several months away.

LMK: Sanders calls the current election system “corruption,” but can he realistically compete against Clinton’s super PAC and all her funding? Won’t he simply run out of money and therefore not be able to get his message across?

AG: Money is a factor, and this could indeed make a difference in the primaries and also in the general election.

LMK: Could Sanders stand up against Donald Trump if they were to run against each other in a general election?

AG: I think the chance of a Sanders-Trump matchup is so low that we don’t have to think too hard about this one!

LMK: Post war has rarely resulted in one party with a presidency for three terms. How likely will it be for any Democratic candidate to win?

AG: The data seem to show that there is an advantage to having an incumbent running for reelection. That said, the incumbent party can win that third term. George H. W. Bush did it in 1988; Al Gore did it in 2000 (he won the popular vote and, had all the votes been counted in Florida, he would’ve won the electoral vote, as well); and Richard Nixon in 1960 and Hubert Humphrey in 1968 essentially tied their attempts at their party’s third term. Much depends on economic growth during this coming year. See, for example, Doug Hibbs’s graph here:


LMK: Would Sanders as candidate weaken the Democratic Party’s overall chances in a general election?

AG: Yes, I expect Sanders would be a weaker candidate in the general election compared to a more centrist, corporate-style candidate. He could still win, though. Again, much depends on the economy. Famous cases where ideologically extreme candidates lost were Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern in 1972, but both these candidates were running against incumbent presidents in a strong economy.