The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why that Bernie Sanders boomlet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

New Bloomberg polling reinforces an in-vogue argument: Bernie Sanders is for real, and he's gaining on Hillary Clinton. A 2008 redux?, hyperactive political reporters (like me) pant, hyperactively. Could the Clinton Curse strike again?

In fairness to my fellow hyperactives, this could conceivably happen. Candidates have collapsed before! And some polling shows a much closer race in New Hampshire, Sanders's next-door neighbor.

But these new polls don't show that at all.

If you look at the last three Bloomberg (or Des Moines Register, who uses the same pollster) polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, it looks like Sanders is gaining steadily.

But in each of those three polls, the pollsters have dropped a strong Democratic challenger out of the mix. In the first poll, Elizabeth Warren was included. In the first and second, Joe Biden. In the most recent: Just Bernie.

So a large part of what we're seeing is Clinton vs. Not Clinton, a non-candidate who has actually held pretty steady in the polling.

This too could change! See that uptick in "don't know" in the most recent Iowa survey? Voters rarely go from "I like Candidate X" to "I like Candidate Y." Often, they stop over in "I'm not sure" while making the transition. So the drop in support for Clinton and the increase in "I don't know" could mean real, imminent movement away from Clinton and to Not Clinton (a.k.a. Bernie Sanders, for now).

But so far what we're seeing is Sanders vacuuming up most -- but not all! -- of that Not Clinton support. Sanders could win, sure. But these new polls (with their robust 4.9 percent margins of error) don't show that.