Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders

Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders
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It’s important to get this out of the way up front: Democratic primary voters don’t care about the dustup between Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren highlights work with Obama, Harry Reid in new Nevada ad Union leader: Bloomberg can go all the way Biden on Univision: Deporting 3 million 'was a big mistake' MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren highlights work with Obama, Harry Reid in new Nevada ad Biden on Univision: Deporting 3 million 'was a big mistake' Democratic rivals sharpen attacks as Bloomberg rises MORE (D-Mass.) over what he may have said to her in 2018 about a woman’s chances of winning the presidency. 

I happen to think he did say that a woman can’t win, as she maintains, and that we should lean into it by discussing institutional barriers such as sexism affecting national candidates. But he doesn’t want to talk about it, and that doesn’t really change things. This is an inside baseball story built for Twitter users and cable news pundits.

Good thing I fall into both those categories, so I will happily go a little deeper on this — but not because I think it’s important to talk about the issue itself. Rather, it’s the opposite. 


It’s critical that we acknowledge the tremendous disconnect between the Beltway and the rest of America. That chasm is where elections are decided, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpChanges in policies, not personalities, will improve perception of corruption in the US Union leader: Bloomberg can go all the way Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' MORE is very good at filling information chasms.

The mainstream explanation for the feud between Sanders and Warren is that it’s a fight over a shared base of voters. Sure, they’re both lefties, but their bases of support are actually pretty different. A recent FiveThirtyEight analysis shows that Sanders’s backers are more likely to be low-income voters, whereas voters who like Warren are typically college-educated. Warren has extended her hand to establishment Democrats who backed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUnion leader: Bloomberg can go all the way Will Bernie have to turn on his bros? De Blasio endorses Sanders for president MORE in 2016 and Sanders has more or less the same support that he had when he ran in that presidential election. Warren has done a good job of marrying her policy-oriented approach to her populism. 

Looking at second-choice candidates for Sanders’s and Warren’s supporters adds fodder to the argument. Their supporters would go to the other for a second pick, though we do know that Sanders's voters are the most committed to their first choice. 

Favorability numbers are another place to search for answers. Sanders enjoys the highest favorability numbers of any Democrat running — 76 percent in the latest Morning Consult poll, followed by former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren highlights work with Obama, Harry Reid in new Nevada ad Biden on Univision: Deporting 3 million 'was a big mistake' Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' MORE at 71 percent. Warren came in third at 65 percent. That’s a pretty high rating for her, but something like her debate moment of calling out the men on stage for losing elections, while she and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWill Bernie have to turn on his bros? Democratic rivals sharpen attacks as Bloomberg rises Klobuchar says English should not be US national language, reversing from prior vote MORE (D-Minn.) have won all their contests, could give her a little bump. 

These explanations were all tossed around on TV and in newsprint the past few days. But in looking ahead to the real implications of the conflict, the answer is the same as it is every time Biden makes a gaffe or has a memory lapse: It doesn’t matter one bit. 


A series of focus groups conducted by Crooked Media’s Jon Favreau is illustrative of what good operatives on the ground know about the Democratic electorate. Voters generally aren’t  following what’s going on. Favreau talked to groups with varying levels of information across the country and the overwhelming takeaway was that Biden and Sanders are the only two powerful names in the race. 

Among low-information voters, who still show up to vote, the first word that came to mind when he said “Democratic Party” were Barack and Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaThe Hill's Campaign Report: New challenges for 2020 Dems in Nevada, South Carolina Obamas share messages wishing each other happy Valentine's Day California elementary school to be named after Michelle Obama MORE, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' Trump quotes NY Times article citing Emerson quote about going after the 'king' Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE. Only one voter in Milwaukee had heard of former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWill Bernie have to turn on his bros? Democratic rivals sharpen attacks as Bloomberg rises Now's a time to take a look at who's 'blooming' among Democrats MORE, despite his being from a neighboring state, and no one had heard of Klobuchar. Mayor Pete struck out in Philly, too.

Unsurprisingly, Trump isn’t suffering from the same issue as the Democratic candidates. Favreau remarked, “In almost every focus group, someone just brought up Trump almost immediately. He is everywhere, like a national psychic wound.” He’s the president and came into his 2016 race with a huge name ID from his reality TV days, but this matters for Democrats in that Trump easily can fill low-information voting voids. It’s the devil you know and all that jazz. 

The social media bubble is a powerful drug and the perfect incubator for a story about progressives coming to blows over accusations of sexism. But analyses show that what’s said on Twitter is far from real life. A Pew Research study found that Twitter users are statistically younger, wealthier and more politically liberal than the general population. They’re better educated and earn more, too. A New York Times analysis found that Democrats who are unlikely to post political content on social media tend to be moderate or conservative, African American, don’t follow the news much and say political correctness tends to be a problem.

I wonder if something like Sanders telling Warren that a woman can’t win would count as a political correctness issue.

When we live in a bubble, we are apt to miss the real story. And the real story is that health care still matters more to voters than Trump’s impeachment, that millions of Democratic voters don’t know the other candidates but Biden and Sanders, and they definitely aren’t thinking about what Sanders said to Warren back in 2018. 

It would benefit us all to focus on the reality of this election, which is that Trump has a front row seat in everyone’s minds and that Democrats should act like we’re playing catch-up until every last vote is counted on election night. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.