PolitiFact just issued a completely incorrect ruling on one of their “fact checks.” Here is the correct ruling on the following statement from Bernie Sanders:
PolitiFact called it “false” because they found a few polls in which Clinton does better. Their “fact checking” was grossly negligent, however. While the meaning of “Almost all of” can be debated and I would have rather Sanders said “In general,” the worst anyone who has actually done their homework could rule this statement is “mostly true.”
RealClearPolitics compiles results from every poll and reports averages in many matchups. The chart below shows how Clinton and Sanders fare on average against each of the top five Republican candidates (shown in order of the candidates’ average ranking in Republican primary polls). As is obvious from looking at the graph, Sanders polls better on average than Clinton against each of the candidates, and significantly better than Clinton against Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the two leading candidates in the Republican field (for example, while Sanders beats Cruz by 3.3 percentage points in the average poll, Clinton loses to Cruz by an average of 1.3 percentage points).
People can have reasonable debates about how to interpret the poll results. Should Democrats be most worried about Marco Rubio? Maybe. Do the results mean much, given that all the matchups are hypothetical at this point and the general election is still a long way away? Maybe not. But the evidence we do have is clear: the polls absolutely, as Bernie Sanders said, “suggest that [he is] a much stronger candidate against the Republicans than is Hillary Clinton”
That may not have been PolitiFact’s ruling, but it is the truth. How’s that for a fact check?
Update (2/26/16): As the chart below shows, newer RealClearPolitics data shows that Sanders is now doing even better relative to Clinton against the leading Republican candidates than he was doing a month ago.
HuffPost Pollster also aggregates polling data. Democrats will be comforted by their results, which are much more favorable to both Sanders and Clinton than the results from RealClearPolitics.
What is also abundantly clear from both sites’ models is that, as time goes on, Sanders’ standing against the top Republican candidates improves and Clinton’s gets worse. These polls still certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of electability evidence, but especially given the trends and Sanders’ superior popularity among millennials and Independents, the argument that these polls tell us nothing is getting harder and harder to justify. I recommend basing your vote on your values, not on perceived electability, but if electability really is your primary concern, the data very obviously indicates that Sanders is the better pick.
Update (3/19/16): Hillary Clinton is now polling much closer to (though still not) as well as Sanders against Donald Trump, but is getting destroyed relative to Sanders against Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
Update (4/12/16): Sanders is still outperforming Clinton in head-to-head general election matchups.
Update (5/17/16): Sanders still has a large head-to-head polling advantage over Clinton when matched up against Trump, who will be the Republican nominee.