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Recently I have seen many images on Facebook and elsewhere with pictures comparing large Bernie Sanders rallies to relatively small rallies for other candidates. Often these images have captions along the lines of "Bernie is clearly the most popular candidate, so vote for him since he's so popular."

My question is, why do so many Bernie Sanders supporters seem to believe this when he is currently not the Democratic frontrunner (which implies he is NOT the most popular)? Could it be just that this is part of a political marketing strategy?

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    Asking why people mindlessly post inaccurate memes to Facebook is a question much broader than the topic of politics. – user1530 May 11 '16 at 14:41
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    If you want to know why some people do something or believe something then ask those people. Strangers on the internet do not know the motivations of other people. – Eric Lippert May 11 '16 at 16:19
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    Because it's an election campaign. I guess the fans of Hillary Clintion or Donald Trump or Ted Cruz have said something similar. Just marketing, they may not actually believe in it, but rather just say it to convince others. It may be a deliberate lie - which is not uncommon in electoral campaigns. – Trilarion May 27 '16 at 16:28
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The reason is timing.

Popularity is based on now but the primary results are based on the last few months. If all of the states re-voted today it's possible (perhaps likely?) that Sanders would be winning.

A more extreme example can be seen on the Republican side. If all of the states re-voted today with only 2 options: Trump or Kasich, Kasich would likely be winning. You could swap out Kasich with Rubio and perhaps even Rand Paul (who did poorly in the primaries) and the results could be similar. Timing really worked in Trump's favor, much more so than on the Democrat side. (Along with the fact that many candidates had to split up the "not-Trump" vote for so long.)

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    It's interesting that Bernie supporters have said this (that Bernie would win if every state revoted) after every series of primaries that he loses, and then goes on to lose again in all the states with significant delegate counts. – Mason240 May 11 '16 at 16:40
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    In addition there are banal reasons why "more popular" doesn't mean quite the same thing as "has more people at his rallies". People who can be bothered to go to rallies are a minority of voters and not necessarily a statistically valid sample. – Steve Jessop May 11 '16 at 16:59
  • @Mason240 - Suppose they revoted and Bernie won more of the early states, but not the big ones, as you suggest. There could be other reasons that Hillary tends to have a specific advantage in states with large delegate counts which could have more weight than "popularity" does, especially NY where she was a senator. – TTT May 11 '16 at 18:23
  • @SteveJessop - I agree. It's possible that Sanders is currently more popular, but rally size alone should not be considered evidence of that. – TTT May 11 '16 at 18:25
  • Polling continues to show Clinton ahead of Sanders and has never shown him ahead (in aggregate; individual polls may have). His support has actually been fading for the last month (it had been climbing prior to that). – Brythan May 11 '16 at 18:26
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There are a number of different issues at play here, and a couple of implicit questions which need to be addressed: Firstly, is Sanders a popular candidate? If you define popularity as the difference between those with a favourable opinion of the candidate versus an unfavourable opinion, then polling data see e.g. the charts from the Huffington post suggests that he is (on +12%, versus -12% for Clinton and -21% for Trump). If you restrict this to Democrats, then the lead has changed a few times during the campaign, see e.g a story from Gallup in April but there have certainly been periods when Sanders was more popular.

Second, why do Sanders supporters think he's more popular? Partly this will be confirmation bias (on the lines of "I like Coca-Cola, so people who think Coke is good are right"), but also the levels of support for different candidates differs between different demographics and people are more likely to talk about politics with people who are "like them". So if you're a college student using social media you've got a high probability of being told to "feel the Bern."

Thirdly, how can he be popular, but not winning? Lots of possibilities here: people like him but don't actually vote, or aren't registered for the vote in their state, or vote for Clinton for reasons beyond popularity (such as perceived electability, or simply because she is winning and they want to vote for a winner). Also, at various times in the campaign the charts above have shown her as more popular among Democrats.

Finally, the motivation of people posting the kind of messages you're talking about is to get other people to vote for Sanders, so of course they're interested in promulgating the message that he's popular, even if at some points it's purely advertising.

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    You should also mention the "superdelegate" situation in which people are appointed as delegates and have nothing to do with the actual votes that they received in the primary elections. – sabbahillel May 11 '16 at 16:29
  • @sabbahillel FYI, Hillary has been ahead by elected delegates (so even without super delegates) for the entirety of the primary season. – Mason240 May 11 '16 at 16:51
  • @Mason240 true, however the popular perception of Hilliary is that she would not have been in the position that she was (or is) in without having bought the super delegates. – sabbahillel May 11 '16 at 17:21
  • Not really, no. Only by Bernie supporters who keep talking about super delegates to hide the fact that she is ahead by elected delegates. Quite frankly it's pretty dishonest and deliberately misleading, and I say this as someone who isn't voting the Democratic primary. – Mason240 May 11 '16 at 17:37
  • @Mason240 - I wouldn't call it "dishonest", but "misleading", yes. But that's to be expected, isn't it? Everyone tries to convince people to join their side, and this almost always includes making misleading statements in the hopes that people will believe whatever they hear. (I'm not saying it should be that way, but that's how it is.) In Sanders defense, the super delegate system is currently rigged against him, though you could argue he made his own bed by remaining independent for 35 years. – TTT May 11 '16 at 18:47
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It seems to me that Bernie is now more popular than Hillary (based on polling and voting in the past month). However, Hillary was more popular earlier in the primary season (based on the same metrics), and so built up a big lead in number of delegates.

The way most Democratic primaries work is that if you get, say, 60% of the votes, you get 60% of the delegates. So, since Hillary gets a decent percentage of the votes (even when Bernie gets more), Bernie only gets a few more delegates (than Hillary gets) for each state he wins. So, it's very difficult for him to catch up to her big lead (from the earlier voting). Some of the early-voting states were "winner-take-all", which made her early lead bigger than it would otherwise have been.

I also like the "Bernie is much more popular with your demographic, so it seems to you he is just more popular" theory. During the Reagan/Carter election, no-one in the New York press believed Reagan had any chance at all, because they literally did not know anyone who would vote for him. When he won by a large margin, they realized that most Americans don't vote like New Yorkers. There could be a similar thing going on here.

  • Also consider the superdelegate appointments which have nothing to do with popularity. – sabbahillel May 11 '16 at 16:31
  • @sabbahillel FYI, Hillary has been ahead by elected delegates (so even without super delegates) for the entirety of the primary season. – Mason240 May 11 '16 at 16:50
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It depends on the context of "popularity". In theoretical head to head matchups of Dems vs. Repubs., Sanders does better generally against Repubs than Clinton. Also, in some of the primaries where Independents are allowed to participate, Sanders has won many of them due to his support from Independents. At this point in time in a general election, all indicators show Sanders as performing better. So from this perspective he does appear to be the most popular candidate.

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