By The Numbers: Predicting a Trump-Sanders Showdown

Trump vs. Sanders by Mike Licht

After winning the New Hampshire Democratic primary and placing a very close second place to Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses, Bernie Sanders has emerged as the current party frontrunner for the presidential nomination. As the candidates prepare to move into Nevada and South Carolina, there is increasing focus on how each candidate could fare against President Donald Trump in the general election. The Democratic party establishment has clearly expressed reservations regarding Sanders’ more liberal policy stances, but with a crowded field of moderate candidates chipping away at Joe Biden, the emergence of a clear winner is not so certain anymore.

Analysts, poll operators, and oddsmakers are now breaking down the scenario of a Trump-Sanders showdown in November after the Vermont senator’s strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. Polling averages currently have Sanders with an edge over Trump in the popular vote by single digit margins.

Source: RealClearPolitics

However, presidents are not selected by popular vote, but rather by electoral college delegates chosen in each state. It doesn’t matter if a candidate wins by 51% or 95% of the popular vote in a particular state, the delegates are assigned in a winner-take-all system that allocates all of that state’s delegates to the winner. With that in mind, presidential elections pay particular focus to “swing states,” which have near equal support for both candidates.

Taking the electoral college into account in a Trump-Sanders matchup changes the victory scenario, with Trump having a higher chance of winning key swing states and ultimately the presidential contest, even if losing the popular vote. One of the most efficient and objective indicators of this model are gambling oddsmakers. Gambling odds currently have Trump winning the matchup at a -203 line (negative lines indicate a favorite), and Sanders as the underdog at +375.

Source: SBD

Financial markets can also be predictors of future outcomes, although sometimes unreliable due to being reliant on sentiment and momentum. Sanders has been outspoken about banning all private health insurance companies and putting them out of business. The day after he won the New Hampshire primary, United Healthcare (NYSE: UNH) rose 4.4%, Anthem Inc. (NYSE: ANTM) rose 5.75%, Humana (NYSE: HUM) rose 4.67% and Cigna (NYSE: CI) rose 3.4%, indicating that Wall Street isn’t really taking Sanders all that seriously.

However, until the Democratic party nominates its candidate for the presidential election, there will not be a debate between that candidate and President Trump. Traditionally, debates matter very little as they influence the small minority of voters who have not already made up their mind, but in very close races, a few percentage points can change the outcome. The 2020 race is expected to be a close race due to increased polarization of voters, and if Sanders goes on to win the Democratic nomination that divide will only increase due to his aggressively liberal policies.