Against Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders Will Come ‘Nowhere Near 270’ Electoral Votes, Political Forecaster Says

University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato says that Democrats' fears of a 1972 Nixon vs. McGovern repeat are likely unfounded, however.

Bernie Sanders laughs.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato says that Democrats' fears of a 1972 Nixon vs. McGovern repeat are likely unfounded, however.

With self-described Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont taking another major step toward securing the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination Saturday — with a decisive win in the Nevada caucus vote — new questions have arisen about whether Sanders is capable of defeating Donald Trump in the November general election.

Now, a leading election forecaster has echoed those concerns, saying that while Sanders will win most “blue” states — those that have reliably supported Democrats in recent elections — he will “probably” come “nowhere near” accumulating the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the presidency.

On Saturday, MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews saw a Trump victory over Sanders as so inevitable that he compared the 78-year-old Vermont senator’s Nevada victory to the French surrender under a Nazi invasion in 1940, during World War II. Matthews’ awkward analogy was intended to mean that nominating Sanders would constitute an effective surrender of the 2020 election to Trump, on the Democrats’ part.

As Atlantic Monthly reported, there appear to be strong parallels between a matchup between Sanders and Trump, and the 1972 presidential election that pitted incumbent Republican Richard Nixon against George McGovern, a liberal Democrat from South Dakota. McGovern advocated many of the same “progressive” policies that are at the center of Sanders’ campaign. Such policies include universal single-payer health care, sharp tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, and a federal jobs guarantee program.

Richard Nixon appears next to George McGovern.
1972 presidential election opponents Richard Nixon (l) and George McGovern (r). Keystone / Getty Images

Nixon ended up winning the 1972 election in a massive landslide, with a 23 percentage point popular vote margin, and an Electoral College win of 520-17. McGovern carried only one of the 50 states — Massachusetts.

On Saturday, leading election forecaster Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics — and editor of the popular political newsletter Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball — said that Democrats should not fear a Nixon-McGovern style wipeout if they choose Sanders to run against Trump.

But Sanders will lose anyway, he said.

“A Dem defeat in November won’t be nearly as bad as in 1972,” Sabato wrote on his Twitter account. “Intense permanent opposition to Trump will keep most Blue states Blue, though probably nowhere near 270 Electoral Votes.”

Sabato also warned that Democrats should watch out for “early hints” of possible runs by Independent or “third party” candidates in the general election. Such candidates would likely help Trump by causing a “fractured vote” among potential Sanders voters, Sabato said.

In 2016, despite winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College vote to Trump, coming 38 votes short of the 270 mark, according to 270ToWin.com. For Sanders to win the presidency, he would need to hold all of Clinton’s “blue” states, plus put together a combination of states that would give him at least 38 additional Electoral Votes.