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Poll: Americans want Bernie Sanders to stay in the race even though he’s already lost

Bernie Sanders, not dropping out.
Bernie Sanders, not dropping out.
David McNew/Getty Images

Loads of commentators have recently argued that Bernie Sanders needs to drop out of the presidential primary for the good of the Democratic Party, to help Hillary Clinton, or to teach his followers a valuable lesson of political engagement.

The voters themselves, however, don't seem to care much if Sanders stays in.

Only 36 percent of Americans think Sanders should throw in the towel — compared with 48 percent who want him to keep fighting, according to a new poll conducted by Vox and Morning Consult.

Zachary Crockett / Vox

That's true even among Democrats, who have rejected Sanders’s candidacy and increasingly soured on him as their party’s nominee.

According to the poll, 47 percent of party members want Sanders to stay in — compared with just 42 percent who want him out (11 percent have no opinion). If these numbers are right, more Democrats want Sanders to stay in than want him to be the nominee:

Now, the poll was conducted from Wednesday to Thursday — so it’s unlikely to capture any effect we’ll see from the endorsements of President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who both threw their weight behind Clinton on Thursday.

But it does come after Clinton won sweeping victories on Tuesday and eliminated any lingering hope for a Sanders nomination. That suggests many Democrats see no harm in Sanders continuing to fight — even if all of his options for actually winning have been erased.

Women of both parties are more likely to want Bernie Sanders to drop out

While only 36 percent of Americans overall think Sanders should drop out, the polling shows a gender divide on the question across both parties.

More than 50 percent of Democratic men think Sanders needs to stay in the race. Just 41 percent of Democratic women agree.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Republican women are also far more likely to want Sanders to get out of the race. Republican men are 18 points more likely to want Sanders to stay in than Republican women, the poll shows.

The reason for the split isn’t hard to guess. Clinton will soon become the first female major party nominee in history, and some have questioned whether Sanders’s decision to stay in is somehow connected to her gender. (Sanders, naturally, has vehemently dismissed this suggestion as offensive on its face.)

Most polling about presidential candidates narrowly reflects voters’ ideological affiliation. And so it’s interesting to see, on this question at least, that the power of gender can still transcend the typical partisan divide.

Does the poll tell us anything about Bernie Sanders’s great numbers against Donald Trump?

One of the most interesting debates throughout the primary has been over Sanders’s general election polling numbers against Donald Trump, which consistently show Sanders outperforming Clinton against the presumptive Republican nominee.

To Sanders’s allies, this strength supports the idea that he’s a populist candidate who has successfully defined himself against unpopular elites. As Jacobin’s Matt Karp has argued, this insider/outsider explanation suggests that Sanders "has a powerful means to appeal to … independents," while Clinton, "despite her more 'moderate' positions on a number of issues, has virtually none."

But to others, Sanders’s general election polling strength against Trump is the result of something else altogether — the fact that he hasn’t really been attacked by either his own party or the other side. Under this interpretation, Sanders’s popularity with moderates and independents would sink once they really get to know what he stands for.

The Morning Consult/Vox data gives both camps support for their interpretation. It does shows that both poor voters and independents are indeed among the most likely to want Sanders to stay in the race — backing the populist interpretation of his appeal.

On the other hand, voters who support the Tea Party favor Sanders staying in by 10 points more than those who don't. It's hard to imagine that these hardcore small government conservatives are expressing support for Sanders because they want to implement his Scandinavian-style government programs, rather than out of contempt for Hillary Clinton.

So we’re left with the same question: Are conservatives and independents saying they like Sanders because of his populist streak? Or do they do so primarily because he’s thumbing his nose at the Democratic establishment?

Obama meets with Sanders, endorses Clinton on Thursday