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Hillary Clinton’s shrinking lead over Bernie Sanders echoes her 2008 defeat

Does Secretary Clinton have to worry about another upset?


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Published Sep 14, 2015   Updated May 27, 2021, 11:54 pm CDT

This is beginning to look like eerily familiar territory for Hillary Clinton.

Over the last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), her main rival for Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, has gained 12.5 points on her in national polls. The independent senator and Socialist firebrand is now almost exactly where candidate Barack Obama stood against Clinton at this point in the 2008 race.

Clinton towered over Sanders as of Aug. 14, with a 55 to 20 advantage. Even then, however, observers were surprised to see Sanders posting such relatively competitive numbers.

Today, Clinton’s lead is significantly narrower, 44.8 to 22.3, according to a Real Clear Politics average of polls.

On Sept. 14, 2007, Obama stood at 23.5 points to Clinton’s 42.8. That’s a 19.3-percentage-point gap—barely a hair’s breadth away from the margin in today’s race.

Sanders’ surge is most evident in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two earliest primary states, where he’s beating Clinton by double digits in both states. In New Hampshire, Sanders is winning by 52 to 30. In Iowa, he’s winning by 43 to 33.

In South Carolina, the other state in the CBS News poll, Clinton leads Sanders 2-1, with 46 percent to his 23 percent.

The most seized-upon difference between South Carolina and the other two states is its diversity. New Hampshire and Iowa have much larger white populations, while South Carolina’s Democratic voters are mostly black. Clinton enjoys a large advantage over Sanders in African-American support.

Despite crucial similarities between 2008 and 2016, there are also significant differences in the paths the different races traced up to this point.

Clinton began the 2016 race with an unprecedented 67.6 percent of Democratic voters. In 2007, her ceiling was 48 points.

Sanders has had much more ground to make up than Obama ever did, but so far he has been helped along by Clinton’s falling numbers, as well as intense national interest in the possible candidacy of Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden, who has not declared whether or not he seek the nomination, trails Sanders nationally by just two percentage points.

Photo via Veni/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 

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*First Published: Sep 14, 2015, 11:53 am CDT