The Slatest

Bernie Sanders’ Straw Poll Surprise

Bernie Sanders speaks to an overflow crowd through a megaphone after a campaign event at the New England College on May 27, 2015.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders fans have another reason to celebrate. At the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention held this past weekend, the Vermont senator finished a surprisingly close second to Hillary Clinton in a nonbinding straw poll. The final tallies, via the nonpartisan political news site, which conducted the survey:

  • 1. Hillary Clinton 252 (49.3 percent)
  • 2. Bernie Sanders 208 (40.7 percent)
  • 3(t). Joe Biden 16 
  • 3(t). Martin O’Malley 16
  • 4. Jim Webb 8
  • 5. Lincoln Chafee 5 


The poll surveyed roughly a third of the nearly 1,600 party delegates, alternates, and registered guests who attended the event. Neither Sanders nor Clinton made the trip out to the Badger State for the convention, and it would be unwise to make too much of the unscientific survey—especially since Sanders’ recent surge has had only a marginal impact on Clinton’s larger polling dominance among Democratic voters. Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite to earn her party’s nomination next year, and it will take more than a straw poll to change that.


Still, the results were undeniably good news for Sanders and his efforts to convince voters—and the media—that he can pose a legitimate challenge to Clinton. He’s offering a message that clearly appeals to many in the Democratic Party, but he currently lacks the campaign infrastructure and fundraising prowess to go toe to toe with the former secretary of state.


In last year’s poll, Clinton had a much easier go of things, winning 185 of the 338 votes and besting Elizabeth Warren, who finished a distant second with 81. Sanders wasn’t listed as an option in that survey, but a total of 10 people wrote his name down anyway. His pro-labor message is a natural fit among Wisconsin Democrats, who have repeatedly clashed with Gov. Scott Walker over his efforts to undermine unions in their state. Unfortunately for Sanders, though, Wisconsin’s primary—currently slated for early April—falls in the middle of the nominating calendar.

Sanders’ strong showing in the straw poll comes as he continues to draw unusually large and passionate crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire. At a large rally in the Granite State on Saturday, the self-styled socialist predicted he’d pull off the upset there. “Let me tell you a secret,” he told the crowd. “We’re going to win New Hampshire.” Such a proclamation would have gone largely unheard a month ago. This past weekend, though, made it clear that a sizeable swath of the left is at least listening attentively.

Previously in Slate:

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.