This week, the Castleton Polling Institute released a presidential poll of Vermont voters. The number that made headlines: Just as many Republican voters favor Bernie Sanders as any Republican candidate.
The actual result: Bernie’s in a three-way tie with Donald Trump and Ben Carson among Republicans, at a measly 12%. (It’s also worth noting that Hillary Clinton gets 4% support among VT Republicans.)
That’s interesting. But to me, there are two more notable takeaways from the poll.
First, Vermont’s Republican electorate remains splintered and undecided. The fact that no candidate got more than 12% is awfully telling. The real winner is “Not Sure,” with 28%. In other words, Vermont Republicans are thoroughly underwhelmed by what they’ve seen so far. I mean, 16% of them are backing a Democrat, for goodness sakes. That’s almost half who can’t settle on a Republican candidate.
Second, the state’s Republican electorate is relatively immune to the blandishments of snake-oil salespeople.
According to a recent CNN poll, less than one-quarter of Republicans actually value “on the job experience.” As a result, elected officials who claim outsider status (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Scott Walker) are being roundly rejected, while anyone without the “taint” of experience is gaining ground — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina.
In the latest RealClearPolitics averaging of recent polls, those three outsiders combine to hold 54% of the national vote (30.5% Trump, 20% Carson, 3.3% Fiorina). By contrast, the Castleton poll gives the outsiders 27% (Trump and Carson with 12% each, Fiorina at 3.1%).
In outline, the Castleton numbers bear a striking resemblance to the national polls before the emergence of Trump and Carson: a highly splintered electorate, with no candidate scoring better than the low double digits. National Republican voters were underwhelmed by “experienced” candidates of all stripes; since then, many have settled on Trump or Carson. Need I say that neither is qualified to be President — even if you only consider their resumes and not their unmoored-from-reality ideas?
(The allure of the outsider is based on the notion that someone can come in from outside, clean everything out, and start anew. The problem is, our political system is an intricate machine. It requires skill and experience to operate successfully, and it’s different from the business world or any other. When someone elects an outsider, it’s usually a disaster (Jesse Ventura, Paul LePage, one-term NH Gov. Craig Benson). When an outsider has some success (Arnold Schwarzenegger), it’s because s/he accommodates to the system, rather than reinventing it.)
Meanwhile, Vermont Republicans remain unconvinced by the field — but relatively few have been bewitched by the siren song of the outsider. This is a real, tangible sign that there really is something different, and better, about Republicans in Vermont.