When Bernie Sanders won yesterday's West Virginia primary, preliminary exit polls showed the socialist senator leading Hillary Clinton among voters who want the Democratic Party to be more liberal, 72 percent to 25 percent. It also showed him leading her among voters who want the Democratic Party to be less liberal, 62 percent to 29 percent.
This combination of results may look odd, but there are several reasonable ways to explain it. One is that Hillary Clinton, who infamously announced that she would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business," just isn't very popular in West Virginia. Another is that many West Virginia voters may have a different understanding of what liberal means than the typical D.C.-based reporter. (If you're both pro-gun and pro-union, for example, you might be hostile to "liberals" but still prefer Sanders to Clinton.) Needless to say, there's no reason why both of these can't be true.
And then there is one more factor to consider. Those West Virginia exit polls show a plurality of the primary's Sanders voters—44 percent—planning to vote for Donald Trump in November. Obviously, this is consistent with the theory that they simply don't like Clinton, but it goes further than that. Nearly 40 percent of the Bernie backers say they'll vote for Trump even if he's running against Sanders.
Why would a Trump supporter ask for a Democratic ballot? Perhaps he wants to vote in a downticket Democratic race and figures that at this point Trump doesn't need his help. Perhaps trade is his top issue, and he finds both Trump and Sanders acceptable. Or perhaps he just really can't stand Hillary Clinton. I know that some Sanders/Trump voters fall into the last group, because I've met one of them—not in West Virginia but in one of the states next door. Meet Bob Hirsch, a retired cable installer from Carlisle, Pennsylvania:
I met Hirsch last month in the parking lot of the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was there to cover a Trump rally, and Hirsch was there to hear Trump speak. He supports Trump. You can tell from his truck:
No, it doesn't look like that every day. He gave it a special paint job for the rally.
Hirsch is drawn to Trump's positions on trade and abortion, and he intends to vote for him in November. But in the Pennsylvania primary—in the vote that had actually brought Trump to town—Hirsch told me he was going to vote for Bernie Sanders. Even though he didn't much care for Sanders. He just didn't want Clinton to win:
I doubt that a lot of voters made that calculation. I went to three Trump rallies and spoke with a lot of people, and Hirsch was the only one who told me anything like that. But in West Virginia, it looks like there may have been more than a few Democrats like him.
Now if someone could just explain the 9 percent of yesterday's Hillary Clinton voters who say they're going to back Trump in the fall…