Democratic Voters’ Concerns About Bernie Sanders’ Health Have Faded

Democratic voters’ concerns about Sen. Bernie Sanders’ health have ebbed significantly since October, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. 

After the Vermont independent suffered a heart attack this past autumn, just 28% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters said they believed his physical condition was good enough for him to serve effectively as president for the next four years. Now, 43% view Sanders as sufficiently healthy to serve.

In this regard, the current Democratic front-runner still trails his rivals. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are all seen as physically capable of serving by a majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. But Sanders himself no longer faces negative ratings on the metric.

Sanders recently walked back his promise to release comprehensive medical records, saying his doctors have confirmed that he’s in good health. “You can start releasing medical records ― it never ends,” Sanders told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

A 71% majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say that candidates should publicly release all the medical information that might affect their ability to serve as president, with three-quarters saying it’s fair for the media to question the candidates’ physical health.

Registered voters as a whole remain generally skeptical about Sanders’ health, with just 28% saying his physical condition is good enough to serve. However, that’s also a modest improvement from last autumn, when just 19% said he was in adequate physical condition and a majority said he was not.

By contrast, following Hillary Clinton’s bout of pneumonia in 2016, the share of voters who believed she was in adequate physical condition only dipped to 45%. Within a few weeks, it had rebounded to 52%.

Partisanship clearly plays a role in voters’ responses to questions like this. GOP voters are more than twice as likely as Democratic ones to say that President Donald Trump is in good shape. But the ratings for the range of Democratic candidates suggests it’s not the only factor: Republicans may not like Buttigieg, but most still think the 38-year-old is healthy enough to serve.

More broadly, the change in public opinion about Sanders’ fitness offers some guidelines for looking at polls that ask voters about candidates’ personal characteristics or the traits they’d most like to see in candidates. One is that perceptions about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses can and do change. Sanders’ robust performance in early primary contests, which has helped boost his perceived electability, may also have improved perceptions about his stamina.

Another is that topics can easily fade or reemerge in salience, depending on events in the news and the extent to which they’re mentioned by the media or opposing campaigns. Presumably, very few voters would say they especially want a nominee who’s had a heart attack. But whether a candidate’s cardiac health becomes a central matter also depends on the degree to which the issue actually comes up.

That’s true of other traits as well. Polls have found that many voters profess discomfort with candidates over age 70, but that preference hasn’t proved strong enough to keep Sanders, Biden, Trump and Warren ― all septuagenarians ― from outperforming many younger rivals.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 19-21 among U.S. adults, including 365 Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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