WASHINGTON—Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign is releasing new internal polling that shows him leading President Donald Trump in hypothetical matchups in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
According to the internal data released to reporters by the campaign, Sanders is up by double-digits in Michigan and Wisconsin (by 11 points and 10 points respectively), and leads in Pennsylvania by 8 points.
The poll did not measure Democratic candidates against Trump in head-to-head matchups, and it did not include a scenario in which a third-party candidate like former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is also on the ballot.
But Ben Tulchin, Sanders' pollster, says that the results still indicate that Sanders is in a uniquely strong position to take on Trump..
"I don’t think it’s any generic Democrat fits the mold here,” he told NBC News. “Trump is vulnerable here, but it has to be for the right kind of Democrat who has real strengths and can win these three states.”
"I don’t think any other candidate is as well positioned as Bernie is in these three states.”
Some data points the campaign highlighted include that, across all three states, a majority of voters believe the country is on the wrong track, disapprove of Trump's handling of the job, and support Medicare for All — a platform that's becoming increasingly popular among Democratic presidential candidates.
The three states were key to Trump's 2016 victory. Before Trump’s success there, the last time a Republican presidential candidate had won any of those states was 1988.
Sanders' allies believe his message on economic equality helps him connect to the kinds of blue-collar voters that Democrats lost in 2016. Earlier this month, the senator went on a four-day road trip through the Midwest, highlighting his general-election focus on the region.
But while Sanders also says that his identification as a democratic socialist is far more about an embrace of those policies, other polls shows that socialism isn't popular with the electorate.
February's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 18 percent of Americans view socialism positively, while 50 percent view it negatively. And being a socialist was one of the least desirable characteristics for presidential hopefuls.
That's why Republicans have made attacks on socialism—which evoke Sanders regardless of the distinction between socialism and democratic socialism—a key piece of their message in the early months of the election cycle.
Tulchin brushed aside the idea that the socialism attacks could damage Sanders in a general election, arguing it has "no significant impact at all" because of Trump's poor standing among these voters.
"Bernie is popular enough and strong enough to withstand that attack," he said.