Martin Longman wants us to consider, Where Bernie Underperforms. He presented some numbers from the Pew Research Center. And there are four groups that he performs badly with: non-whites, less educated, less affluent, and more religious. But as Longman noted, these are not independent. In fact, I would say that they are exactly the same thing: Bernie Sanders doesn’t do well with the poor. And poor Democrats are less educated, more religious, and less white. So let’s cut the crap and talk about why Sanders does not seem to be appealing especially well to the poor.
What’s weird about it is why people usually don’t engage with the question. Longman asks some of the standard questions. Is it that he’s Jewish? Doubtful. A northerner? Doubtful. Not religious? Doubtful. LiberalInCamo at Daily Kos had an idea in an article back in early July, Bernie Sanders’ Two Big Problems: Race and Gender. That claim was, “Sanders silence on race and his tunnel vision on one political issue are problems.” But I don’t buy this at all. Sanders has since talked a great deal about race, but it hasn’t changed his standing among non-whites.
There is something that I commonly hear Republicans say that is actually true: members of minority groups care most about the economy. The idea that Latinos are single issue voters on immigration policy is just nonsense. Of course, these very same Republicans offer economic policy that hurts the vast majority of non-whites and whites. But that doesn’t matter. And that certainly isn’t the case with Sanders. His policies should be particularly appealing to non-white members of the society, because they are far more likely to be poor.
I’ve begun to wonder if there isn’t skepticism toward Sanders amongst poorer people because they have learned that in this society the very best you could hope for is second best — or even just something that isn’t especially horrible. Maybe Sanders’ message sounds like a fairy tale. I know that it does to me — and I’m a Sanders supporter. But for the last several years, I’ve been trying to Demand the Impossible.
But let’s consider the calculus here. Sanders would be unlikely to accomplish much more than Clinton — and might accomplish less. Both of them will be infinitely better than whomever the Republicans run. Under a Republican, things will be much worse for poor people. Given that there really are concerns about Sanders in the general election — being a “socialist” and being old and not having such a polished public persona — it’s safer to go with Clinton.
As for me, despite the fact that I’m a strong Sanders supporters, I haven’t decided for sure if I’m going to vote for him in the primary. If I feel that he has roughly as good a chance to win as Clinton by that time, I will vote for him. If I think he will bring down the party, I won’t. But I tend to think that I will vote for him. In the end, the general election will almost certainly be what it always is: a Democrat versus a Republican. If the economy continues to grow, the Democrat will win; if it doesn’t, the Republican will win.
But for normal people who don’t read political science books, the safe choice is Hillary Clinton. What’s more, for people of moderate incomes, a Republican getting in wouldn’t be catastrophic. For the poor, it would be. And I suspect that why the poor are not jumping on the Sanders bandwagon.
See also: What Risk Is Bernie Sanders Worth?