Bernie Sanders Voters: Welcome!

Bernie SandersIn my recent Odds and Ends Vol 24, I noted that I think the #NeverBernie brigade should be more respectful of Bernie Sanders because his millions of supporters are very much part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Indeed, a big argument against Sanders in 2016 was that on policy issues, there was no difference between his voters and Hillary Clinton’s voters. The fact that this is now ignored is one of many aspects of what I’ve come to see as “Bernie Sanders just can’t win.”

Sanders-Trump Voters

Many people make a big deal of the fact that 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Donald Trump. I’m going to dig into this. But there is a bit of confusion on the matter. When this number comes up, I am sometimes also told that many Republicans voted for him in open primaries. That certainly means that Sanders actual support was less than is indicated by this vote total.

Personally, I just don’t think there are that many Republicans who voted for him. Sanders got over 13 million votes. It is absurd to think that even one million of those votes were from Republicans. But even granting that, it’s only 8 percent.

More importantly, if a lot of Sanders voters were really Republicans, that means that a much smaller number of actual Sanders supporters voted for Trump — more like 4 percent. But as I said: this is nonsense. To a first approximation, we can assume that all the people who voted for Sanders actually supported him. And that means that roughly 12 percent of them voted for Trump over Clinton.

Now 12 percent sounds like a lot. But it actually isn’t. Sure, in a ridiculous race like 2016, just a few votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania could have turned the election. But I don’t think we can blame Sanders voters generally.

Clinton-McCain Voters

As political scientist John Sides points out in an article in The Washington Post, far fewer Sanders voters voted for Trump in 2016 than Clinton voters voted for John McCain in 2008. Did you get that? Let me repeat: far more Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama than Sanders voters in 2016 refused to vote for Clinton.

How many more? According to polls, 24-25 percent of Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama. So double. That’s pretty amazing.

Conservative Sanders Voters

But let’s return to the “Republicans voted for Sanders” idea. Sides presents some evidence that even if Sanders supporters weren’t Republicians, there were a number of conservatives in his coalition. It makes sense. There were people who would simply never vote for Hillary Clinton. So in the primary, they voted for Sanders.

For example, only 35 percent of the Sanders-Trump voters voted for Obama in 2012. Compare this to 95% for Sanders-Clinton voters.

What are we to make of this? I think it is clear. There was a small but important fraction of Sanders support that came from people who were conservatives and so just didn’t like Clinton. Some were Republicans and independents, but mostly they were simply conservative Democrats. They were never going to vote for Clinton, and had Sanders won the primary, most of them wouldn’t have voted for him in the general election. Most important: the vast majority of Sanders supporters will support whoever the Democrats nominate.


Just the fact that so many Clinton supporters went for McCain in 2008 should be enough to put a halt to all the #NeverBernie nonsense. But there is another, much more troublesome, way of looking at it. It could be that roughly a quarter of the Democratic Party (its more conservative members primarily) simply don’t support the party if it nominates someone considered too liberal. Or just “not who I want.”

Note that for all the screaming about Bernie Sanders not being loyal to the Democratic Party, he has been. He campaigned often and well for Hillary Clinton. He’s told his supporters not to harass his opponents. And he has said that he will support whoever the Democratic nominee is.

Not that I think any of this will matter. For a lot of Democrats, Sanders is simply “the bad child.” Everything that is bad will be taken as confirmation that Sanders is horrible and everything that is good (in as much as it is acknowledged at all) will be taken as an exception.

What if Sanders Became President?

This brings up something very concerning. I believe that if Sanders became president, he would get the same kind of support that Labour has shown Jeremy Corbyn. Most of the party will provide him with lukewarm support while a notable fraction will actively undermine him. And then he’ll be accused of alienating the party.

The truth of the matter is that there are liberals who would rather see Trump get another term than allow Sanders to become president. And God knows, they have their reasons. We all have our reasons, even if they will look pretty weak as we watch Trump start his sixth year in office.

The truth is that I would have liked it if Sanders had formally joined the Democratic Party in 2016 and stayed in. I find his claims to independence and socialism annoying. But I don’t think it would have mattered. There is just a set of people who will always hate him just as there is a set of people who will always hate Hillary Clinton.

I’m not looking forward to this upcoming election. And if Democrats don’t watch out, we’ll have a repeat of 2016 — one way or another. And I can’t even feel good about the obvious hypocrisy of many in the Democratic Party. They’ve already shown who they are.

But there’s time to realize what I’ve been saying for years: there are two alternatives in the coming election. And that’s it. I noted in 2016 that people who thought there was no difference between Clinton and Trump were delusional. And in 2020, people who can’t choose between Sanders and Trump are equally delusional.

And if Sanders Loses?

On the other side, pretending that Sanders is some kind of villain probably will cause him to lose. But at what cost? One idiotic #NeverBernie person tweeted:

We know how many Dems support Sanders: millions. We also know that if the vast majority of Sanders supporters hadn’t supported Clinton in the general election, she would have lost profoundly.

But this tweet shows that in this particular echo chamber, people just “know” that Sanders supporters don’t matter. But they do.

In their scorched-Earth approach to Sanders, the #NeverBernie brigade threaten the entire Democratic Party. No one needs to like Sanders if they don’t want to. But it would be really helpful to the party if they didn’t act so stupidly.

So let me say it: all Bernie Sanders supporters are critically important. And they are welcome by the vast majority of party members. That’s because the vast majority of them are party members. I don’t remember all this fuss when the Democratic Party marched to the right for three decades.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

14 thoughts on “Bernie Sanders Voters: Welcome!

  1. “Personally, I just don’t think there are that many Republicans who voted for him. Sanders got over 13 million votes. It is absurd to think that even one million of those votes were from Republicans. But even granting that, it’s only 8 percent.”

    How many prominent, and I mean really prominent, Republicans went on record as endorsing Hillary Clinton? They probably don’t have coattails, but they’re certainly not hypothetical voters.

    • There are few. I was shocked when I heard Max Boot say he would vote for Bernie Sanders over Trump. His argument was that even though he disagreed with Sanders on policy, Sanders was still an ordinary politician. (This is a thought that I’m seeing a number of Democrats disagree with.) So even among #NeverTrump, what I usually find is people who complain about Trump but who will at best just not vote.

      But I think I wasn’t clear in my article because a couple of people seem to think I was talking about Hillary Clinton’s primary vote in 2016. I wasn’t. I was talking about her vote in 2008. I was shocked to find that there were that many who refused to vote for Obama. I really don’t understand that. I consider myself a political extremist. But in the end, I’ll always make the practical choice. I hate Andrew Cuomo. But I admit: I would vote for him against any Republican I can think of. As I always say: an alternative, not a choice.

      • Sanders is an ordinary politician. That’s what ticks me off-he gets to be one while his rabid fanatics make everyone else out to be an evil monster for doing the same goddamn thing he does!

        • All politicians have annoying followers. If I were King of the World, I would outlaw Twitter.

          But this is what I’ve been saying for years. Sanders is not a socialist; he’s a good ol’ New Deal Democrat. And that’s why I like him.

          I’ve been thinking a lot recently that we have a big problem on the left with social democrats thinking they are democratic socialists. And social democrats are just what I think of as old fashioned Democrats — or as Paul Wellstone said, people in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Then there are the New Democrats who are neoliberals. I’ll work with any of them, but I do think that people like Bill Clinton really don’t get it. He’s been poisoned by Davos.

  2. Certainly Clinton received a significant number of endorsements from generally GOP-leaning newspapers. And some prominent semi-retired Republicans warned that Trump was a danger.

    In a way, though, I think the days when that mattered much to voters are gone for good — if they ever really existed in the first place. The GOP has been using those voices as intellectual cover for decades. As their only real policies are tax cuts for the rich and a huge buildup of wasted military spending, they’ve increasingly had to run on coded bigotry. No Republican president since Eisenhower has mobilized strong support for any reason save rank prejudice (cumulatively against civil rights, women’s rights, LGTB rights, now immigrant hatred.) The Bill Buckleys and William Safires never really spoke to the majority of Republican voters. That was something of a media narrative so that rich Republicans could vote their true conscience (lower my taxes) without admitting they were relying on bigotry to get what they wanted.

    The narrative’s finished. Now rich people who want lower taxes and don’t care who’s harmed if they get them vote centrist Democrat.

    • I’m sure that smarter Republicans really miss the Cold War. It gave them something real to defend. They’ve been lost since it. About the only thing that keeps their coalition together now is anti-abortion hysteria.

      It reminds me of Canadian Bacon that was more or less about exactly that. Michael Moore got panned for that movie. But it’s actually hilarious. Critics are idiots.

    • That’s hilarious! I especially liked the parts with They Live and Twin Peaks. I kinda wish they had found refrain lyrics that weren’t quite so clunky (not that I can think of any). But it was excellent nonetheless.

      Nothing has reinvigorated my interest in Sanders than the #NeverBernie campaign. I now think much of the complaining about Sanders supporters not voting for Clinton in the general was disingenuous. I wrote about it more, Bernie Sanders Voters: Welcome! Although in it, I’m making a different argument: that vilifying Sanders only annoys Sanders supporters. I don’t mean complaining about his policies. That’s obviously fair game. But all I hear are just personal insults. And they are often Republican insults. For example: Bernie never had a real job until he went into politics. And even though I only thought it was bad for the party before, it’s alienated me now too. Not that I won’t still vote for whomever the Democrats nominate. I’m not going to punish the nation just because some faction of the Democratic Party is awful.

      • Practically speaking, the only way forward for the left is a grassroots takeover of the Democratic Party. We don’t need to be bitter about it, I guess, but we need to acknowledge that a large fraction of the Party are not good-faith seekers of justice, but guardians of mammon. That has nothing to do with hypothetical ‘Judean Front’ analogies and everything to do with a large group of rich, powerful charlatans working hard to deter justice to the detriment of America.

        • No, the Judean People’s Front really comes down to the statement, “The only people we hate more than the Romans is the fucking People’s Front of Judea!” That’s why I was very critical of the #NeverHillary people in 2016 and am now very critical of the #NeverBernie people today. I don’t have any tolerance for them. Just the same, I will work with any of them if it furthers my aims.

          There is a grassroots takeover of the Democratic Party — of the whole country. You know the Nicholas Klein quote, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.” We are in stage 3 of this. But there’s a long way to go. And it annoys me a bit that a lot of people think we are on the verge of revolution. Most people who call themselves democratic socialists are really just social democrats. And that’s fine! If America became a social democracy, it would be a great improvement. But it shows how far we have to go.

  3. @Elizabeth — I haven’t met any of these rabid Sanders supporters, but I’m not online a lot. If you are, you may have run into some real a-holes. That sucks.

    The Sanders supporters I’ve met are just frustrated that our system of rewarding “filthy lucre” is running civilization like a drunk driver who thinks “oops, flashing cop lights, better speed up.” Centrist bank-friendly politics just aren’t where we need to be right now. I can promise you not every primary voter who checked the Sanders box did so because they thought girls are ooky.

    (“Filthy lucre” is your phrase, and a good one. I remember being hugely jealous of it when I read it. I’m a baseball fan, we tend to have long memories of strange minutiae. Lord only knows why.)

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