© Josh Sager – April 2016
At the start of this primary season, there were many pundits and establishment talking heads who completely discounted the idea that Bernie Sanders would pose any threat to Hillary Clinton—they argued that he was too old, too liberal, too idealistic, and too out of the mainstream to gain any following. In the run-up to some of the early races, some of these “experts” even publicly mused about the likelihood of Bernie only winning New Hampshire and Vermont.
Obviously, these pundits couldn’t have been more wrong and we are now seeing a situation where Bernie Sanders—the Jewish Democratic Socialist from Vermont who refuses to take corporate donations or even start a super-PAC—is a real contender against Hillary Clinton—the long-standing favorite of the establishment with universal name recognition and millions in her campaign war chest. Bernie is only trailing Hillary by just over 200 delegates, and has won 7 of the last 8 races by devastating margins.
Red = Most Delegates Hillary; Blue = Most Delegates Bernie; Purple = Delegate Tie
While I would love to see Bernie as president, the math still favors Hillary and she is the favorite to win the primary—her victories in the deep south have created a large, but not impossible, impediment for Bernie to overcome. He needs to win significant victories in the coming states, including New York and California, while overcoming the closed primary system which disenfranchises many younger voters, students and independents, all of whom are statistically likely to vote for him.
That said, there is a real argument that Bernie has already won this election cycle, even if he loses the primary to Hillary. In addition to the fact that Bernie has forced Hillary to adopt most of his positions (e.g. on trade, worker’s rights, immigration, etc.) he has also captured the support of the vast majority of young voters.
Bernie’s success in controlling the narrative is so obvious that SNL used it to lampoon Hillary.
Even if the establishment manages to defeat Bernie at the convention, his message will live on and he may achieve more with his strong primary performance than Hillary could hope to achieve as president. By her own admission Hillary will not push for dramatic change to the status quo, and there is a near certainty that Hillary will be met with the very same massive resistance that Obama has faced. Given these two factors, it is likely that a Hillary presidency would suffer from perpetual deadlock and she wouldn’t achieve anything of import during her 4-8 years in office.
Bernie is the most popular American politician among 18-29 year olds and has won overwhelming victories (over 80%) of young voters in virtually all of the primary/caucus contests—these victories persist across all demographics, including among men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, the working class and the upper class. He has won a majority of voters under the age of 35, and, in most states, has captured significant percentages of the under 45 vote.
Young voters, particularly high-engaged young voters, are the future leaders of any political party. These young activists and leaders vote, organize, run for office, and become the thought leaders of the party several decades down the road. In effect, the youth today become the establishment 20-30 years in the future, thus anybody who shapes the youth has the power to control the political future. Bernie has embodied the concerns of the young and his ideals will likely shape their future political preferences for the rest of their lives.
Hillary is the candidate of the current establishment and has won largely due to overwhelming support from older voters, particularly African American seniors. In the coming decades, the voters who supported Hillary will die off, while the voters who supported Bernie will gradually matriculate up to higher levels of power. While it is certainly true that many of these young liberals will fall to the lure of corruption and money in politics, many will not and will become champions of Bernie’s message.
In effect, Bernie has won the future of the Democratic Party, even if its past still has the power to block him from the presidency. His values will live on long after his primary bid or presidency ends, while the establishment that so derides him is gradually replaced.
Sanders has certainly gotten young folks excited. And that is great. The problem is that young people just don’t vote in as great a number as older folks, especially in off year election. .
For example. In the 2008 election 50% of the 18-29 age group voted, compared to 70% of those 45 and older. Two years later, in 2010 only 20% of young folks voted, as opposed to 60% of those 60 and older. Same thing happened in 2012 and 2014. Young voters stats were 40% and 18%!. Old folks stats were 70% and 55%.
(Data from http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/demographics )
It is those off-year elections that determine many governors and state houses. Which has allowed the GOP to control the electoral process through gerrymandering, voting restrictions, etc. I just wish young people would get excited in off year elections. They could change the nation in 2 years ! This has been a major weakness of the Dems. NOT getting out the vote in off years. The GOP gets out their base. The Dems don’t.
When people talk of Clinton as an “establishment” candidate, that is correct. But ask yourself, why? She has a long history in the Dem party, starting in her college days support for McGovern and the anti-war movement. She has a long history of involvement in children’s rights and women’s rights. As First Lady she was involved in attempting to get universal health care .(But the GOP “made her fail”.) As Senator from NY she was instrumental in helping not only NYC, but the rural areas as well. She even achieved majorities in her re-election campaign in traditional GOP strongholds. She was the Sec of State and did a lot to rebuild the bridges to our European allies burned by the Bush administration. So, the reason she is the “establishment” candidate is that she has “established” herself as a lifelong Dem and a lifelong liberal/moderate.
That takes nothing away from Sanders, who I am more attuned with philosophically. But to be honest he has not done much for the Dem party. While he does caucus with the Dems, he only joined it recently to run for POTUS after many years as an independent/socialist. So, he does not have the long term relationships with party leaders and local party members as well. Which is why so many superdelegates are supporting Clinton.
Sanders does well in open primaries where anyone can vote, Clinton better in closed primaries where only registered Dems can vote. As expected. Hopefully the young people Sanders has inspired will decide to stay on and vote in the general election AND in 2018. That will be the key. Are they “one-hit wonders” as the trend seems to show or will this group of new voters stay the course? Will they take the long view and vote for Clinton in November or will they stay home, which could lead to another Bush-like catastrophe?
Josh Sager, You lost me at “the math still favors Hillary”a
josephurban, The young people and all the other people Sanders has inspired will stay and vote in the general election. Hillary has not won yet and hopefully, people will understand there are still voters who haven’t had a chance to vote yet. I think it is a real disservice to them to start talking about what Bernie supporters should do after the primary is over. It ain’t over till it’s over!
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Irfal… I hope you are correct about the Sanders voters. Technically you are correct about the numbers. Clinton does not have the required delegates. She has won about 56% of the total vote, while Sanders has won 42%. Only if Sanders wins BIG in NY, PA and CA does he have a chance to catch her. Possible, but highly unlikely. Even without counting the superdelegates who are trending heavily for Clinton as on now. But, that, too, could change.
I think Josh is correct that the numbers make it very difficult for Sanders since, unlike the GOP, there are no winner-take-all primaries. Even when she loses Clinton continues to pick up delegates. Sanders needs to win about 70% of the remaining vote and then convince the hundreds of superdelegates to switch from Clinton. A real longshot. .I think NY result will be very important. Sanders needs to win BIG.
Thanks for your reply. Of course, I
understand the numbers as they have been repeated over and over again.
in every MSM article on Sanders. As I
said, let’s just wait until the primaries are all over and see where that takes us. Again, I think all this speculation (no matter the number facts) is a disservie to those who have not voted yet..