In the wake of Joe Biden’s victories on Super Tuesday, there has been a concerted effort by Sanders’ most rabid supporters (undoubtedly abetted by some Russian ‘bots’) to accuse a nefarious (and conveniently un-defined) “Establishment” of dirty tricks.
The folks crying foul look a lot like the Trump supporters who dismiss any and all facts that contradict their fervently-held beliefs as “fake news.”
The data says otherwise.
An analysis of actual data by Thomas Edsell in the New York Times is instructive. Here’s his lede:
Four years ago, in Grant County, Oklahoma, Bernie Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton, 57.1 percent to 31.9 percent.
This year, Sanders didn’t just lose Grant County — 87.5 percent white, 76.9 percent without college degrees — to Joe Biden, his percentage of the vote fell by 41 points, to 16.1 percent.
Grant County reflects what has become a nationwide pattern in the Democratic primaries, including those held Tuesday night: Sanders’s support among white working class voters has begun to evaporate.
Edsell mines the data. It shows that large numbers of voters in 2016 were extremely hostile to Clinton; they voted for Sanders because they detested her–not because they were part of Bernie’s “revolution.” Once she captured the nomination, a surprising number voted for Trump.
Edsell suggests that the aversion of these (mostly) male voters to Hillary was also a factor in Elizabeth Warren’s inability to do better in the primary. He cites a recent study,
“Understanding White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism,” by Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts, and Matthew MacWilliams and Tatishe Nteta, political scientists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was published in 2018 in the Political Science Quarterly.
Trump, according to the authors, deliberately put racism and sexism at the center of the campaign in order to make these issues salient and advantageous to his candidacy:
Trump’s rhetoric went far beyond targeting racial and ethnic groups; he also invoked language that was explicitly hostile toward women. These remarks were often focused directly at opponents, such as Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton, or news reporters, such as Megyn Kelly.
Edsell goes into some detail about the study, and it’s worth clicking through and reading, but his larger point was that considerable research demonstrates that a very significant percentage of non‐college‐educated whites hold sexist views. So we shouldn’t be surprised by post-primary analyses that show non-college educated whites –many of whom voted for Sanders in 2016–breaking for Biden in significant numbers now that Sanders no longer faces Hillary.
Overall Sanders is running well below his 2016 vote share everywhere. A lot of people underestimated just how much of his support in 2016 was an anti-Clinton vote, and now that he’s not running against Clinton, those voters aren’t backing him anymore.
Other interesting data points: between 10 and 12 percent of Sanders’s 2016 primary voters voted for Trump in the general election, with an additional 12 percent either voting for a third-party candidate or not voting at all. And many weren’t Democrats; interviews with Sanders-Trump voters over the years suggest that only 35 percent of them had voted for Obama in either 2008 or 2012.
What separated Sanders-Trump voters from Sanders-Clinton voters was simple racism.
When asked how they felt about whites and blacks on a 0-100 scale, Sanders-Trump voters rated blacks 9 points less favorably than Sanders-Clinton voters. But Sanders-Trump voters rated whites 8 points more favorably.
Nate Silver has also crunched the numbers, pointing out that in 2016, Sanders won 43 percent of the primary vote against Clinton; however, if “24 percent of that 43 percent were #NeverHillary voters, that means Sanders’s real base was more like 33 percent of the overall Democratic electorate.”
If Edsell and the scholars he quotes are right about the extent and effect of latent sexism (and not-so-latent racism), it explains why Sanders’ support diminished this time around–although it doesn’t explain the significant reduction in turnout by young voters, especially in a year when Democratic primary turnout overall has skyrocketed. (One tongue-in-cheek explanation: Young people tweet. Old people vote.)
One thing, however, is clear. No matter how distasteful the evidence is to Bernie’s most passionate supporters, neither the pathetically inept DNC nor some shadowy “establishment” are responsible for his likely failure to win the nomination.
It may seem inconceivable to them that a majority of Democratic voters prefer Biden. But the data says they do.