Bernie Sanders’ Legacy: The Left may no longer need the rich

bernie-sanders-undemocratic-plan-primary

FILE — Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters during a walk throughout City Center in Philadelphia, April 26, 2016. Sander’s success with working class voters in the primary race so far may mean the progressive left of the party may no longer need rich liberals, who tend to support Hillary Clinton, to compete nationally. (Mark Makela/The New York Times)

News By Nate Cohn – The New York Times

When Bernie Sanders started gaining in the polls, it was easy to place him in a long line of idealistic insurgents like Barack Obama, Howard Dean, Bill Bradley or Jerry Brown.

They built strong bases of support among white liberal voters, excelling in places like Boulder, Colo., and Vermont, but their chances of being nominated hinged on building a broader coalition that included nonwhite voters. Only Mr. Obama managed it.

Mr. Sanders, despite his success in Indiana this week, has effectively lost the Democratic nomination, and for a familiar reason: He didn’t do well enough among black voters. But he gained the enthusiasm of a subtly different — and potentially larger — coalition than his liberal predecessors.

His brand of progressivism played far better among white working-class voters than that of past liberal outsiders. At the same time, he fared far worse among the affluent Democrats who represented the core of Mr. Obama and Mr. Bradley’s coalitions.

Mr. Sanders’s weakness among affluent Democrats and his strength among working-class Democrats might seem unsurprising, given his class-focused message. Mr. Sanders himself anticipated it in an interview with The Upshot in July.

But in broader historical terms, it might be something of a turning point in Democratic politics: the moment when the party’s left no longer needs an alliance with wealthy liberals to compete in national elections.

Connecticut, which held its primary April 26, vividly illustrates the huge difference between Mr. Sanders’s coalition and that of past liberal challengers.

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In 2000, a flagging Mr. Bradley lost the state by 13 percentage points to Al Gore. He lost badly among nonwhite voters — losing cities like Bridgeport and Hartford by more than 40 points. He lost by more modest margins in the rural, white, working-class eastern part of the state. But he won many of the state’s affluent areas — like Greenwich and New Canaan, along with much of the traditionally liberal western and northwestern part of the state near the border with New York and Massachusetts.

Mr. Obama won almost all of the same areas in 2008, but then added strong support from nonwhite voters — enough to give him a narrow victory over Mrs. Clinton in the state. He won places like Bridgeport and Hartford, even as he fared similarly to Mr. Bradley in places like Greenwich and New Canaan. He fared little or no better in the white, working-class parts of eastern and central Connecticut.

The Sanders-Clinton race reversed this map. Mrs. Clinton lost almost all of the white, working-class areas of rural eastern Connecticut to Mr. Sanders, even though she had won most of it in 2008, as Mr. Gore had in 2000. But she beat Mr. Sanders by huge margins in the affluent parts of western Connecticut where Mr. Obama and Mr. Bradley fared well. She won back the nonwhite voters she lost to Obama in 2008, giving her wins in Bridgeport and Hartford that nearly matched Mr. Gore’s victory in 2000. It was enough for a clear if modest 5.4-point victory.

It’s a pattern that has repeated itself across the country. Mr. Sanders was routed in the wealthy, liberal parts of New York where recent progressive heroes such as Bill de Blasio or Zephyr Teachout fared well — like the Upper West Side, Greenwich Village and parts of Brooklyn.

In Massachusetts, Mr. Sanders lost the affluent, liberal voters in the Boston area, and he might well lose the Bay Area, another enclave of the wealthy and liberal.

This is the first time since 1992 that there’s been a real split between the progressive left and affluent liberals in a Democratic primary. In that race, an iconoclastic outsider, Mr. Brown, excelled among liberals in places like Ann Arbor, Mich., with a progressive message (including opposition to trade agreements), while a more technocratic candidate, Paul Tsongas, won in wealthy liberal areas like Montgomery County, Md., which includes many suburbs northwest of Washington. Bill Clinton easily prevailed over a divided left-liberal wing of the party with strong support among working-class white Democrats and black voters.

Why did affluent liberals support Mrs. Clinton?

But the left might have a better opportunity to reassemble the left-liberal coalition with a different progressive candidate if the problem were Sanders, not his views.

Equally important to the future of progressives in the Democratic Party is Sanders’ strength in the white working-class areas where Bradley, Obama, and both Brown and Tsongas faltered. It was Sanders’ strength among these voters that let him stay fairly competitive, even though he lost half of the traditional left-liberal coalition.

Sanders won white voters without a college degree by a double-digit margin in Connecticut, as he did in Maryland, Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Illinois, Oklahoma, Indiana, Vermont and Michigan. He probably did so in Rhode Island as well (no exit polls were conducted there).

Outside the South, Clinton probably won white voters without a college degree only in Ohio (the exit polls there show she prevailed with that group by 1 percentage point).

One possible explanation, again, is policy. Income inequality has become a vastly more important issue to Democrats since the Great Recession, and it is reasonable to assume that white working-class Democrats might be especially drawn to the issue. This is the best case for the progressive left; it would mean that a future progressive populist could count on similar levels of support with a strong, class-oriented message.

The evidence for this view is somewhat mixed. According a compilation of exit polls, about 40 percent of white voters without a college degree wanted more liberal policies than those of Obama, and Sanders won these voters handily. The highest number was in Vermont, where 46 percent of white voters without a degree wanted more liberal policies than Obama’s.

That is a big bloc that progressives can count on in the future, but it is not a majority, and it is less than Sanders’ share of white voters without a degree. That is in part because Sanders also won among those white working-class voters who wanted less liberal policies than those of Obama, a fact that makes Sanders look as much like a protest vote against Clinton as the harbinger of a new Democratic socialism.

According to exit poll data, liberals represented a majority of white Democrats without a college degree in nearly every primary contest. It is a huge change from just a decade or two ago, when so many white working-class Democrats were conservative. Clinton tended to win “moderate” white voters without college degrees in these states, but she lost among the self-described liberals.

A lot of this is a generational divide. Clinton won among white voters without a college degree who were older than 30, but she was pummeled among those who were younger.

Whether Clinton was so weak among young white voters because of her weaknesses or the appeal of Sanders’ policy message will probably decide whether the “Sanders Coalition” can be replicated in a future Democratic primary.

The exit polls, again, send a mixed message. About half of young white voters did not think Clinton was liberal enough, or they wanted policies that were more liberal than Obama’s. But Sanders also won among those younger voters who thought Clinton and Obama were liberal enough; her weakness might have had as much (or more) to do with questions about ethical governance as about policy.

One possibility is simple class politics: Mr. Sanders’s class-oriented message didn’t resonate among this group. If true, a candidate of the progressive left would struggle to reunite the left-liberal coalition against an establishment challenger in future Democratic primaries.

But the left might have a better opportunity to reassemble the left-liberal coalition with a different progressive candidate if the problem were Sanders, not his views.

Equally important to the future of progressives in the Democratic Party is Sanders’ strength in the white working-class areas where Bradley, Obama, and both Brown and Tsongas faltered. It was Sanders’ strength among these voters that let him stay fairly competitive, even though he lost half of the traditional left-liberal coalition.

Sanders won white voters without a college degree by a double-digit margin in Connecticut, as he did in Maryland, Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Illinois, Oklahoma, Indiana, Vermont and Michigan. He probably did so in Rhode Island as well (no exit polls were conducted there).

Outside the South, Clinton probably won white voters without a college degree only in Ohio (the exit polls there show she prevailed with that group by 1 percentage point).

One possible explanation, again, is policy. Income inequality has become a vastly more important issue to Democrats since the Great Recession, and it is reasonable to assume that white working-class Democrats might be especially drawn to the issue. This is the best case for the progressive left; it would mean that a future progressive populist could count on similar levels of support with a strong, class-oriented message.

The evidence for this view is somewhat mixed. According a compilation of exit polls, about 40 percent of white voters without a college degree wanted more liberal policies than those of Obama, and Sanders won these voters handily. The highest number was in Vermont, where 46 percent of white voters without a degree wanted more liberal policies than Obama’s.

That is a big bloc that progressives can count on in the future, but it is not a majority, and it is less than Sanders’ share of white voters without a degree. That is in part because Sanders also won among those white working-class voters who wanted less liberal policies than those of Obama, a fact that makes Sanders look as much like a protest vote against Clinton as the harbinger of a new Democratic socialism.

According to exit poll data, liberals represented a majority of white Democrats without a college degree in nearly every primary contest. It is a huge change from just a decade or two ago, when so many white working-class Democrats were conservative. Clinton tended to win “moderate” white voters without college degrees in these states, but she lost among the self-described liberals.

A lot of this is a generational divide. Clinton won among white voters without a college degree who were older than 30, but she was pummeled among those who were younger.

Whether Clinton was so weak among young white voters because of her weaknesses or the appeal of Sanders’ policy message will probably decide whether the “Sanders Coalition” can be replicated in a future Democratic primary.

The exit polls, again, send a mixed message. About half of young white voters did not think Clinton was liberal enough, or they wanted policies that were more liberal than Obama’s. But Sanders also won among those younger voters who thought Clinton and Obama were liberal enough; her weakness might have had as much (or more) to do with questions about ethical governance as about policy.

The Sanders-Clinton race reversed this map. Clinton lost almost all of the white, working-class areas of rural eastern Connecticut to Sanders, even though she had won most of it in 2008, as Gore had in 2000. But she beat Sanders by huge margins in the affluent parts of western Connecticut where Obama and Bradley fared well. She won back the nonwhite voters she lost to Obama in 2008, giving her wins in Bridgeport and Hartford that nearly matched Gore’s victory in 2000. It was enough for a clear if modest 5.4-point victory.

Hartford

New Haven

Bridgeport

Clinton vs. Sanders, 2016

Clinton stronger

Sanders stronger

Hartford

New Haven

Bridgeport

Clinton vs. Obama, 2008

Clinton stronger

Obama stronger

Hartford

New Haven

Bridgeport

Gore v. Bradley, 2000

Gore stronger

Bradley stronger

By The New York Times
But the left might have a better opportunity to reassemble the left-liberal coalition with a different progressive candidate if the problem were Mr. Sanders, not his views. (Anecdotally, I run into a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 and say they would have supported

Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal — Unruly Hearts editor

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