Simon Williamson

Bernie Or Bust

2016-04-13 07:46

Simon Williamson

There is major concern in the Hillary Clinton camp that Bernie Sanders voters will not turn out for her in the November general election. Her supporters need to stop worrying about this: contrary to popular belief, it happens every election cycle.
While Hillary Clinton supporters have done their best to ignore the upstart candidate who wasn’t supposed to stand a chance – due to his age, religion, or gonad size to dare use the word “socialist” for a lefty – or because the Democratic Party anointed Mrs Clinton before the blood from the 2014 Democratic bloodbath was even dry, Bernie Sanders has proven to be a difficult customer.
Bernie Sanders supporters, however, have caused even more controversy due to their tendencies to spear Hillary Clinton – sometimes in absolutely revolting sexist and tone-deaf ways – and refuse to have anything to do with her. More than once it has been tweeted, yelled, or spelled out in moulting beard by Sanders supporters that they will not vote for Hillary Clinton in November if she is the Democratic nominee, bringing forth a surge of worry from Clinton fans and other Democrats that this will hand the election to the apocalypse going on in the Republican nomination proceedings. My Facebook feed is full of both Bernie Sanders fans swearing they will vote for a third-party candidate, and Hillary Clinton fans telling them they are basically voting for Trump. Neither of these is really true, especially as Clinton supporters, including favourable media, like to accuse Sanders of not being a real Democrat and for only winning open states, and then also crapping all over his supporters for not falling exactly in line with the Democratic Party post-primary.
However, multiple studies show that the enthusiasm for a particular primary candidate does plummet once primary season is over. This “Bernie or bust” phenomenon is about as old as… well, Bernie Sanders. Upstart candidates are also nothing original, with Eugene McCarthy a notable example: a Democrat running against an incumbent Democrat (President Lyndon Johnson) to the point that Johnson withdrew from the race leading to a contested convention in 1968. There have been others: Mike Huckabee in 2008, Howard Dean in 2004, Bill Bradley in 2000, Pat Buchanan in 1996, and so on.
Due to differing turnout numbers the concept of some primary voters boycotting their party in November seems moot: turnout in primaries is around 30% after the high profile races at the beginning, but will increase enormously for a full general election. Although our ability to measure the popular vote in primaries is compromised, since some states release only delegate counts, President Barack Obama received just shy of 18 million primary votes in the 2008 primaries, but won 69.4-million votes in the general election of that year; ironically, that was the year that a fair chunk of Hillary Clinton supporters swore to vote for the Republican nominee if their candidate didn’t win the primary. The number of voters that drop off, or vote for the other party, is small.
But even if that crossover Clinton-boycott vote happens, it is unlikely that either Sanders or Clinton will lose to the Republican candidate in November, as both Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz are conservative to the point they will struggle to expand the Electoral College map that so highly favours Democrats.  National polling shows both Republican frontrunners losing the popular vote in November, while even a break-even in national polling would favour Democrats because of the Electoral College.
No general election has been free of the consequences of intra-party opponents of the primary winner falling off the pot come November, and this election will be no different. It may more intuitive to think about it the other way: perhaps it isn’t fickle folks dropping off, but apathetic voters being inspired by a candidate, coming out for that candidate and then returning to apathy once the prospect of what they want is over. Many Sanders supporters want not Hillary. If she is the nominee they will vote for another candidate come November, or they will stay at home, in the predictable, if under-reported, manner that Americans do every four years.  

- Simon Williamson is a former journalist for News24 and Daily Maverick. He is now studying his Masters in Political Science at the University of Georgia, and worked a Democratic Senate race in 2014. He tweets whenever he is in a bad mood at @simonwillo.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    bernie sanders  |  hillary clinton  |  us  |  us elections 2016

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