The DNC Didn’t Screw Bernie–The Voters Did

by Benjamin Studebaker

The New York primary was an unmitigated disaster for Bernie Sanders. Polichart’s updated victory targets called for Sanders to win 54% of the vote and get 133 delegates. He got 42% and 108. This puts him 36 delegates behind schedule, and he still trails in the polls in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and California. Sanders failed to do better than the polling data in New York indicated he would do, damaging the comforting theory that polls in northern states underrate him. As regular readers know, I am very sympathetic to Sanders, but I cannot in good conscience mislead you about the realities of the political situation. In the last few days, many well-intentioned people have tried to make arguments that Sanders can still win or that Sanders would be winning if the DNC were not corrupt–I wish these arguments were true, but they’re not. Sanders is losing because most Democratic primary voters do not support him.

Many good people are rightly claiming that there has been voter suppression in many primary states. The stories out of Arizona and New York are particularly horrendous. Let me be clear–this suppression is very real and it is deeply objectionable. But just because there has been suppression does not mean that this suppression has been decisive, i.e. that it is the reason Clinton has won rather than Sanders.

We know that voter suppression and outright fraud cannot possibly be decisively responsible for the result in these states because the researchers who do the polls that RealClear (RC) and Huffington Post (HP) include in their averages don’t suppress respondents in those polls. The signature of potential corruption would be to see Sanders doing much better in the polls than he ends up doing in the states–that would imply that people the pollsters invited to participate in the polls were then denied the vote in the election. But the data doesn’t look like that at all–Sanders tends to meet or exceed the poll projections. In Arizona, RC projected that Sanders would win 23%, HP projected he’d win 24%, and he went on to win nearly 40%, far in excess of what the polls projected. In New York, RC projected Sanders would get 41.4%, HP projected 41.6%, and Sanders got 42%. There is no large number of missing Sanders votes. For suppression and fraud to have been responsible for Clinton’s victories, there would need to be a massive conspiracy in which all the polling firms conspired with the DNC in each of the relevant states to produce misleading polls and then produce election results which fit those polls closely enough to avoid raising suspicion. A conspiracy of that kind is too large for anyone to logistically manage. It’s impossible to keep that many people quiet, and the polling firms are bound to have a certain number of employees who are pro-Sanders and would never participate in such a scheme without blowing the whistle.

The depressing reality is that nationally Sanders has never led in the poll averages–over the last few months he’s gotten closer, but it’s been too little too late:

Hillary vs Challengers

He’d need to be leading nationally by a significant percentage at this point to make up for the losses he sustained in the opening months of the campaign. He’s not there. A stunning victory in New York might have done the trick, but it didn’t happen. He got almost exactly what he polled at.

What’s more, many demographic groups that would benefit much more from Sanders’ proposals than from Clinton’s have nonetheless tended to support her rather than him. Black and Hispanic voters consistently went for Clinton:

These voters were either unaware of Clinton’s history on mass incarceration, welfare reform, and economic inequality or they did not object to it very strongly. In the meantime, many white people were voting in the Republican primaries instead.

I’m not going to sit here and scold these people or tell them to educate themselves. I’m not that kind of political writer. People have jobs, they have kids, they don’t have a lot of time to consume political information, and a lot of what is available for consumption out there is rubbish. Even those who have time to read often do not have time to figure out what’s worth reading and what isn’t.

The media doesn’t always make that easier–in this race, the mainstream media was often dismissive of Sanders, and the coverage of the issues and policies at stake has been very poor. This is in part because journalists are not policy experts and it’s in part because our media outlets are often owned by people with agendas. But a lot of good people have been overplaying this–at the end of the day, private media under capitalism has to produce whatever content will get the most eyeballs and clicks so that it can sell advertising and stay competitive. Most people are drawn to content that is entertaining and soft, so this imperative forces the media to ignore substance and focus on fluffy stuff. Donald Trump understands the way the media works better than anyone running this cycle and has routinely exploited the media’s need to deliver eyeballs to advertisers to extract free coverage. The media hates him, but he’s been able to use them to fuel his rise all the same. Bernie Sanders didn’t yell controversial soundbites at the press–he talked issues, so they ignored him.

But even if it were true that the media produced an endless pile of anti-Sanders propaganda, I didn’t fall for it, and if you’re reading this you probably didn’t fall for it either. People fall for misleading information because they’re susceptible to it, and they’re susceptible to it because they don’t have the time to do their own reading or to sort out what that reading should look like.

We’re asking a lot from very busy people. It’s not fair that our poor people, who are the most overworked and over-stressed people in the country, now must also read enough of the right stuff to know enough to vote for the people who will advance their interests. They are not “getting what they deserve” anymore than you get what you deserve when your car breaks down and you haven’t read enough of the right stuff about fixing cars to do the repairs yourself right then and there.

Our political system has become too reliant on ensuring too many people do more to inform themselves than they can reasonably be expected to do. It’s a hard truth, but it’s one that the left has to face.