AGORA: How will Bernie Supporters Vote?

Dan Georgakas and Constantinos Scaros, in their latest AGORA installment, discuss how Bernie Sanders supporters might vote on November 8.


Dino, Bernie Sanders received 13 million votes in the Democratic primaries, just a tad below the 14 million for Trump in the Republican primaries. Keeping the Sanders votes in the Democratic column is a major concern for Hillary Clinton and keeping as many as possible out is a priority for Donald Trump. I offer my view of how those votes will be cast, You work from a different political construct than mine so I am intrigued by your views on the direction Sanders voters will take.

A recent CNN poll posits that 69% of the Sanders vote will go to Hillary. This reflects the circumstance that many progressive Democrats consciously voted for Sanders in order to move Clinton leftward. They openly stated they would vote for Bernie in April and Hillary in November.

Independents, wavering Democrats, and college students were strong supporters of the Sanders agenda. Many of his proposals have been incorporated into the Democratic platform. While these voters may dislike Clinton, they understand that a vote for her is the best way to re-enforce some of the goals spotlighted by Sanders. These factors make it likely the Sanders voters for Clinton will grow in number rather than fall away.

The CNN poll found 13% of Sanders voters gravitating to the Green Party headed by Jill Stein. This is reasonable as the Green Party endorses the Sanders program and even offered him the chance to head its ticket. History, however, shows that enthusiasm for third parties tends to peak in the summer months. If that history holds, the 13% is likely to erode.

The one new organized force for the Greens is the decision of three small socialist groups with a combined membership of about a thousand to work on behalf of Stein. The activists in these groups are mainly clustered in universities, which might keep the third party erosion from happening.

Voting for the Libertarian Party is another option. Sanders voters agree with the human rights perspectives championed by the Libertarians, but the Libertarian economic program is quite different from that of Sanders. The CNN poll showing 10% going to the Libertarians is not likely to materialize.

A mere 3% of Sanders vote have declared they would vote for Trump. The one substantive issue Trump raised to appeal to them was the anti-Sanders actions of the Democratic National Committee. This sour grapes approach lost its momentum when the Democrats admitted their misconduct, fired their Chair, and adopted reforms. The best guarantee that the reforms stay in effect is the election of Clinton.

Trump and his surrogates are pretty much out of tune with Sanders voters. A major military advisor pens anti-Semitic tweets and a former staff member advocates the expulsion of all Muslims from America. Trump’s son has proudly bragged that Trump is a Fifth Avenue Redneck. That statement unwittingly waves the red flag at reformers who equate redneck with racist know-nothings and consider a Fifth Avenue address as the domain of the despised 1%.

The major concern for Clinton is that the CNN poll found 5% of Sanders voters are now undecided and may not vote. I doubt many are actually undecided but more than 5% are considering not voting at all. Students, in particular, have a history of being more enthusiastic about going to rallies than showing up to vote. Trump would be pleased to have the Sanders student supporters stay home, but his campaign rhetoric to date is exactly what will impel them to go to the polls to cast their vote against him.


Dan, you make some good and thoughtful points regarding the Bernie Sanders voters. Much like Trump did in the Republican Party, Bernie galvanized an anti-establishment movement among the Democrats. Both candidates resulted in growing the voter base, bringing entirely new and first-time voters into the mix. These voters are Trumpists and Bernieacs. They are not beholden to party. The difference is, Trump still has a chance of becoming president, so his supporters undoubtedly will show up to vote for him. But what about Bernie’s crowd?

They know he will not win, so a portion of them will stay home. Some will go to the polls and write in his name. Some might vote for Jill Stein, or even Gary Johnson. That still leaves, a good chunk, the majority, I think, who are left with two choices: Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump.
There is no question that the lion’s share of that remaining large Bernie subset would go to Hillary. It shouldn’t, in my view, but it will.

The reason I say it shouldn’t is not ideological, but logical. Trump’s views in many ways are closer to Bernie’s than Hillary’s are. For instance, Trump, like Bernie, is anti-establishment. Both rail against many of our nation’s trade agreements. Both are critical of rushes to military intervention at the drop of a hat. Both condemn SuperPACs and other big money in politics. For Bernie voters to whom these issues are most important, Trump is their logical candidate, even though they cannot stomach his tone.
But if tone is their major concern, then Bernie and Trump could not be any more different. In that case, Hillary is certainly closer to Bernie in terms of decorum than Trump is.

My guess is that ultimately, anywhere from 60-80% of Bernie voters will vote for Hillary, with the actual number somewhere around 68%. Normally, that would be enough for Trump to run away with the election.
But the media is portraying Trump as a lunatic, and Trump himself hasn’t helped himself any in his attempts to refute that image.

Actually, his son Don Jr. was referring to himself, not his father, as a “Fifth Avenue redneck,” but that really doesn’t matter: Trump has the “redneck” vote, and that’s not going to change. But a lot of undecideds who turned their backs on Hillary because they find her sleazy are probably thinking “I’ll take sleazy over crazy” right about now.
The good news for Trump is that the American public has the memory of a flea. If Trump could only manage to stay on message over the next dozen weeks and not give the media any more ammunition to cast him as the evil and crazy villain, then he might actually close the gap and win this thing. And in that case, the 30% or so of Bernie voters who won’t vote for Hillary will matter indeed.
But hoping that Trump will stay on message is a tall order, as he has proven incapable or unwilling to refrain from saying the types of things that the media can easily run with and spin them into the outrage of the century.