Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) –
1. There is a persistent meme that Sanders doesn’t do well with persons of color, which seems left over from 2016 when he was less well known. On the whole, persons of color in the United States are more likely to be part of the working class and to favor strong rights for workers. They are also not afraid in the least for the most part of the phrase “democratic socialism.” As Ron Brownstein noted last December, it turns out that Bernie is the favorite Democratic presidential candidate among Hispanics and Latinos. Since Brownstein wrote, this trend has solidified. Even Rafael Bernal at The Hill says that Sanders “ran the table” with the Latino vote in Iowa.” He says, “In the state’s four Spanish-language caucus sites, Sanders won almost unanimously, obtaining 428 votes against a combined 14 divided between” the other candidates.
In California, Sanders is in the lead in the polls in some important part because of his popularity with Latinos. The Ventura County Star points out, “A recent poll of likely California primary voters put Sanders in the lead, with support from 38% of Latinos.”
If Sanders’ popularity among Latinos continues to grow, it could prove an important element in a Democratic victory in 2020. Ryan Shepard at ABC quotes former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as saying, “President Trump captured about 30% of the Hispanic vote in 2016. If he falls under that threshold in 2020, key battleground states will be out of his reach.” After everything Trump has done to Latinos, if Democrats can’t take most of that vote away from him, they deserve to lose. The candidate that resonates most deeply among them is Sanders.
As Chiara Vercellone points out at Northwestern University’s Medill School, Latinos and Hispanics could provide the margin to keep or turn Nevada, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina (about 10% Latino) and some other swing states Blue. As things now stand, Trump’s Latino support has fallen from 30%, and 78% now say they deeply dislike Trump. They may well enthusiastically come out to turn him out of office. Among Mexican-Americans in particular, the popularity of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador or AMLO, a man of the left, may help Bernie resonate with them. Even in conservative Florida, Bernie leads with the Latino youth.
Sanders is even in striking distance of out-polling Trump in Texas (47% to 50%, and it is early days).
Sanders has much improved his standing among African-American voters, as well, though he has work to do. He is at 20% with them nationally. Biden is much more popular with this group at 48%, but Sanders’ appeal to Latinos has demonstrated that his campaign is capable of minority outreach on a vast scale. He has improved to 16% among South Carolina African-Americans, who comprise two-thirds of the Democratic voters in the state.
2. Trump thinks he has an advantage among the disaffected white working class. But this constituency has been exaggerated. Most people who voted for Trump in 2016 were well-off. Kim Moody points out
- “an average of about 40% of union members and their families have been voting Republican in presidential elections for a long time, with the Democrats winning a little under 60% of the union household vote for the last four decades . . . Nevertheless, in 2016 a relatively small number shifted to Trump from 40% for the Republican in 2012 to 43% in 2016. This three percentage points represents a shift of just under 800,000 union household voters across the entire country.”
In Michigan, about 14% of white workers who had voted for Obama defected to Trump. It is that 14% in Michigan, 3% nationally, that Democrats need to win back. Bernie Sanders is among the best-placed candidates to accomplish that feat, since union workers are absolutely wild for him. Sanders won Michigan in the 2016 primary, and got 30% of the Black vote there even then. I think both Sanders and Biden could handily trounce Trump in Michigan next November (both are running 50% to Trump’s 45% there currently). Trump’s 2016 victory was a fluke driven by a tiny margin in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota where some white workers defected to Trump and many minority voters stayed home out of lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders could well bring both those constituencies out enthusiastically and prevent Trump from again getting to 270.
3. A third myth is that Bernie Sanders is to US politics what Jeremy Corbyn was to British politics. This is wrong-headed in so many ways it is hard to know where to start. The big issue in last fall’s British election was Brexit, the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. Corbyn never was able to articulate a consistent position on that issue. Many in Labour wanted to remain, but it is not clear that Corbyn did. Many in the British white working class were Leave. Labour could not keep its working-class constituency together.
In contrast, the Brexit-type issue that roiled the UK is not foremost on the minds of US voters. Here are their top concerns according to a recent Gallup poll:
35% say healthcare is “extremely important,” and another 81% say it is very important or important. Education is almost ranked as highly, as is the economy.
26% say climate change is extremely important and another 55 percent say it is very important or important. Gun policy is the third biggest issue, but it isn’t clear from the poll whether these are pro- or anti-gun respondents. Abortion and growing wealth inequality are nearly tied for 8th and 9th place. Immigration is not in the top 5 most important issues, and barely ranks above climate change for US voters. Moreover, many of those concerned about immigration want it to stay the same or increase. Only about a third want less immigration. This is actually quite bad news for Trump.
Assuming that the public isn’t completely brain dead and that it doesn’t buy Trump bald-faced lies about how he saved Obamacare, many of these issues give Sanders an edge. He is a recognized champion on health care and education. Trump in contrast was fined $25 million for defrauding students at a phony scam of a university. Sanders is the best on climate change of any major American politician. And growing wealth inequality is his issue. Trump has a whip hand at the moment on the economy (though he hasn’t in fact done as well as Obama), but many Americans are still being left behind and if Bernie can turn them out, he has a chance of winning. Abortion as an issue is probably not actually determinative in national politics, and in any case a majority of Americans oppose a complete abortion ban of the sort Trump now champions.
In short, the American electorate says it is exercised by precisely those issues where Sanders largely has an advantage. His profile isn’t like that of Corbyn in any way shape or form. Well, they are both democratic socialists. But then so is AMLO in Mexico, and he won.