OPINION: Will Voters Still #FeelTheBern in 2016?

If you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, you clicked the link to this op-ed, fully prepared to defend your beloved candidate. With a #FeelTheBern hashtag ready to be dispensed, you are here to boldly proclaim that Sanders is not only the right choice for voters, but he is also the only choice.

I commend the Sanders campaign for the energy and enthusiasm it has generated. Without the grassroots groundswell created by the “Feel the Bern” camp, Hillary Clinton would be left unchallenged. Sanders’ very presence in the race has forced Clinton to address a number of issues that might have been ignored before – at least rhetorically.

All things considered, Bernie Sanders has been a huge boon to the Democratic Party.

But he also represents a huge liability, and the party’s leadership recognizes this. As a result, Sanders will not receive his party’s nomination. Not only is it a statistical longshot, but a victory by the self-proclaimed democratic socialist would not be well received by the leaders of the Democratic Party.

Americans Shy Away from the “S Word”

No matter how often it is explained, socialism is not a highly favored word in the American political dialect. Though we are far removed from the Red Scare, American voters still manage to resurrect the ghost of Joseph McCarthy. A general distrust of anything closely related to communism is pervasive in the mindset of American voters. A 2010 Gallup poll found that 57% of American voters view the term socialism negatively.

A 2010 Gallup poll found that 57% of American voters view the term socialism negatively.
This is where Sanders supporters are quick to clarify that their candidate favors democratic socialism. His brand of socialism is not about gulags and breadlines; it’s about universal health care and publicly-financed elections.

The issue here is not a matter of philosophical substance; it is a matter of perception. Is the average American voter knowledgeable of the nuances of socialist theories? Can Joe the Plummer adequately explain the differences between Leninism and Syndicalism? A rose by any other name should still imply the redistribution of wealth.

Sanders can equivocate the differences between the socialism of the Soviet Union and the socialism of Scandanavia until he is red in the face; American economic views tend to favor the invisible hand of the market. According to a Rasmussen report, 53% of Americans believe capitalism is superior to socialism, while only 20% believe the reverse.

If you thought a Republican Congress was polarized by the erroneous belief that Obama was a socialist, what do you think would happen if a self-proclaimed one like Sanders was in the White House? As Anderson Cooper pointed out during the last debate, the Republican attack ad pretty much “writes itself.”

Diversity and Identity Politics

The Democratic Party is often considered the party of women and racial minorities. However, with the exception of Hillary Clinton, the options for Democratic presidential candidates are overwhelmingly old, white, and male – especially Sanders.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, the Republican Party currently hosts two Latinos, an African-American, and a woman as potential candidates. (There is also Bobby Jindal who is Indian, but I didn’t count him because he’ll be lucky if his campaign lasted another month.)

Republicans traditionally struggle to attract minority voters, and the majority of the party’s voting base is white. In 2012, registered Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire were 99 percent white.

But Bernie Sanders struggles for these votes as well. Only 2% of black Democrats support Sanders. Meanwhile, Clinton’s campaign prides itself with an 80% favorability rating among black voters.

For the general election, the influence of minority voters has never been higher. Non-white voters are projected to make up 31% of the electorate in 2016. If Sanders was to face off against a Rubio or Carson, would the Democratic Party be able to confidently count on the vote of blacks and Latinos?

Though studies indicate that minority voters tend to care more about the party rather than the racial identity of their candidates, Sanders still doesn’t match up well against these potential GOP candidates. Real Clear Politics project a 10.5 point advantage for Carson, 3.5 points for Fiorina, and 4 points for Rubio.

Don’t Take Your Guns to Town, Bernie

Sanders took a beating about his record on gun legislation during the first Democratic debate.

Oddly enough, this is one issue that Sanders is not a liability for a general election. His views are on par with the general electorate. Rather than cave to either side of the debate, Sanders encourages a healthy medium that protects gun rights, but reduces gun violence.

Sanders encourages a healthy medium that protects gun rights, but reduces gun violence.
However, one man’s “healthy medium” is another man’s “flip flop.”

This is where Democrats will devour one of their own. As German Lopez from Vox puts it, “Can someone with a moderate record on guns, really carry the Democratic nomination, especially as mass shootings capture national attention?” Following the most recent school shooting in Oregon, gun control is a high priority for Democrats at the moment.

Though Sanders favors several possible gun control measures – universal background checks, closing the “gun show loophole,” and assault weapon bans – many Democratic voters hold a grudge against the Vermont senator for voting against the Brady Bill, protecting gun and ammo manufacturers from liability, and voting to allow concealed weapons on Amtrak.

Sanders typically frames his gun record with the premise that he represents a predominately rural state with a rich tradition of hunting. Considering the urgency of Democratic voters to address this issue, many within the party are considering Sanders’ gun control policy as more of a “cop out” than a principled stance.

On the issue of guns, Clinton is running to left of Sanders. As FiveThirtyEight reports, she is well positioned to benefit from this policy platform.


 

Before this article is berated by his supporters, it is important to note that I respect Sanders. But I am being a realist.

Furthermore, I am not a shill for Clinton. (If you have followed some of my previous work, you will see I am equally critical of her.)

She presents her own unique liabilities to the party. She owns her fair share of controversies. The American electorate doesn’t trust her. Also, she has been a polarizing figure for the entirety of her political existence.

However, Clinton is a powerhouse candidate who has the funds and the endorsements to glide through the primaries, because – ultimately – she is the only current Democratic candidate who stands a chance to reach the White House.

The only thing Sanders will successfully accomplish is the mobilization of a young voting bloc who will eventually “settle” for Clinton after “Feel the Bern” finally fizzles out.

Photo Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com