Hillary has shown little to no interest in courting Sanders supporters. It could end up costing her the presidency.
One of the most striking—and disturbing—takeaways from Tuesday’s West Virginia Democratic primary were exit polls that found large numbers of Bernie Sanders supporters saying if not Bernie, they would actually vote for Donald Trump next fall.
CBS News reported 44 percent said they’d vote for Trump, 23 percent for Hillary Clinton, and 32 percent for neither. These findings—especially Sanders’ supporters shifting to Trump—seem like a stretch, but maybe they’re not.
“West Virginia was once a solid Democratic state, a hotbed of labor unionism that went for Democratic presidential candidates from 1932 on in all but the Republican landslide years of 1956, 1972, and 1984… but more recently, the state has trended Republican, for a variety of reasons,” wrote The Atlantic’sDavid Graham. “Party realignment around conservative issues has led socially conservative West Virginians toward the GOP; racial animus toward President Obama has hurt the local Democratic Party; and the combination of weaker unions and liberal environmental advocacy against coal has lost the Dems some blue-collar backing.”
West Virginia is not a mirror of the rest of the country, although its economy and demographics resemble a lot of the Midwest and Appalachia. As Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told AlterNet earlier this week, Sanders supporters do not just include younger people and progressives who feel President Obama’s promises in 2008 “never materialized.” They also include “anti-Hillary white males” who are not enamored with Bernie Sanders and don’t like Hillary either.
The question for millions of Sanders supporters nationwide is not so much are they going to vote for Trump, but whether they will vote for Clinton if she edges out Sanders for the Democratic nomination. The campaign has a Bernie or Bust subset, whose website claims it has “99,000+ people” who vowed to write in Sanders’ name or support the Green Party candidate in November, and hopes its ranks will reach 1 million people.
On Tuesday, Clinton resurrected a progressive health care reform idea, suggesting people age 50 and older could buy into Medicare, the federal safety net for seniors. As the New York Times noted, “Mr. Sanders calls his health care plan ‘Medicare for all.’ What Mrs. Clinton proposed was a sort of Medicare for some.”
Obviously, Sanders has pulled Clinton to the left. But this latest contrast is a perfect illustration of the conundrum facing Sanders’ supporters. Is it satisfying or a disappointment to support a candidate like Clinton who is pledging to deliver half-measures when compared to Sanders? Or is it pragmatic and what progress actually looks like?