By Larry Levine –
In the latest debate (Sunday, March15), Senator Bernie Sanders repeated his oft-stated premise that to defeat President Donald Trump the Democratic nominee would need to attract the largest voter turnout in history and excite young voters and Latino voters to come out in record numbers. Then he said he doubts the campaign of Vice President Joe Biden could achieve those things.
Biden replied that in states where turnout has surged so far he gained strong victories. There also has been much written about the failure of an inflated youth vote to support Sanders, although he apparently has finished first among younger voters who did participate.
So far the conversation about November turnout has focused on the threat of some Sanders’ backers to refuse to support the Democratic nominee if it is not their candidate. But there may be a bigger threat if Sanders is the nominee. Do the math.
Sanders got 25 percent of the votes in New Hampshire. 75 percent voted for other candidates. If 1 percent of the Sanders 25 percent decided to sit out the election, that would equal one-quarter of one percent, or 2.5 out of every thousand people. But if 1 percent of those who opted for other candidates can’t bring themselves to support Sanders, even against Trump, that would equal 7.5 out of every thousand people. The math is similar in state after state. The number of people rejecting Sanders and his agenda is greater than the number who vote for him.
Even if we assume the non-Sanders backers are less militant, would not be as inclined to stay home and only one-third as many of them would sit out the election, that would flip New Hampshire to Trump and if that happens the Democratic candidate probably could not win the election.
Here are some things to remember:
1) the hardline Sanders zealots will not vote for Biden or anyone else other than Sanders no matter what that other candidate says or does,
2) if Sanders endorses Biden and actively campaigns for him, there are those who will accuse Sanders of selling out, just as they did four years ago when he endorsed Hillary Clinton,
3) the overwhelming majority of those who voted for Sanders this year will vote for the Democratic nominee in November,
4) the Sanders’ supporters who sat out the 2016 election or voted for a minor party candidate did not cost Clinton the election and there won’t be enough of them to matter in 2020 –
a) those in states that Clinton carried clearly made no difference, and
b) in the key states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which Trump won,
there were other factors that made the difference.
So, maybe it would be wise to talk as much about what happens if Sanders is nominated as we are thinking about what happens if he isn’t.