Don’t be fooled: Clinton is not more electable than Sanders
One argument Hillary Clinton supporters have been making for supporting Clinton over Sanders in the Democratic primary is “electability,” i.e. the candidates’ relative chances against a Republican in the general election. Numerous people who agree with Sanders on the issues are nonetheless voting for Clinton out of fear of a Republican victory, a fear which party leadership is going out of their way to stoke. Even a diehard Bernie broad such as myself has wondered on occasion if my desire to support someone who represents my ideals (or close enough) will ultimately result in a president even worse for working people — and women in particular — than Hillary Clinton.
However, the more I read on the topic, the more convinced I am that the electability issue is just one more way the Democratic establishment is trying to trick us into admitting defeat before the primary has even happened. In doing so, they may be committing the exact same mistake of which they’re accusing the Sanders camp: Ignoring the realities on the ground in favor of ideological fealty to one candidate.
That’s right: As counterintuitive as it seems to everyone who’s been brainwashed by the party line, come November, Sanders stands a much better chance against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Take, for instance, Clinton’s favorability rating. As Matt Karp at Jacobin points out, national polls show a whopping 54% of the electorate views her unfavorably, versus 40% who view her favorably. Sanders, in contrast, is viewed favorably by 50% of the populace and unfavorably by 38%. They’re both still beating Trump (58% unfavorable, 36.5% favorable), but the idea is generally to run your strongest candidate, and Sanders’ margin is much more comfortable than Clinton’s.
Another fact you may find surprising is the percentage of the electorate comprised by independent voters. What percentage do you think they are? 10%? 20%? In the last presidential election, they were fucking 29% — an impressively high proportion, considering how often Americans are told real change only happens when we shoehorn ourselves into an absurd two-party system. (Democrats were 38% and Republicans were 32%.) You cannot win the general election without independents; Barack Obama won 45% of them in 2012. Care to take a guess who’s doing better with that demographic this time around?
I’ll tell you: 50% of independents hold a “very unfavorable” view of Clinton, and an additional 17% view her “somewhat” unfavorably. Sanders is far less disliked by independents, with 31% “very” and 16% “somewhat” against him. If you do the math, that’s 67% of independents who definitely won’t be voting for Clinton versus 47% who won’t be voting for Sanders. Granted, this is partly due to the fact that fewer people know who he is, but the more he campaigns, the more people like him, while people have had plenty of time to make up their minds about Clinton (and, actually, her favorability ratings appear to be getting worse over time).
As Karp notes, “Clinton faces an image deficit greater than any challenger in recent memory, including landslide losers like Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, and John McCain.” It stands to reason, then, that in most general election match-ups, including that all-important “Democrat vs. Trump” one, Sanders wins by a significantly higher margin than Clinton.
And these polls all come from a climate, mind you, in which the vast majority of Clinton’s scandals have been allowed to stay in the woodwork. From the private email server for which she is currently under investigation by the FBI, to the 2012 Benghazi attacks for which she admits partial responsibility, to her role in silencing her husband’s alleged sexual assault victims, to the foreign donations received by the Clinton foundation while she was secretary of state, to everything else, Clinton has a litany of marks against her that have barely been touched by Sanders, who, despite Clintonian protestations to the contrary (and Sandernistas’ exhortations to play dirtier), has been running an above-the-board, issues-focused campaign in which the only thing open to attack is Clinton’s official record. Can we expect the same from the Republicans?
As loathe as I am to mention Sanders and Trump in the same sentence, the popularity of both stems from a growing consciousness and anger among the American working class that they’ve been screwed over by the establishment. That after eight years of a Democratic president, you can work hard, get an education, and follow the rules, and still end up worse off than your parents. Sure, economic growth is rebounding, but do you think the average fast food worker has seen any of that? If they had, would they really be risking what little they have to fight for a living wage and the right to unionize? As Jeb Lund writes at The Guardian:
There are millions of miserable people in America who know exactly who engineered the shattering of their worlds, and Trump isn’t one of those people – and, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, everyone else in the field is running on the basis of their experience being one of those people.
When you are abused and bullied enough, anyone willing to beat up or burn down whomever put you in that position is your friend. Even a bully can be a hero if he targets others bullies – and that is, more or less, what Trump has done since day one.
The difference, of course, besides the fact that Trump actually is “one of those people,” is that Sanders directs that rage at those who are actually responsible (the 1%, big banks, corporations buying influence on government, neoliberal policies), while Trump directs it at those who are not responsible but make appealing scapegoats due to their relative powerlessness (immigrants, minorities, the poor). Trump is also a seemingly unstable liar, racist, misogynist, and yes, short-fingered vulgarian. As Tom Hawking at Flavorwire put it, “the fact that it’s him of all people who’s appealing to the disenfranchised of America is a testament to just how pissed off the American people are at what they perceive as The Establishment.”
Why, then, given our current political climate and all of the polling data we have received, is the Democratic party so intent on running an establishment candidate against someone who claims, however spuriously, to be against the Establishment? At the very least, they should be giving Sanders a fair shake; instead, they’re doing everything they can to destroy him and the grassroots movement he represents.
A lot of it boils down to loyalty and ideology. Sanders might be politically closest to a New Deal Democrat, an ideology which many registered Dems still believe in, but the party’s leadership has moved so far to the right that he’s a 2016 Democrat in name only. Clinton, meanwhile, has a relationship with the party that stretches back decades. To let an interloper like Sanders challenge Clinton’s supremacy would essentially be rolling over and allowing the party to be destroyed and re-constituted along class lines: No more corporate money, no more treasury secretaries from Goldman Sachs, no more selling out the poor with promises of incremental change while preserving the status quo at all costs. The New Democrats are opposed to “free stuff” like single-payer healthcare and college education, not because it’s economically and politically infeasible like they’re pretending, but because it opens the door to movements to the left of Sanders that seek to abolish capitalism altogether rather than sand off its rough edges. Whether or not this would actually happen is up for debate, but they’re certainly scared of it. The people must be kept in their place.
By taking this hard line stance against a changing of the guard, the No Deal Democrats (an awesome term I just came up with) are betting that people’s fear of a Trump presidency will conquer their desire to enact even the watered down version of socialism that Sanders espouses. And you know what? Maybe they’re right. That Trump is doing better among Republicans than Sanders is among Democrats shows that, of the two parties, the left is more fearful of the other side.
The good news is that it’s not over yet. The Democratic party may yet be transformed from a party of the ruling class into something truly democratic by popular movements for basic, common sense reforms that are taken for granted in every other developed country in the world, and used to be taken for granted here. If Clinton is nominated, I have no doubt there will be massive protests at the DNC that will split the party in two, her already low favorability ratings will plummet, and a Republican win is possible. If Sanders manages to be nominated, he will win.
I’ll admit there’s a part of me that would prefer a Clinton presidency to a Sanders one, if only because it would invigorate an already disillusioned populace to mobilize against a system run by elites for almost no one’s benefit. If eight years of Obama didn’t make people realize the No Dealers are not on our side, eight years of Clinton surely will. Let’s not forget Sanders’ beloved New Deal was created to save capitalism from a country’s worth of people about as desperate and angry as the ones we see today; if not for FDR, America might have had a revolution by now, and I don’t mean a “political” one. That said, I recognize that millions would benefit immediately from getting a left-populist into the White House, as well as a bunch into Congress to help pass his reforms, so I must support the socialist Jew from Vermont. And who knows, maybe those red-baiting neoliberals are right about the surge in leftism he’d bring.
So if you care about progressivism in America, I hope you’ll ignore the above-debunked electability propaganda and caucus or vote for Bernie Sanders. It might be the only way we can avoid living in a conservative dystopia where your boss is allowed to hit you, brown people are deported on sight, and women are forced to carry pregnancies to term at gunpoint.