Don’t Assume Bernie Sanders Supporters Will Back Hillary Clinton If She’s The Nominee

Some of the Vermont senator's fans would rather not vote -- or even vote for Donald Trump -- than vote for Hillary.

03/02/2016 05:21 pm ET
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has many supporters who wouldn't shift their loyalty to Hillary Clinton if she triumphs over him in the Democratic presidential primary. 

ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- A horde of Bernie Sanders supporters at a local pub were watching closely as the Super Tuesday election results rolled in, a few booing as Hillary Clinton’s smiling face, accompanied by a green check mark, repeatedly flashed across the screens. 

When they learned their candidate had beaten Hillary Clinton in Minnesota, taking the largest share of the state’s available delegates, they chanted and cheered the Vermont senator’s name -- and many vowed never to support his opponent, even if she goes on to win the Democratic nomination.

“I will never support Hillary Clinton,” said Adam Burch, 28, of Minneapolis. “I identify as a socialist. She stands for everything that I’m against. It’s Bernie or nothing.”

Burch isn’t alone. He's part of a group on social media called Grassroots Action for Bernie that has promised to support only Sanders in the election, using the hashtag “BernieorBust” to spread its message. Similarly, 50,000 people have signed an online pledge to write in Sanders’ name or vote for the Green Party candidate in the general election if the former Secretary of State wins the nomination.

If that happens, some in this crowd are willing to go a step further in the general election and cast their ballot for Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

“I would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in a heartbeat,” said Patt Coltem, 60, of St. Paul. “She’s just too shady. She’s a pathological liar."

Although the Democratic front-runner has adopted much of Sanders’ platform, Coltem acknowledges that she cannot vote for Clinton. Clinton is still the establishment-backed candidate, and her ties to Wall Street and refusal to release transcripts of her paid speeches is feeding a growing mistrust among voters. Coltem said Donald Trump’s outsider status makes him a little bit more appealing.

"He’s the only other person in this race who doesn’t have someone backing him,” Coltem explained. “Trump is crazy; he does a lot of weird stuff. I would prefer not to vote for him for president, but that’s how much I dislike Hillary Clinton.”

Not all Bernie Sanders supporters agree. Some admitted they would vote for Clinton if she won the Democratic nomination because they’d like to see another Democrat in the White House.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I can’t see myself voting to support any of those wack-a-doos on the Republican side,” said Carol Wilcox, 77, as she waited for her precinct caucus to begin at Highland Park Middle School. “I’ve voted blue all my life and I will continue to do so, no matter how much I dislike Hillary Clinton.”

Many of Sanders’ voters say they have felt slighted by the Democratic Party, pointing to DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s support for Clinton in 2008 and her investigation into the DNC voter files a week ahead of the Iowa caucuses, which they believe was an effort to undermine Sanders' chances at the nomination.

Catherine Pollock, 30, of St. Paul says she doesn’t believe the DNC will embrace meaningful reforms to campaign finance or income inequality without Sanders’ leadership, which is why he's the only option for her.

“I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton in November if she becomes the nominee,” Pollock explained. “I’ll either write in Bernie’s name or decide to not vote at all.”

Signs of growing resentment against Clinton among Sanders backers emerged early in the cycle at an annual fundraiser for the Iowa Democratic Party last October. Thousands of supporters sat on bleachers, listening to speeches from each Democratic candidate running for president, but even before Clinton took the stage, Sanders’ supporters headed toward the exits. As Clinton mingled with voters after wrapping up on stage, not a single person remained in Sanders' cheering section.

At a Sanders rally on caucus night in Iowa a month ago, a crowd booed loudly as TV monitors around the room showed Hillary Clinton giving her speech. When Clinton said she was a progressive, voters began chanting “she’s a liar,” before the campaign turned off the live stream.

A CBS/New York Times poll released in January found less than than half of Democratic voters nationwide said they would enthusiastically support Hillary Clinton if she were to become the Democratic nominee. Fourteen percent would not support her in the general election, 27 percent would support her with “some reservations,” and 11 percent said they would only back her if she becomes the nominee.

Sanders supporters sipping on craft beer in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday night said they were still optimistic that their candidate could be the Democratic nominee, pointing out that a win in Minnesota is a huge boost for the senator, who received about 60 percent of the state’s delegates.

“Hillary has won states that vote Republican in the general,” Burch said. “Bernie has won states that are more progressive than the mainstream. He’s done extremely well in the Midwest and I expect him to do well in some of the Western states. It’s not over until it’s over.”

Many Sanders supporters believe their candidate is the most electable, and warn that a Clinton Democratic nomination would greatly benefit the Republican nominee, especially if it is Donald Trump.

“If Bernie wins the nomination, all of these Republicans that are not fans of Trump would probably vote for Bernie,” Patt Coltem explained. “The Republican hatred for Hillary Clinton outweighs their disapproval of Trump, and they would do anything to defeat her.”

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