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A Dozen Reasons Sanders Voters Are Justifiably Angry at the Media Right Now

03/25/2016 09:23 am ET | Updated Mar 25, 2016
  • Seth Abramson Attorney; Assistant Professor, UNH; Poet; Editor, Best American Experimental Writing
George Frey via Getty Images

If you think that supporters of Bernie Sanders are first and foremost angry about matters of policy -- for instance, the way our broken campaign finance laws, market regulations, and trade policies are destroying the hopes and ambitions of most of America -- you're absolutely right.

But that's the long view.

In the short-term, there's an incredible amount of anger being directed toward the media by the roughly half of the Democratic Party that supports Bernie Sanders.

Clinton supporters and many self-professed "neutral" journalists sagely inform the rest of us that this anger is little more than sour grapes or denial-stage grief; it's the numbers that matter -- they say -- and if only Sanders supporters cared about hard data in the same way that Clinton supporters and (say) "neutral" bloggers for The Washington Post do, or even the editors at The New York Times, everyone would just calm down and accept the incipient inevitability of the ugliest and least substantive general-election campaign in the history of the United States: Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton.

The thing is, I'm a hard-data guy myself. Always have been. And so are many of the Sanders supporters I know and interact with daily. What's actually making them angry right now is not that Hillary Clinton yesterday termed Bernie Sanders "the latest flavor of the month" on union issues -- when Sanders had already been a pro-union progressive for a decade by the time Hillary eased herself out of being a proud Goldwater Republican in the late 1960s -- nor is it that the candidate they support faces a truly monumental task in trying to become the Democratic candidate for President.

What Sanders supporters are angry about is hard data.

And not just any hard data, but hard data supplied by irrefutably objective sources and challenged as to its validity by absolutely no one.

Hard data so objective and undeniably accurate that its absence in public discussion of the presidential election is not just puzzling or downright bizarre but absolutely infuriating.

Here are a dozen pieces of hard data that Sanders supporters are particularly exercised about right now, primarily because most Sanders supporters believe Donald Trump to be a clear and present danger to the nation, and therefore can't imagine why Democrats remain unable to have an honest conversation about who could -- or will -- be in a position to stop him.

1. Sanders leads Clinton in the most recent national poll.

Bloomberg has Sanders beating Clinton nationally, 49% to 48%. Coverage of this poll was dwarfed by coverage of how it's obviously time for Sanders and his supporters to accept the fact that the Senator is just much less popular than Hillary is.

2. Sanders decimates Clinton in head-to-head battleground-state polling involving Donald Trump.

Such data is available for twelve battleground states (some of them battleground states that are only battlegrounds because Trump is the likely Republican nominee). In nine of those states, Sanders outperforms Clinton against Trump:

  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • New Hampshire
  • Ohio
  • Utah
  • Virginia

In three of those states, Clinton and Sanders perform equally well against Trump (that is, their performances are within the margin of error):

  • Florida
  • New York
  • Wisconsin

Clinton supporters say that general-election polling doesn't mean anything right now, and they fervently believe that, I'm sure. Yet apparently all the rest of the general-election polling being done right now means very much indeed, and it's regularly quoted by Clinton supporters. Trump's favorability rating with women; the percentage of Sanders supporters who will support Clinton in the fall if she's the Democratic nominee; Clinton's ability to draw Latino Republican votes in November. All these polls matter, but the ones that show Sanders beating Trump senseless in November -- far more reliably than Clinton -- are so much flotsam, apparently.

3. The final word on electoral math, FiveThirtyEight.com, has Sanders at about 90% of his "delegate target" for winning the nomination via pledged delegates.

By way of comparison, that figure for Trump -- the presumptive Republican nominee -- is 96%. What's striking about this figure is that Sanders is at 90% in this measure with the half of the nominating process that's most favorable to him yet to come. Meanwhile, as of today Clinton is at her lowest point ever in this measure -- 110% -- and dropping fast. Things will get worse if, as anticipated, Clinton gets swept by Sanders in this weekend's Democratic primaries and caucuses.

Moreover, the projections FiveThirtyEight.com has made for how Sanders will perform in future caucuses are, in retrospect, laughable. The website presumes Sanders, if he wins these caucuses, will win them (and their delegates) at a 55% to 45% clip. The problem is, not only does the structure of caucuses make such close results unlikely, in actual fact Sanders has been winning caucuses by between 35 and 50 points. Indeed, FiveThirtyEight.com has been so foolhardy about Sanders' performance in caucuses that just this past Tuesday the website's founder (and the nation's top polling expert), Nate Silver, predicted that, in a best-case scenario, Sanders would lose 1 net delegate to Hillary Clinton after the votes in Arizona, Idaho, and Utah.

Instead, he gained 18 net delegates.

And his "delegate-target percentage" rose, after three relatively small states had voted, from 86% to 89%.

And the only news that came out of that "Western Tuesday" voting was: Hillary Clinton won Arizona.

4. Election Day voting results matter too -- they tell us what voters are thinking when they've reached peak pre-election familiarity with a candidate -- and in battleground states Bernie ties or beats Clinton more often than not in "live" voting.

About Hillary Clinton winning Arizona: she certainly did. She won early voting, which started weeks before Election Day -- well before Sanders had started advertising or campaigning in the state -- by 61.5% to 36.1%.

That's awesome.

So what actually happened on Election Day? She lost the live voting 52% to 48%, with thousands of provisional ballots yet to be counted -- the clear majority of which (and on this all pundits agree) will be votes for Sanders. These data were all available, this past Tuesday, simply by looking at Associated Press and New York Times live voting results and owning a calculator. Yet when they were reported by The Huffington Post as key components of the argument Sanders will make to super-delegates in Philadelphia once neither he nor Secretary Clinton have secured the Democratic nomination via pledged delegates alone, no less a "neutral" arbiter of this election cycle than The Washington Post sent its bloggers scurrying online to note, in a furious blur of one-handed typing, that Clinton's exit polls in Alabama looked amazing six weeks ago.

Here's the thing: Arizona's live voting results wouldn't matter so much if they weren't part of a pattern.

Clinton won North Carolina by 13.8% -- much less than the poll-predicted 24% -- but only won Election Day voting 52% to 48%.

In Illinois, she won the state narrowly (1.8%) but lost Election Day voting. Same thing in Massachusetts. Same thing in Missouri.

She saw massive decreases in her polling (and ultimately victory) margin in the week before Nevada. The same thing happened in Iowa, which ended in a tie. Early voting in Ohio favored Clinton by more than 30 points, but she won the state by only 13.8%.

Those who saw this data pattern and asked, anxiously, "What gives?" -- not conspiracy theorists or opponents of early voting, simply those who wondered whether maybe voters like Clinton less the more they see of her -- were told (in another bait-and-switch that left many scratching their heads) that they don't care about African-Americans or their votes.

Yet virtually all of us support Senator Sanders precisely because we do care, because -- for instance -- Sanders was arrested during the Civil Rights Movement and marched with Dr. King, endorsed Jesse Jackson for President twice, and has a 100% rating from the NAACP. He also never supported a presidential candidate who opposed the Civil Rights Act. Obviously the Hillary Clinton of 2016 isn't the Hillary Clinton who campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1966, but here's the thing: the Bernie of 2016 is the Bernie of 1966, and that's a pretty great thing.

So this last criticism was both unfair and cruel.

5. If Clinton is generating lasting excitement among voters, you wouldn't know it by going to a Clinton event.

That I've been able to find online thus far, Clinton's largest rally this election cycle (by far) boasted 5,500 people. MSNBC says "her biggest events get up to around 4,000."

Meanwhile, Bernie routinely draws over 10,000 supporters to his rallies, and has topped 25,000 a number of times. Yet his television coverage is a fraction of Clinton's and -- well, whatever less than a fraction of a fraction is -- of Trump's. And the only universe in which Trump draws larger crowds than Sanders is the tacky, spray-tanned, gold foil-adorned one the Donald alone inhabits.

6. Twenty-five.

That's a number, right? It's the number of years Bernie Sanders has been in the U.S. Congress. So why does every description of Sanders' knowledge of domestic policy, foreign affairs, and even something as basic as having a conversation with an elected Republican official sound like what's being discussed instead are the scribbled diaries of the Unabomber?

Sanders is one of the most experienced officials in American government, and not just because he got so much legislation passed via amendment in the House of Representatives that he was dubbed "the Amendment King of the U.S. Congress." No -- he's experienced because he had sufficient security clearance and access to foreign intelligence and years of experience on a national and international stage to make the right call about Iraq when Clinton did not or could not. All of America saw that the case for the Second Iraq War was bogus, but somehow Clinton not seeing it -- or not having the political courage to say so -- is something Sanders supporters bring up, what, out of spite?

I do it because tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians died needlessly in that pointless Bush-Cheney fiasco Clinton green-lit -- I don't know about anyone else.

7. $140 million.

That's a number, right? It's the amount of money raised in the most populist campaign-funding process ever employed by a candidate for President of the United States. It is an historic achievement that was considered not just a figurative but a literal impossibility a mere eleven months ago. It proved to a nation that a corrupt campaign finance system and a disastrous ruling by the Supreme Court that "corporations are people" could be unofficially abrogated by the will of the people. And not rich people, either -- working-class and middle-class people. Does Bernie deserve a medal for this? No. But how about some television coverage? How about that $140 million figure being every bit as big -- and historic -- a political news story as anything Donald Trump has done or said since June of 2015? How is a single Donald Trump tweet about Heidi Cruz worth about as much airtime as the most amount of money raised by a grassroots political campaign in the history of -- well, I'll say it because it's true -- human civilization?

8. 2,383.

That's the number of delegates Hillary Clinton needs to reach to secure the Democratic nomination without super-delegates. Nate Silver -- the nation's top polling expert -- says it is "very possible" she won't get to that number, which means Bernie Sanders will be in Philadelphia this summer trying to make his case to super-delegates that he's more electable than Hillary.

A case which, not for nothing, all present polling data passionately supports (see both above and below) . But somehow Bernie should seriously consider "standing down"?

9. Twenty-four.

That's how many points Bernie Sanders beats Trump by in the latest head-to-head polling -- the largest margin between two first-tier major-party candidates that we've seen in many election cycles. Sanders beating Trump 58% to 34% could not only give the Democrats the Senate but the House also, and not only the House but possibly a commanding majority in both the House and Senate. Apologies for, you know, wanting that, but it could be a generational shift in the political center of gravity in America. Then again, hey -- those demented, in-denial Sanders supporters, am I right? It's just a historically eye-opening poll by one of the nation's top polling organizations -- chill out, Bernie bros.

10. 4%, and 25 years.

A quarter-century is how long Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye, making herself known to Americans as to both her policy views and her personality. Sanders has been a national figure since last April, when he was at 4% in the national polls and was down to Clinton 60.8% to 4%. Yet Sanders supporters should ignore the fact that -- without a Super-PAC -- Sanders went from down 57 to up 1 in just eleven months?

Why?

Because Hillary Clinton won Alabama (McCain 60%, Obama 38%)? Or Mississippi (McCain 56%, Obama 43%)? Or Louisiana (McCain 59%, Obama 40%)? Or Arkansas (McCain 59%, Obama 39%)? Or South Carolina (McCain 54%, Obama 45%)? Or Tennessee (McCain 57%, Obama 41%)?

(And spoiler alert: Hillary Clinton is no Barack Obama.)

In 2016 battleground states -- remembering that Trump changes the map a bit -- Hillary has approximately tied her non-PAC'd, 11 months-known opponent in Iowa, Nevada, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Illinois. She lost to that same 0%-in-the-polls-a-year-ago opponent in Maine, Minnesota, Utah, Colorado, and Michigan. And she under-performed her pre-Election Day polling in a way Democrats should find frightening -- particularly in terms of the live voting results -- in Arizona and North Carolina. The Clinton wins in Florida and Ohio were undoubtedly good ones, but after that, what are we looking at here? A nice pick-up in blood-red Texas?

But it's more than that. Polling suggests that Sanders could expand the blue portion of the American electoral map in a way no one ever expected. The data suggest that Kansas (yes, that Kansas) could be in play with Bernie Sanders at the top of the Democratic ticket. And possibly West Virginia, which was a reliable blue state back when Democrats sounded and acted like -- well, Bernie Sanders.

That was before -- oh, right. The New Democrats. "Welfare reform." The "tough-on-crime" Left. The don't-mention-the-death-penalty Left. The no-gay-marriage Left.

The Clintons.

So no, none of this has anything to do with discounting black Democratic votes in reliably Republican states -- quite the opposite. The only way the Democrats will ever give voice to those voters come general-election time is to place at the top of their ticket a "movement" candidate with the capacity to speak to the working-class whites and political independents who are making states like Alabama places where black Democrats have no influence come November 5th. Clinton can't ever put in play in November most of the states she's winning by clear margins in March; Sanders at least has a shot at this, as his polling numbers among independents and white voters (particularly in red states like Kansas, Utah, West Virginia, et. al.) tell us.

11. So how about those independents? We got any polling on these guys?

Fact: Sanders supporters seem to recall being told, every four years, that independents decide elections.

Fact: Donald J. Trump is a fascist who needs to be defeated for the Republic to survive.

Fact: In battleground states, Clinton usually loses independents to Sanders by 35 to 40 points.

Why should those of us terrified by a Trump candidacy be okay with this? Because Hillary magic? Even the candidate herself says she's uninspiring.

12. Unfortunately, Clinton isn't just uninspiring. She's disliked.

Wildly disliked.

Fair or unfair, it's true.

And it could decide the most important election of our lifetimes -- one that could elevate a sociopath to the White House. Please accept and respect the fact that this combination -- Clinton's garish unfavorables and a Donald Trump candidacy -- scare the pants off the overwhelming majority of Sanders supporters.

Case-in-point: me. I'm a Sanders supporter. And a Jew. And two weeks ago I wrote an article critical of Donald Trump for The Huffington Post. And immediately received a dozen messages online and at my university email account calling me a "kike" -- and two threatening to kill me. It's Donald Trump who's bringing out of the gutters this element of American society. So I don't apologize to anyone for being a pragmatist; the numbers above tell me Sanders will definitely beat Donald Trump, and that Hillary Clinton only might do so. "Might" is not good enough for me right now. Not as a Democrat, not as a Jew, not as an American.

So, that said, let me just repeat the above: Hillary Clinton is disliked. To a nearly historic degree. And after a quarter-century of her being disliked, it's a little late in the game to blame right-wing media for the entirety of that phenomenon, or to hope and pray that a self-admittedly uninspiring candidate will find a way to change millions and millions of hearts and minds. So: Hillary Clinton is disliked. She is disliked by millions and millions of men and by millions and millions of women, and millions of those millions and millions are not Republicans.

Clinton's favorable-unfavorable polling hovers around -20 -- at last count 54.2% of Americans disliked Clinton, and at last count 42% of Americans identify as Democrats, so you do the math. The upshot: a -20 favorability rating is almost always a death-knell in national politics. And "Trump is a bit worse!" isn't a rallying cry Sanders supporters can take comfort in -- especially when their own candidate is the most popular American politician in the presidential race by far (+11), and even Hillary's voters think he's more honest and trustworthy.

And that popularity, as to integrity and values, crosses age, gender, racial, ethnic, and even party lines.

On that note -- by the way -- those Americans who've made Sanders the most popular presidential candidate in America? They know Bernie is a democratic socialist. So the idea that this will be the magic bullet that will sink Sanders is not just bad math but bad mojo for Democrats. We shouldn't be red-baiting a candidate who -- can we be frank? -- is simply too stubborn to admit that he's what today's politics would call a "social democrat" (cf. Norway, Sweden, Germany, you know, all the countries doing relatively well across-the-board in quality-of-life measures) and not a "democratic socialist." The argument that Sanders' support for maintaining collective bargaining, Social Security, and public education is somehow the second coming of the Soviet Union is an argument without legs. Without legs now, without legs in November.

So: though this is one of the closest Democratic primary races in the last half-century, Hillary Clinton definitely has many more pledged delegates than Bernie Sanders.

And she still won't clinch the nomination with pledged delegates alone.

Get over it.

She and Sanders will make their respective, hard data-oriented cases to the super-delegates in Philadelphia. And they will do so shortly after -- if current polling trajectories hold true -- Bernie Sanders has won the Democratic primary in the State of California.

Seth Abramson is the Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University) and the author, most recently, of DATA (BlazeVOX, 2016).

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