The media and the Democratic establishment have written Bernie Sanders off. Others, like Rep. Jim Clyburn, are calling for Sanders to drop out, the debates to be called off, and for the remaining primaries to be canceled.
Bernie has NO reason to drop out. In fact:
- Bernie can still win.
- Bernie has secured nothing for the progressive movement and the working class from Biden and the DNC yet.
- He hasn’t had his one-on-one debate matchup yet.
- He needs to be around in case Biden tumbles.
- Ending the primary now will lead to Biden as nominee being savaged by Republicans from now till November. For the sake of Biden’s scandals and record, it is better for Democrats to avoid it.
In any case, the primary doesn’t look all that terrible for Bernie as yet. Here’s why:
In terms of total votes (not percentages), in most states Bernie received either roughly the same as he did last time, or even higher (like Texas). In the case of states that he did far worse in total votes as compared to 2016, it usually had the case of Warren either playing spoiler or due to early voting for Warren.
The real problem was, total turnout in a lot of states was far higher than in 2016. The establishment is truly turning senior voters out for Biden. Last time, Michigan had 1.2 million votes cast in the Democratic primary. This time, close to 1.6 million votes were cast. Sanders received only 20,000 fewer votes than last time when he won narrowly, but Biden received 300,000 more votes than Hillary did in 2016.
While youth turnout rates in Michigan were roughly the same for Sanders as last time, the share of younger people in total turnout (36% were under 45, the 18-29 group being 15%) was lower due to high turnout by voters above 45 (64% of total turnout).
Voter suppression also occurred in most states from Super Tuesday onwards, with wait times as long as three hours, further depressing turnout among younger voters and working-class voters. The cutting down of polling stations also adversely affected minorities, the young and the working class.
The 30-39 (62%), 30-44 (60%), 40-49 (51%) age brackets also lean Sanders now (in addition to the blowout 82% of 18-29 year olds) – so Sanders has expanded beyond the youngest group as well.
Also, among African Americans, Bernie’s support does not only skew younger, but also regionally. In Minnesota, Sanders was down by only 9 points among African American voters.
Over 50% of delegates (2248/3982) are still remaining to be voted on and a lead of 150 delegates in favor of Biden can be overturned. It has happened before: see Hillary vs Obama 2008. Biden is far, far (860 to Bernie’s 710) from the required delegate majority of 1991 – not even half.
Further, more than 100 delegates are yet to be allotted – mostly from states Sanders won – California (where he won every county and congressional district), Colorado, Utah, Washington and Democrats Abroad. Expect that lead of 148 to shrink without a single other state voting.
Bernie still has a large, loyal volunteer army, willing – no, wanting to go all the way to the convention with him – to fight for every delegate and vote.
His fundraising capacity shows that as long as he stays in the race, his campaign can afford to go all the way to the convention.
Bernie is finally the underdog he and his campaign has been projecting him as (rather than the frontrunner he truly was throughout), letting him go all out on the attack. Each victory from now on will be considered an upset.
It is worth waiting for the prospect of Biden imploding due to scandals, gaffes, severe cognitive decline or further scrutiny of platform or record. Biden’s base of voters happens to be those social groups whom the Biden record has harmed the most. Biden voters, usually older groups, would be forced to either switch to Bernie, or be less likely to turn out for the primary vote. Every percentage point less for Biden is a percentage point gained for Sanders – given the two-way nature of the race.
Sanders has every chance to destroy Biden in one-on-one debates, and create momentum. In a one-on-one, two-and-a-half-hour long debate, Biden would not be able to hide in the bushes as he did before.
But for that, he MUST go all-out on the attack against Joe Biden, including the chance of him losing to Trump. There is no other path forward. This should be about winning, not about pushing Biden a bit to the left in the debate. It’s not about Bernie. It’s for the millions of Americans suffering under the bipartisan status quo, and for the millions who have pinned their hopes and hearts into the movement.
Biden won states due to momentum or media blitz ($71m of free positive coverage in 3 days – while Bloomberg put in $200m+ over a period of months in his own campaign) that he didn’t even have staff in, offices in or set foot in. Including states Bernie was leading in the polling with before South Carolina. How solid will that support be till the general election? A lot of them were voters who did not know much about Biden’s record and platform and they haven't seen Biden speak at interviews, debates or rallies. If older voters, moderates and liberals can switch from half a dozen candidates to one crowned by the media in three days, they can shift again.
The generational divide in the party has become over-polarized. In Michigan, 82% of young voters between 19-29 supported Bernie, 60% of the 30-44 group, and even 51% of the 40-49 group. Biden won the 45-64 group at 60% and the 65+ group at 72%. Bernie won voters under 45 at 69%, and Biden won voters above 44 at 66%.
Biden is polling under 20% with young voters. That is a fatal flaw – and can fracture the party – older voters literally voting against the interests of younger voters, who are and will be the future of the party. In any case, even now, the Democratic Party needs young voters if it wants to win in November. If the general election was a race with just middle-aged and older voters – the Democrats would need an unbelievably historic turnout of older minority voter to scrape through even a small win – aka would be at a huge disadvantage. And without Sanders’ Latinx base, they can’t win. Even Bernie cannot successfully redirect dissatisfied, disoriented, oppressed voters to an unreliable, non-welfarist candidate. The party needs Bernie and his movement more than Bernie and the movement needs the party at this point – they’re just not willing to admit it.
Independent voters in nearly EVERY state (16/20) and in every single swing state till now were won by Bernie. Biden has won independents in only four states – one solidly blue (Virginia) and three solidly red (Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina) in the general election. Bernie currently is beating Trump in head-to-head matchups in each swing state, and among independents as well.
Bernie is winning the ideological debate. On the issues, a vast majority of voters in EVERY state – on Medicare For All, Green New Deal, and changing the system – even in strongly conservative Southern states, Midwestern swing-states, West coast or the Northeast, urban, suburban or rural – stand with Bernie, even if they did not end up voting for him, including older voters. In that sense, he truly does have a far bigger coalition than in 2016.
Bernie can still make the case for electability and turn a lot of voters around if he is able to do so. In many ways, he is still the most electable candidate: youth enthusiasm, approval rating, trustworthiness, authenticity, no dirt, excellent record, grassroots donations, volunteers, movement, winning the battle of ideas, winning independent and Latinx voters.
The bottom line
The bottom line is – the issues. Joe Biden just declared that he would veto Medicare For All, and mocked the Green New Deal. If Bernie were to drop out right now, the progressive movement would have ZERO leverage over Joe Biden, his handlers, his Cabinet, his nominees and appointees, the Convention or the platform.
Most importantly, when you get into this fight knowing full well you’re running against the entire Democratic, corporate and media establishment – there’s no point surrendering halfway.
Biden is likely to lose to Trump – so, in a way, the race is already Bernie vs Trump. The only difference is whether Trump’s victory is decided in July or November.
It’s Bernie vs the oligarchy. Dropping out means the oligarchy wins.
The author is a PhD research scholar in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and an independent journalist and contributor.