The latest excuse for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss involves scapegoating — you guessed it — Bernie Sanders voters.
Data from UMass political science professor Brian Schaffner tweeted on Wednesday has been taken widely out of context by establishment media, neoliberal Democrats and the punditocracy and plastered all over Twitter, probably because their narrative — that a former Secretary of State and two-term U.S. Senator only lost to an unemployed game show host who has been credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault because disaffected leftists had a temper tantrum — still has yet to be justified with empirical data.
(For the sake of brevity, we’ll set aside the Democratic National Committee’s poor strategy of working behind closed doors to rig the primary for their favorite candidate — which they essentially admitted to in publicly available court records — while using their bully pulpit to bemoan the fact that Bernie Sanders’ millions of supporters didn’t immediately jump on the faux unity bandwagon.)
In a nutshell, Schaffner tweeted that data sets of validated voters in various states, in both primary and general elections, showed that roughly 12 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary voted for Donald Trump in the general election, as opposed to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In particular, Schaffner tweeted the exact percentages of valid voters who went for Sanders in the primary, and who would later go on to cast ballots for 45 in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — traditionally Democratic states that gave him the 270 electoral college votes needed to clinch the presidency.
Predictably, this was seized upon by a pollster who put the number of Sanders-to-Trump voters side-by-side with Trunmp’s margin of victory in those critical states, implying that Trump was able to win those states — and the electoral college — with the help of Bernie Sanders voters. His tweet was retweeted thousands of times.
Sanders -> Trump voters…
Trump win margin…
— G. Elliott Morris (@gelliottmorris) August 23, 2017
A Washington Post article by George Washington University professor John Sides suggested that, when analyzing the party identification of Sanders-to-Trump voters (almost evenly mixed between Democrat, Republican, and Independent) and comparing it to party ID among Sanders-to-Clinton voters (almost exclusively Democrat), the key motivation was racism when taking into account the responses from a YouGov survey asking Sanders-to-Trump voters their perception on race. This data could be easily interpreted by readers that ardent Sanders supporters are racist, compared to Clinton supporters:
Welp. Sanders to Trump voters weren't motivated by populism, but by racism. pic.twitter.com/u0EFSozXvR
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) August 24, 2017
Is it possible that some supporters of Bernie Sanders have racist views? Of course. But it’s also just as likely that people who support Sanders — who opposed former President Barack Obama on neoliberal trade policy, domestic surveillance programs, and the expansion of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — aren’t predisposed to support Republicans over Democrats as the Post suggested, but more simply that they’re typically against corporate-friendly policies wholeheartedly endorsed by the centrist wing of the Democratic Party.
However, the most important piece of data that went almost entirely under the radar in the wide array of hot takes blaming Sanders is that there was an even greater contingent of establishment Republicans who voted for either Ohio Governor John Kasich or Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the Republican primary, and cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton instead of 45 in the general election. In the same Twitter thread, Schaffer revealed that more than one third of Kasich’s backers went for Clinton, along with 11 percent of Rubio voters:
Trump lost some support, too, of course. 34% of Kasich primary voters voted for Clinton. And 11% of Rubio primary voters did the same. 4/n
— Brian Schaffner (@b_schaffner) August 22, 2017
This certainly complicates the narrative Clintonistas are trying to create of Sanders voters being the main culprit. Assuming Schaffner’s percentages of Kasich/Rubio voters who went for Clinton instead of Trump were consistent in each state, that would mean Clinton won over approximately 100,000 moderate Republicans in Pennsylvania, 107,000 Republicans in Michigan, and more than 50,000 GOP voters in Wisconsin. When taking these new voters into account, it more than cancels out the number of voters in those swing states that went for Sanders in the primary and Trump in the general.
Given the level of hyperventilating and finger-pointing following the release of Schaffner’s data, It’s easy to see that the Democratic establishment will never stop in their quest to blame anyone but the DNC and Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November. If I can humbly suggest a better use of its time, the DNC might do well to wonder why it had a 10-year low in fundraising last July despite a Republican president consistently hitting new record-low approval ratings. Maybe they could stop sending donation asks to low-income households disguised as collection letters?
Scott Alden covers national politics, education, and environmental issues for Grit Post. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in Inkster, Michigan.