Bernie’s Socialist Paradox

You would be forgiven for thinking that Bernie Sanders is a real contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Sanders has won the last six democratic contests against Hillary Clinton, and the word momentum is prominent in the lexicon of the Sanders camp. But, come a week on Tuesday (26th April), it will likely be all over for Bernie. By then the delegate packed states of New York, Pennsylvania, and, to a lesser extent, Maryland, will have been and gone, and, if the polling is to be trusted, Clinton will have clinched enough delegates to make the race a non-contest.

In analysing the Sanders campaign it is possible to become a bit confused. There is a clear disconnect between his expected support and his real support. In terms of voting demographic, the self-proclaimed socialist has found the bulk of his votes in the young, ideological, white middle classes. This may not be entirely unsurprising — a lot of socialist causes are started and supported by well-educated, equality enthusiasts. But what is surprising, and where Sanders has lost the race (should he lose), is his lack of support from the more marginalised sections of society; the working class vote and the non-white vote — the voters you would expect to support a strong pro-equality candidate. Indeed the term working class has barely been used by team Bernie. From a British perspective this seems confusing.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, has endorsed Bernie Sanders. He comes from a similar ideological background, and, in parallel, has the support of utopian youths. Where Corbyn differs to Sanders, however, is his link with the working class. Corbyn swept to victory (originally a 200/1 shot) in the Labour leadership contest, in September 2015, on the back of trade union support — particularly from Unison. Trade Union endorsements are representative of working class support; they make voting recommendations to their members and, as well as this, provide vital campaign financing. In the US, Hillary Clinton has dominated trade union endorsements, getting vital support from key unions, particularly those of the National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, and the wonderfully named United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. These three unions represent some 5.5 million members. She has destroyed Sanders where you would expect him to be extremely competitive.

The reason for Sanders not receiving the support of the Union’s is perhaps because the bulk of US citizens do not see themselves as working class, even, confusingly, those belonging to Unions. It may be a Cold War hangover but the vast majority of the US electorate don’t associate themselves with the word worker, let alone proletariat. Although research is limited, in 2015, a survey showed that 88% of American’s identify themselves as middle class, while statistically the true number, in terms of wage, is less than 50%. One reason, therefore, why there is a disconnect between the pro-Sanders expected voters and his real support is because there is a minor delusion on behalf of the aspirational working class that they are something they are not. They don’t believe they are working class, and, therefore, why would they support a socialist leader promoting the working class?

As well as trade union dominance Clinton has adopted Barack Obama’s non-white support. Arguably the area of society most economically and politically marginalised, and therefore likely to be pro-equality, should be pro-socialist, but Sanders has achieved very little support from this section of the democratic electorate. The Black, Hispanic and Asian vote is vital to the Democrats, as the 2012 presidential election showed. In 2012, exit polls showed that only 55% of Obama voters were white; this emphasises the importance of the democratic nominee appealing to a cross-section of society. Sanders doesn’t.

In sum, Sanders is a socialist without a working class — he has merely gained the support of socialist cheerleaders rather than the players themselves. Although, perhaps, this is not entirely his own fault, and better reflects the delusion of the US working class itself, Sanders inability to capture what should have been his core support has been his likely undoing.


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Originally published at on April 17, 2016.

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