Sanders Supporters Don’t Owe Anyone Their Votes

If nothing else, Bernie Sanders went much further than anyone thought possible. The conventional wisdom was that the independent Vermont socialist had no chance of taking the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, but his message of economic equality propelled him to a surprising, but frustratingly short second place finish. Now that he has officially conceded, his former supporters are at a crossroads. 90 percent of them say that, if they vote, they plan to support Clinton. Predictably, a minority have vowed to never vote for Hillary, but they are a small fraction of Bernie’s voters, and it’s not uncommon for many voters to have sour grapes after a close primary. In comparison July 2008, when only 54 percent of Clinton voters said they planned to vote for Obama, things seem remarkably optimistic for Clinton.

The ten-percenter holdouts, while small even by historical standards, have attracted a huge amount of criticism. They are usually portrayed as entitled sore losers who risk ushering in a disastrous Trump presidency for the luxury of spiting a candidate they’re not one-hundred percent satisfied with. It’s obvious that most of the anger comes from frustrated Clinton supporters, and it would be easy to dismiss these criticisms as condescending overreactions, but the thrust of their argument is essentially correct: it’s better to compromise and win than demand everything and lose.

That said, not demanding the most out of the candidate before you vote for them is also a stupid strategy. The argument that Sanders supporters are somehow obligated to drop their convictions and unconditionally vote for the current Clinton platform is, to be blunt, fucking nonsense. Voters make demands of candidates, and candidates that try to do things the other way around tend to lose. If a politician wants to win the votes of a particular group, they should make promises that appeal to those specific voters. This might seem obvious, but when looking at the Clinton’s rhetoric insisting that voters lower their expectations in favor of “party unity” one might think that they’d had things backwards. Rather than co-opting Bernie’s enormously popular economic program and take the White House easily, she instead is gambling that progressives will be more terrified by Trump than reluctant to vote for her. Her newly found and transparently noncommittal support for a handful of liberal issues (raising the minimum wage to $12 — and not $15, her workfare college tuition scheme, vague promises to increase regulations on banks) has not only disappointed many Democrats, it is failing miserably as a campaign strategy. Despite the fact that she’s running against a bumbling, clownish billionaire who is the most unpopular presidential candidate ever, she is currently tied with him in the polls.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Bernie supporters are enthusiastic for economic reform but are unconvinced that Clinton would be anything other than more of the same. Clinton needs the progressive vote to win the election. The solution here is obvious: Clinton should should vigorously advocate for the type of programs that strengthen the middle and working class that Sanders championed, and in return Sanders supporters will throw their votes behind her and ensure an easy victory for the Democrats. This sort of electoral log-rolling is exactly the sort of practical political negotiation that wins elections, but progressives appear hesitant to make demands of their candidate and Clinton has not been quick to make concessions. Meanwhile, her campaign appears to be more focused on condemning progressives that fall out of line rather than giving them positive motivations to show up and vote for her. If this strategy fails to work for her in November, she’ll only have herself to blame.