A Progressive’s Guide to Choosing Between Bernie and Warren
So you’re considering supporting one or both of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for president.
Perhaps you’re leaning toward one over the other, but aren’t sure. Maybe you’ve made your choice, but want confirmation. You may even like them both equally! But you can still only vote (or caucus) for one this primary.
Bernie and Warren agree on a lot and call each other friends — the story goes he only ran in 2016 after asking her to first, which she declined. Their mutual respect results in an aversion to criticizing each other to the point they even agreed to a non-aggression pact before launching their campaigns.
The media regularly lumps Bernie and Warren together, portraying them as sharing (or splitting) the progressive wing opposite the rest of the pack. If differences are highlighted they’re often purely aesthetic ones, leaving the real policy-based distinctions smoothed over or ignored. Contrasting the two at all is even dismissed by some as divisive.
But the entire purpose of a primary is to weigh your options before nominating the strongest candidate. As progressives we should want to make informed decisions, and we should welcome the way healthy debate pushes politicians to be better on the issues. Anything less is simply undemocratic and a boon to Donald Trump facing an under-vetted challenger.
Because of this reticence to properly analyze Bernie and Warren side by side, while out registering voters I often meet people who have been convinced they are “the same” and are unsure which to choose. Not only are they not the same, they’re far from even being the most similar pair in the race.
This is a progressive’s guide to the differences between Bernie and Warren.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Democratic Origins
- Wealth & Class
- Campaign Finance
- Foreign Policy
- Criminal Justice
- Climate Crisis
- Social Issues
- Other / Miscellaneous
- Beating Trump & Beyond
Both Bernie and Warren have come to compete for the Democratic nomination while holding leadership positions within the party — Chairman of Outreach and Vice Chair of Conference, respectively — but their separate paths leading up to this confluence have been radically different.
Often denigrated by a vocal minority of party hardliners as “not a real Democrat,” Bernie is the longest-serving independent in congressional history, though he has caucused with the Democrats and voted with the party over 90% of the time throughout these three decades. A civil rights activist turned mayor, Bernie began his political career further left as a member of Vermont’s local democratic socialist party. He participated in his first formal Democratic Party function in 1988, at which he was physically assaulted by a member of the party for endorsing Jesse Jackson for president.
Bernie unseated a Republican to begin his congressional career in 1991, and in his first year co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus that currently contains 98 Democratic members (of which Warren is not one). He now runs his Senate campaigns with backing from the party so that he does not oppose a separate Democratic candidate.
As for Warren, despite growing up with New Deal Democrat parents in a then-blue state, she has been a Republican for the majority of her life, including 12 years of Reagan and Bush presidencies. While working as a corporate attorney and bankruptcy law specialist she switched her party registration at some point in her late 40s, before becoming a dedicated Democrat in 2005 and flipping a red Senate seat blue eight years later. Though Warren is now closer to the left than most Democrats, she still largely refuses to discuss her past and has seemed uncomfortable and unprepared when doing so.
WEALTH AND CLASS
Wealth inequality in the U.S. is currently the worst it’s been since the years leading up to the Great Depression, and Millennials are the first and only generation to be poorer than their parents in modern history. Though this topic is perhaps the one on which Bernie and Warren are most commonly associated, they actually have drastically different ideologies.
“The rich are not the enemy. In fact, most of us would like to be rich,” Warren has opined, “And the poor are not the only ones who have problems, so don’t talk as if they are the only ones who deserve compassion.” Bernie takes a more hardline approach, stating simply, “Billionaires should not exist.”
In contrast, Warren has no “beef with billionaires,” and believes they earned their riches because they “work hard.” While she seems to view the ultra-wealthy class as a meritocratic aspiration that just needs a little regulation, Bernie sees it as an exploitative force keeping the rest of us down.
Warren’s focus is “not about class warfare,” whereas Bernie wants the working class to win it. Bernie is a self-avowed democratic socialist, whereas Warren is “a capitalist to [her] bones” who gave Trump a standing ovation this year for swearing “America will never be a socialist country.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, Democrats now view socialism more favorably than capitalism.
As for what they actually plan to do, Bernie and Warren have agreed less than you may think. Warren has declined to cosponsor any of Bernie’s three bills to expand the estate tax, and has even voted with Republicans to repeal it (though this year she introduced a housing bill she proposes be funded by it). She also declined to cosponsor any of his three bills to enact a Wall Street transaction tax or his bill to break up the big banks, though she’s since joined him in supporting the latter.
Warren’s version kicks in $14M later than Bernie’s and maxes out at 3%, whereas Bernie’s gets progressively higher until reaching 8% for wealth above $10B. Over 10 years, Warren’s raises an estimated $2.75T, whereas Bernie’s would net almost double that, estimated at $4.35T in the same time. With “how are you going to pay that for that?” still the main counter to any talk of expanding our social programs, this is a key number for the progressive agenda.
What does this mean for the ultra-wealthy? The top 0.1% of Americans have about as much wealth as the bottom 90% of us, and under Bernie’s plan those richest 15 individuals’ fortunes would get about 80% smaller. Warren’s proposal takes them down 54%.
In regards to personal wealth, Bernie has consistently been one of the poorest members of Congress with a current net worth close to $2M, while Warren is nearer the top with a $12M fortune. To much media attention, Bernie recently became a millionaire following his post-2016 book sales. Warren, on the other hand, amassed her wealth by flipping foreclosed homes, loaning money at high interest rates, and working as a corporate lawyer on cases that included helping Big Steel escape providing healthcare for miners, an insurance company avoid compensating asbestos victims, and Dow Chemical dodge payout for women sick from toxic breast implants.
Closely tied to their views on wealth are the differences in how the two finance their campaigns. At least 35 billionaires have donated to Warren across her 2018 Senate and current presidential campaigns, while another is using a dark money group to run ads for her. Bernie has accepted zero money from billionaires in this same time period. (When the spouse of one billionaire tried to donate to Bernie’s campaign he returned the check out of principle.)
Despite this, Bernie is the only 2020 campaign who has received more money from individual donors than Trump, and he has about 3x more total cash than Warren. This is in large part because Bernie has earned more small-dollar donations than anyone in either party by a considerable margin. Reflective of this, Bernie’s average donation is $18, whereas Warren’s is $26. [12/11: This was edited to clarify that Bernie has received more money from individual donors than Trump, not more money total.]
Bernie is also the only Democrat with more individual contributors (over 1M) and more total contributions (over 4M) than Trump. In fact, he has more individual donations from more people than any candidate in U.S. history, reaching the 1M unique donor landmark about half a year sooner than Obama’s previous record. A few weeks later, Warren’s campaign announced her donor total is only about half as many as Bernie’s, placing her 3rd in small-dollar donations and 4th in total money contributed.
Bernie leads the pack with 27.2% of all donations made to a primary candidate, while Warren is in 3rd with less than half that at 12.4%. Bernie has received more money from women than any other candidate, while Warren is 2nd, and more money from men than any other Democrat, while Warren is 5th.
The gulf between the two candidates is in large part because Bernie receives far more donations from the working class, Trump’s key demographic, than Warren, whose numbers are more in line with Pete Buttigieg’s. This is further illustrated by Bernie out-raising Trump in five states, including battleground state Wisconsin, while Warren only out-raises Trump in her home state of Massachusetts. Bernie leads amongst the 206 counties that flipped from Obama to Trump as well, earning over 3x the donations in them as Warren.
Warren, whose campaign treasurer is a major “bundler,” refuses to release the bundlers she’s used in the past, and has appeared to break her own pledge to forgo “big money” fundraising when a mega-donor bought her access to the DNC voter database. Bernie has never used “bundling,” a practice that allows fundraising from secret donors that are never disclosed, nor has he had voter files provided to him by the rich.
Bernie has also consistently rejected corporate PACs and big-money fundraisers his entire career. Warren joined him in adopting the same stance for the first time this primary, but only after transferring over $10.5M in funds collected from such sources during her 2018 Senate run to her current campaign. This money came from donors including the aforementioned billionaires, as well as the CEO of Royalty Pharma and executives from corporations including Global Petroleum and Mitt Romney’s investment firm, Bain Capital. In fact, during her 2018 campaign she took more money from individuals employed in the securities and investments industry than even Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, bringing in over 28x more than Bernie.
Though Warren initially planned to return to openly courting wealthy mega-donors if nominated, she has since walked this back under pressure. But in this primary alone, Warren has still accepted money from executives of at least 10 investment banks, including BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in deforestation; Raytheon, one of the military industrial complex’s biggest players; and Walmart’s Walton Enterprises. Bernie still refuses this type of cash, though he does lead in donations from Walmart employees.
Both candidates have plans to ban lobbying from former government officials, but only Warren hires lobbyists to work on her campaign. She wants to tax corporate lobbying, while Bernie vows to ban it and replace this dirty money with public funding to completely free the party from corporate influence. Warren’s gentler reforms are preferred by Neera Tanden’s centrist think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), which is funded by banks, insurance companies, arms manufacturers, and Saudi ally the United Arab Emirates.
At least 87M Americans do not have the insurance coverage they need and 79M Americans are currently struggling with medical debt, with 2/3 of all American bankruptcies — 530K annually — resulting from medical bills. 45K people die preventable deaths each year due to our current system.
Polls asking Democrats to rank the strongest and/or most trustworthy candidates on healthcare consistently show Bernie in 1st and Warren in 3rd behind Joe Biden. Though they are portrayed as especially similar on this issue, they’re actually some distance apart, with a key difference being Bernie is proposing to abolish all existing medical debt, which will also reduce the racial wealth gap, whereas Warren is not.
Bernie plans to cover all prescription drug costs after $200 per person per year, whereas Warren’s proposed cap is much higher — $6K for families and $3K for individuals. Nearly 1/4 Americans can’t afford the medicine they are prescribed, and with Big Pharma predatorily inflating the costs of many crucial drugs like insulin, this is literally an issue of life and death for many.
Warren has been an ardent ally for the medical device industry, co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the tax they pay to help fund the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and writing another bill that would let them off the hook for misappropriating research funds. Bernie supported neither of these. Warren, whose daughter is the CEO of a health insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical device consulting firm that works to raise costs for patients, has taken money from these industries’ lobbyists. Bernie has not.
As for single-payer universal healthcare, Bernie’s 2016 campaign is largely responsible for taking Medicare for All from an “extreme” fringe idea to a litmus test issue so popular it now has majority support even amongst Republicans. Crucially, Medicare for All still polls with majority support even when it is explicitly stated that it replaces private insurance.
Bernie has consistently fought for true Medicare for All, which abolishes premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and private insurance, as a main tenant of his career since at least 1971. He promises to re-introduce such legislation in his first week in office if elected, and has won the endorsement of the country’s largest nurses union.
Warren’s positions have been far less clear. She actually ran against Medicare for All in 2012 and refused to endorse Bernie’s plan in the 2016 election, before eventually signing on to his bill in 2017. Still, one of her closest advisers revealed she didn’t actually like the idea, implying she would eventually abandon it, and the SVP of finance industry-funded think tank Third Way admitted, “She’s not committed to single-payer health insurance. That’s good enough for us.”
After waffling on the issue for some time, Warren has indeed backtracked, refocusing merely on “access” and “choice,” aligning herself with centrists like Buttigieg over Bernie. Despite a majority of her own supporters preferring Medicare for All, her newest proposal is just a public option that does not abolish premiums or private insurance, has no built-in phasing to Medicare for All, and requires the majority of adults to buy into the current Medicare system to receive its coverage. After Warren released this plan she dropped dramatically in the polls, but health insurance stocks went up (when Bernie released his plan they went down).
Warren claims that if elected she will introduce a second bill in year three for something that she calls Medicare for All, but unlike Bernie’s bill it does not appear to include mental healthcare, preserves private insurance, and requires buying into the system to receive coverage. By year three she would be shifting focus to reelection, and any potential Democratic majority won in Congress is likely to have already been lost in 2022’s midterms. Warren explicitly de-prioritizes this eventual Medicare for All bill as “long-term” seven times, and should it not be passed during the one remaining year of her first term, a Republican president could kill it the following year.
The bulk of paying for both candidates’ plans comes from combining current spending with taxes on the rich, administrative savings due to increased efficiency, and ending the hundreds of billions in government subsidies currently paid to private insurers. But Bernie and Warren differ drastically on how they would raise the rest of the funds required.
Bernie’s plan is often attacked as a middle-class tax hike, whereas Warren claims her plan avoids one, but this is a misleading characterization. Both proposals are employer-side taxes (with exemptions for small businesses), which are just indirect middle-class taxes, as they are passed on to employees via paycheck deductions.
Bernie offers multiple solutions, the main one being a 7.5% payroll tax on employers. His tax is over $9K less per employee than the average current private insurance premium contribution, meaning most workers will actually see less money taken out of their paychecks while high-earners would pay more.
Warren proposes taxing employers roughly $9.5K per employee, regardless of their income. Unlike Bernie’s plan, this regressive tax would disproportionately burden the working class, forcing lower-paid employees to pay a much higher percentage of their wages than higher-earners.
As well as discouraging job creation, Warren’s version even leaves a loophole that allows employers to evade payment by outsourcing and replacing full-time workers with contractors. Experts warn this would cause the tax to increase and lead to even more tax evasion in an unworkable “death spiral.” Separately, Warren’s plan even requires an unrelated immigration bill that transfers funds to pass first, adding yet another opportunity for her increasingly complex process to be derailed.
45M Americans are struggling under a combined total of $1.6T in student debt, which is greater than the GDP of most countries. The average student owes over $30K, 40% of students could default on their loans by 2023, and 20 states can suspend your professional or driver’s licenses if you fall behind on payments.
Both Bernie and Warren want to make public college tuition-free moving forward, but only Bernie, who is the only candidate polling higher than Trump with college students, plans to abolish 100% of existing student debt for all people. Warren is polling 3rd with students, and her her complex $640M plan appears to relieve only about 40%. She only covers up to $50K for those with a household income of less than $100K, one dollar less in debt relief for every three dollars in earnings made above that threshold up to $250K, and then nothing above that. The majority of Americans support abolishing all student debt.
Bernie’s proposal is estimated to create 1M more jobs than Warren’s, and because student debt disproportionately burdens women and people of color, studies show eradicating all of it would reduce disparities such as the racial wealth gap between black and white households from 12:1 to 5:1. Warren claims eliminating all debt would actually widen the racial wealth gap, despite all evidence to the contrary, and her plan to forgive less debt is estimated to leave more of this disparity intact. The means testing she proposes also creates other issues that truly universal programs, such as Bernie’s, avoid.
As for K-12, more teachers have donated to Bernie than any other candidate, with Warren at #2. So far only one teachers union has endorsed a candidate — UTLA, the second-largest in the nation with 35K members, chose Bernie with 80% of the vote. This is in large part because of Bernie’s dedicated history of backing teachers unions to the point of marching with them, whereas Warren is more hesitant to support them and usually limits herself to speeches when she does.
Our public school teachers have seen their salaries decrease over the last decade despite the average college graduate’s salary increasing in the same time. Bernie is the only candidate proposing a minimum salary for teachers — $60K — while Warren calls for unspecified raises.
Though Bernie unequivocally backs the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on all new charter schools, Warren has waffled on the issue, lauding them at some times and offering vague limitations at others. The Network for Public Education grades Bernie an A and Warren a C for their affiliations, in large part due to the latter hiring an education advisor with a pro-corporate, union-busting resume and a chief of staff with ties to public school privatization.
Warren, who’s received praise from pro-privatization lobbyists, has supported an “all-voucher system” that appears similar to Betsy DeVos’ position. Her campaign has since claimed she’s only ever pushed for public school vouchers, which would still force public schools to compete for funding. She has also promoted No Child Left Behind-style test-based accountability measures. Bernie supports none of these tactics.
Though Bernie briefly taught low-income preschoolers and lectured at Harvard and elsewhere, Warren has far more experience as an educator. She spent the bulk of her career as a professor at multiple elite institutions including Harvard, preceded by one year as a public school teacher on an emergency certificate. Curiously, Warren now claims she was essentially fired from that job for being pregnant, though county records and her own accounts up until that point contradict this. Warren also recently came under fire when, confronted by a concerned parent, she denied sending her kids to private school, even though her son attended one with a current annual tuition of nearly $20K from grades 5–12. [12/11: This piece originally stated in error that Bernie had no teaching experience and has been corrected.]
With both primarily known for and likened to each other on the basis of their domestic policy, foreign policy is perhaps where Bernie and Warren differ the most.
Warren supports expanding the military and has voted to hand Trump a larger military budget two times, increasing his spending power by $80B to $700B total, more than Trump himself even asked for. Bernie is the only candidate to have voted against every single increase, and he vows to cut military spending. The U.S. currently spends more on the military than all other discretionary spending combined, for a total outlay greater than the next seven nations’ combined.
A VP from defense contractor Raytheon donated to Warren three times this year, with a spokesperson for the company saying they have “a positive relationship with [her], and we interact with her and her staff regularly.” Warren has also accepted money from the founder of a lobbying firm whose clientele includes convicted war criminals. No executives from the military industrial complex or war criminal lobbyists have donated to Bernie.
On the other hand, it appears actual military members have a different preference for their Commander in Chief. Bernie leads all candidates in money donated from the enlisted, with more than Trump, Biden, and Buttigieg combined, while Warren has less than 1/4 as much and is 4th behind Trump.
Regarding South America, Warren has legitimized Bolivia’s violent fascist insurrection that’s backed by Trump, while Bernie called out the coup. To the glee of right-wing media, Warren also supports Trump’s illegal sanctions on Venezuela that have caused an estimated 40K+ civilian deaths, and has recognized the Trump-backed right-wing opposition leader attempting a coup there as well. Bernie opposes this intervention too.
Though neither supports leftist measures like boycotting and divesting in Israel (BDS), Bernie, a Jewish man who lost family in the Holocaust, is more willing to criticize Israel and defend Palestinian rights than Warren. Unlike her, he has committed to pressuring Israel to follow international law by conditioning the $3.8B worth of money and weapons the U.S. currently sends the nation annually and wants to repurpose some of it as humanitarian aid for Gaza. Warren has taken over 7x more money from the pro-Israel lobby than Bernie since the 2018 cycle, receiving more on average each year than Mike Pence.
Warren, who characterizes the apartheid state that does not allow 5M Palestinian residents to vote as a “liberal democracy,” joined McConnell and Graham in signing two AIPAC-sponsored letters — one in 2014 opposing the Palestinian unity deal, and one to Barack Obama in 2016 that asked him to veto any UN resolution that condemned Israel’s illegal settlements. Bernie signed neither.
Warren further distances herself from Bernie by warning of Palestinian births “bearing down” on Israel, joining the Trump administration in opposing Palestine joining the U.N., defending Israel’s bombing of Palestinian schools and hospitals, and even justifying Israeli drones murdering thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children playing on the beach.
Unlike Bernie, Warren has refused to rule out war with Iran, pushing the unsubstantiated right-wing claim that they have nuclear weapons. She voted to let Trump impose sanctions that kill children, violated the nuclear deal, and led to rising tension. Bernie was one of only two in Congress to vote against this.
Bernie and Warren have conflicting views on and relationships with several big players in U.S. foreign policy as well. In response to Trump’s charges against Julian Assange for exposing U.S. war crimes, Warren called Assange a “bad actor” who should be “held accountable,” while Bernie instead pledged to end prosecution of whistleblowers.
Hawkish former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who defended killing 500K Iraqi children with U.S. sanctions, has advised and funded Warren. Albright vocally opposes Bernie to the point that, in 2016, she even claimed “there’s a special place in hell” for women who support him.
Warren voted to confirm Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, as well as Obama’s CIA director John Brennan, who led the drone program that continues to massacre civilians while repeatedly lying about its actions. Bernie voted against both.
With over 2M people currently imprisoned, the U.S. has both the highest number of individuals behind bars and the highest rate of incarceration in the world by quite a distance. Though less than 1/3 of the U.S. population is black or Hispanic, these minorities make up over half of the prison population.
Across the board, Bernie takes more radical stances on criminal justice than Warren. Perhaps the most notable is his call for a “Prisoner Bill of Rights” that restores voting rights to the over 6M citizens whose convictions currently disqualify them, while Warren supports their continued disenfranchisement. The abolishment of such bans, which were enacted specifically to keep black Americans from voting, is supported by about 2/3 of the country.
Warren does not join Bernie, who was one of the few to vote against their cancellation in 1994, in proposing the restoration of Pell Grants for prisoners, which have been proven to massively reduce recidivism. She also does not join him in specifically calling for “free educational and vocational training,” “ending prison gerrymandering,” “living wages and safe working conditions,” or the creation of a unique federal office to handle prisoner civil rights.
People with mental illness are 16x more likely to be killed by law enforcement, and the victims are disproportionately black. Bernie is siding with anti-police violence advocates in calling for an “alternate response system” made up of unarmed professionals you can call to help people in crisis and handle mental health emergencies. Warren’s “co-responder” system would continue sending armed law enforcement to such situations.
Though she did not cosponsor his 2015 bill to ban private prisons, Warren joined Bernie on this issue this year. He also supports a total ban on police use of facial recognition technology, which have been shown to be racist, though Warren merely calls for vague “privacy protections.”
Cannabis reform has support from over 2/3 of Americans, and though Warren has since supported legalization, she did not co-sponsor Bernie’s bill to legalize it in 2015, often backtracks to just decriminalization, and her campaign appears to have rescinded a staff job offer over a marijuana conviction. Bernie goes further in several areas, including his promise for complete legalization and expungement to be delivered by executive order in his first 100 days.
Though her criminal justice plan is still comprehensive, Warren has at times seemed surprisingly uncomfortable and unprepared when asked about the topic, often changing the subject instead of answering questions. Bernie has also received criticism for voting for Bill Clinton’s disastrous 1994 crime bill, though he was actually one of its most vocal critics. It had overwhelming support in Congress, and he eventually signed on only in support of the Violence Against Women Act and assault weapons ban that were included while explicitly opposing the rest.
Experts agree it may already be too late to avoid a catastrophic tipping point in the climate crisis, meaning we need radical action now even to just reduce the damage. Just another half degree increase in global temperatures would destroy the ecosystems 500M people rely on for survival, with 800M people already more vulnerable to heightened natural disasters right now. The Greenland ice sheet, which is losing up to 12.5B tons of ice a day, could be “doomed” in 10 years, and over 300K U.S. homes (worth a combined $117.5B) will essentially be underwater within 30 years. Our country contributes to this as the biggest carbon emitter in history.
Bernie and Warren are putting forth drastically different levels of response to the greatest existential threat we’ve faced in human history. Bernie, who has called for climate action for decades, is championing the Green New Deal (which Warren has previously endorsed) as his flagship environmental policy, and dedicates $16.3T to combat the climate crisis over 15 years, which is more than any other candidate.
Warren has chosen to not put forth one main climate-specific plan and split up her environmental policies within other proposals, committing less than 1/5 as much money, with her $3T over 10 years coming far closer to the tepid outlays of centrists like Buttigieg ($2T) and Biden ($1.7T). Bernie’s robust action is also estimated to create 20M unionized green jobs in the process, and while Warren’s campaign doesn’t provide any specific estimates, it seems her smaller proposal would create far fewer.
Greenpeace and Sunrise Movement both rank Bernie as their #1 candidate to combat the climate crisis with A+ and A- ratings, respectively. Warren comes 2nd in both, with A- and B- grades, respectively. Several polls show Democratic voters also rank Bernie 1st on this issue, but Warren slips to #3 behind Biden by this metric.
Bernie calls for fossil fuel giants like Exxon that knew the risks as early as the ’80s to be prosecuted criminally and civilly and be made to pay damages for causing the climate crisis, while Warren proposes prosecution only if they lied to regulatory agencies. Bernie even calls for public ownership of utilities to remove the private profit motive that leads to wanton pollution while underserving low-income communities. Warren opposes such nationalization, claiming this crisis can be solved by tackling only outright corruption. Unlike Bernie, she has taken money from executives of corporations including Global Petroleum and BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in deforestation.
When the indigenous people of Standing Rock protested the construction of the treaty-violating Dakota Access Pipeline despite facing militarized police brutality, Bernie actively supported them. Despite still claiming to be of indigenous descent at this point, Warren remained silent until after the Army Corp of Engineers had already denied the approval needed to begin construction. The pipeline was built in 2017 and has already leaked at least 600K gallons of oil. When the Keystone XL pipeline failed a vote and an indigenous activist responded by honoring Congress with a traditional song, Warren had him thrown out and jailed.
Bernie has fought to ban fracking since at least 2014, a position Warren did not share until shifting under activist pressure two months ago. Unlike Warren, Bernie is the only candidate who rejects geoengineering, carbon markets, carbon offsets, and industrial carbon capture and storage, which the Climate Justice Alliance refers to as “destructive schemes” and “false solutions.” Unlike Bernie, Warren has worked to get corporations off the hook for paying to clean up their pollution.
The U.S. military alone is the biggest polluter in the world, polluting more than 140 entire nations combined, and Bernie and Warren view this relationship between our foreign policy and the climate crisis from opposite directions. Bernie targets such hyper-militarization as a direct threat to the planet’s health, and plans to unite the international community in reducing this harm while repurposing bloated military funds for environmental rehabilitation. To much criticism, Bernie even called climate change, not a foreign power, the biggest threat to national security in 2015. Warren, on the other hand, sees climate change more as an inconvenient obstacle to U.S. militarism, and seems unwilling to address environmental concerns if it means even minor reductions in our aggression abroad.
There are over 10M estimated “unauthorized” immigrants in the U.S. today, many of whom are subjected to numerous human rights abuses and/or deported every day. Both candidates are generally pro-immigrant, though Bernie goes much further in several areas.
Bernie is the only candidate who promises to abolish ICE and CBP and fully demilitarize the border, while Warren says she will keep but refocus these agencies. Bernie opposed the separation of migrant children and families during the Obama administration, but Warren did not take a stand on the issue until after Trump took office. Bernie became the only candidate to call for a moratorium on all deportations in September, though two months later Warren added she’s open to the idea now as well.
Both Bernie and Warren promise to go after employers found exploiting immigrant workers, but only Bernie specifically vows to withhold federal contracts for such exploitative employers, end workplace raids, and implement protections for farm workers. Both support a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, but while he sets a five year timeframe to achieve this she has none. Warren calls to increase the maximum number of refugees allowed into the country to 125K with a goal of eventually expanding to 175K, while Bernie is proposing no limit at all.
Furthermore, though Warren has taken similar positions, only Bernie’s plan explicitly protects sanctuary cities and stops construction of Trump’s wall. Both Warren and Bernie promise to reverse Trump’s Muslim ban, but only he goes as far as proposing legislation to restrict any administration’s ability to discriminate in such a way in the future.
Though both candidates support pro-choice measures, Warren voted two separate times to ban federal funding for abortions just last year. Out of every candidate, only Bernie voted against this measure every time. The bill passed, helping set the stage for nearly 1K women’s health clinics losing funding this year alone.
Bernie received criticism after endorsing Omaha, Nebraska mayoral candidate and Democrat Heath Mello against a Republican incumbent in 2017 due to Mello acting to restrict abortions prior to 2012, even though Mello has voted with Planned Parenthood 100% of the time since, and reproductive rights groups now see him as an important ally. Though it’s received less coverage, Warren still defends and fundraises for Sen. Joe Manchin, who continues to oppose reproductive rights to this day. Unlike Bernie, Warren is a current contributor to and previous honored guest of The Federalist Society, which she has called “a radical, right wing group deeply committed to overturning Roe v. Wade.”
Bernie and Warren are both pro-LGBTQ+. Bernie first came out in support of the community in 1972, before officially recognizing Gay Pride in Burlington despite fierce opposition in 1983, passing one of the nation’s first anti-discrimination laws in 1984, and voting against DOMA in 1996. Warren first publicly announced her support for the community during her 2012 Senate campaign — when asked this year if she opposed LGBTQ+ rights during her Republican years prior to that she claimed, “I actually don’t remember.” Warren recently admitted she was wrong to oppose full healthcare rights for transgender inmates in 2012, a stance Bernie has never held.
While Bernie has never misappropriated a minority racial identity, Warren has notably come under fire for controversially claiming to be indigenous despite there being no concrete evidence to support this. She identified herself as “Native American” on multiple professional and government documents for at least 10 years, even when not fulfilling the requirements to do so, and accepted the accolade of “first woman of color” in Harvard Law faculty. Warren says her aunt told her of their native heritage, yet selected “white” and not “American Indian” when noting her aunt’s race on government forms.
To support this unsubstantiated identity Warren has cited family photos that she refuses to show, claimed her parents had to elope to escape anti-indigenous racism even though their wedding was reported in the local paper, and even plagiarized a supposedly indigenous recipe which she passed off as family tradition. Despite her alleged native pride, Warren has not been a particularly strong ally for the community, even going so far as to discredit indigenous activists as pawns of “right-wing extremists” or ignore them entirely, as discussed in the “Climate Crisis” section of this piece. Many have further criticized Warren’s handling of Trump’s attacks on the matter, raising questions of how she would handle his antics in a general election.
Bernie and Warren’s differences on labor are largely ideological, though the former’s bottom-up socialist revolution approach and the latter’s top-down capitalist reform approach do find a lot of common ground in the middle.
But while Bernie and Warren both support workers taking seats on corporate boards — 45% and 40% respectively — only Bernie goes further as the first to call for worker ownership in their companies, an idea polling with majority support. While Warren’s labor plans preserve “at will” employment, which gives employers the ability to fire employees for nearly any reason, Bernie calls for “just cause” legislation that prohibits the firing of employees for any reason other than job performance.
Warren has co-sponsored legislation to temporarily explore a jobs guarantee program in 15 “high-unemployment communities,” whereas Bernie proposes a more radical, FDR-style nationwide guarantee to unionized employment. In another divergence with Bernie, Warren joins Biden as one of only two candidates who hire unpaid interns to work on their campaigns.
OTHER / MISCELLANEOUS
- Bernie introduced legislation to mandate labeling of GMOs, but Warren joined Republicans in voting it down.
- Unlike Bernie, Warren initially voted to confirm Trump’s appointment of Ben Carson as HUD Secretary.
- Bernie supports nationwide rent control, which Warren opposes. He calls for 7.4M new units of affordable housing, while she proposes less than half that, 3.2M. This, combined with her plan to reduce rental costs by just 10% over 10 years, which is less than the rate of inflation, will still leave a shortfall in affordable housing.
- Warren has an $85B plan to expand internet access to rural communities, while Bernie’s $150B plan also guarantees free internet to public housing and forbids internet service providers from also providing content.
- Unlike Bernie, Warren wants to hire a cabinet consisting of defense contractors and foreclosure moguls.
BEATING TRUMP & BEYOND
Of course, besides positions and plans, “electability” — whatever that means — is still a very real consideration when picking a primary candidate. So, how do Bernie and Warren stack up?
After four victorious runs for Mayor of Burlington, Bernie flipped the state’s only U.S. House seat in 1990, which had been solid red for a staggering 55 of its 57 years in existence. Then in 2006, he flipped a +40 point Republican Senate seat that had never been won by a non-Republican in the 152 years since the party’s formation, and ended the longest single party winning streak in U.S. history with a +33 point victory. Compared to his 15 victories, Elizabeth Warren has only won two elections in her entire career, both for a Senate seat that has been Democrat-held for the vast majority of the last 100 years.
As for this election, there are several ways to analyze it, including volunteer numbers and rally turnout. Bernie has more volunteers, with over 1M, and he also boasts the largest rally of the primary, attracting an estimated 26K supporters inside and thousands more outside a park in Queens, NY. The campaign contribution and contributor data discussed in the “Campaign Finance” section of this piece also offers crucial insight into what kind of support these two have.
Such metrics are arguably stronger indicators of support than polling, as the sample size is the entire country and the question is open-ended: Which candidate do you like enough to give your time and hard-earned money to? These proactive signals of intent clearly suggest a more passionate level of support than just answering a multiple-choice question over the phone can.
As for polling, there are several different angles of analysis within this tool as well. Favorability, for example, is a far more consequential stat than many would think. Since at least 1980, the general election candidate with the highest net favorability has won every time, regardless of party or ideology.
Bernie has both the highest favorability and net favorability in the primary pack, with 11 more percentage points for “favorable” than Warren, and a narrowly lower “unfavorable” rating, too. In fact, Bernie is the #1 most popular senator in America, while Warren, who is the 7th most unfavorable in the nation, ranks 29th, behind rival candidate Amy Klobuchar.
As for nationwide primary poll averages, Bernie has a slight edge over Warren, despite consistently getting less media coverage. Voters who prefer Bernie generally seem to be the most confident in their choice, with the most recent poll showing only 51% of them “might change” their mind to Warren’s 68%. Should supporters defect, Bernie and Warren are both listed as the top 2nd choice amongst each other’s base. Warren does far better than Bernie with Buttigieg fans, and Bernie does far better with Biden’s, which is about 3x larger of a group. Despite the false narrative to the contrary, Bernie’s support is less likely to vote Trump than any other major candidate’s — Warren’s base is over 2x more likely to vote Trump if she’s not the nominee.
Bernie is far and away more popular with the youth vote than any other candidate including Warren, with the most recent poll showing him at majority support amongst those under 35 with 53%, over 3x more than Warren’s 17%. In at least the previous three general elections, the Democratic nominee only won if they first got the most youth vote in the primary, losing if they did not.
Bernie’s coalition is also more diverse — he generally earns more nonwhite support than Warren despite a few exceptions. He consistently polls higher with working class voters than she does as well, a crucial component in battling Trump’s populism. This seems at least in part because of Bernie’s bottom-up approach of movement building to create change (“Not Me, Us”), which is opposite of Warren’s top-down meritocratic style (“I Have a Plan for That”).
Though primary polls usually only include those at least leaning Democrat, more than just Democrats are needed to win a general election. Independents outnumber members of both major parties, and though some suggest more “extreme” policies may alienate this group, Bernie’s +34 net approval amongst independents is far higher than Warren’s -7. Despite her Republican past, Warren seems far less willing to reach out to conservative voters, refusing to hold a town hall on Fox News. Bernie has no such qualms, and has regularly taken opportunities to speak to Republican voters.
Bernie’s net approval is 28 points higher than Warren’s when all voters are included. Reflective of this, Bernie, who has been consistently beating Trump in polls since 2015, has won all but two national polls since March, with an average of +8.4. Warren has beaten Trump in all but 11, averaging +7.2.
Of course, elections aren’t won by national voting, they’re won by winning states, and six states flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016. Using RealClear Politics’ poll aggregation we can see that Bernie is polling better against Trump than Warren in 5/6 of those states.
Though FiveThiryEight ranks Warren’s overall endorsement haul as holding higher value than Bernie’s, he has undoubtedly received the most high-profile and coveted progressive endorsements with 3/4 of “The Squad” in Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. Warren secured Ayanna Pressley, the most “moderate” of the four, with whom she shares her home state of Massachusetts. Warren easily beats Bernie with endorsements from Obama alumni (though, shockingly, the list of over 200 names that her campaign released includes Ed Buck, the mega-donor currently on trial for allegedly sexually abusing, drugging, and killing multiple gay black men).
These elected allies will surely be vital should either candidate manage to replace Trump and look to pass the agenda they’re running on. Bernie and Warren’s legislative records also hold some indication of how successful they might be as president. Bernie, who holds the record for most roll call amendments passed through Republican-controlled Congresses, has passed 220 pieces of legislation in his 28 years in office for an annual average of 8.14. Warren has passed 45 pieces of legislation in her six years, averaging 7.5 a year.
The bolder and more inspiring these legislative plans and the leaders proposing them continue to be, the more of a mandate a people-powered progressive movement could deliver behind them, both at the ballot box and beyond. Choose wisely, and we may just get one in 2020.
If you liked this article you might also be interested in “10 Reasons Why Bernie Sanders Is Our Best Chance to Beat Donald Trump,” “125+ Reasons You Should Not Vote for Joe Biden,” and “A Guide to the 2020 Democratic Candidates You Should Not Vote For.” Additional research provided by @philosophrob.