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After introducing Senator Sanders at a rally in the Bronx last week, actor and political activist Rosario Dawson snaps a shot of the crowd. (Photo: Matthew Baldwin/flickr/cc)

How Can Sanders Win It All? It's The Passion, Stupid

Why the press and pundits keep getting it wrong on Bernie

John Atcheson

For the past several months, pundits, the corporate media, and the Democratic Establishment have been pushing the idea that Hillary Clinton has all but sewn up the nomination.  The closer Sanders makes the race, the harder they push this misguided shibboleth.

But ask any good pollster and he or she will tell you that when it comes to forecasting, the trend in polling data is at least as important as the absolute numbers.

Let’s Look at the Trends

In February of 2015 pollsters reported that Sanders’ numbers were up to a grand total of 5% of the Democratic voters, allowing him to surpass O’Malley. Today, Sanders has all but closed the gap with Clinton, and at least one national poll giving him the lead

Sanders has won 6 of the last seven primaries (including the ex-pat primary)—the last three by crushing majorities.  With 2,042 delegates remaining, Sanders is surging and he’s cut Clinton’s lead to less than 300 delegates. 

In fact, the only reason Clinton is ahead at this point is the strong support she enjoyed among African Americans in the early southern state primaries.  But that gap – once as high as 80% -- is also is rapidly diminishing.

Here’s the reality: Sanders is shooting up in the polls, and Hillary is trending down. The gap between the two has all but disappeared at the halfway point of the primary season. Sanders main opponent isn’t Hillary Clinton, however, it's the combination of time and an Establishment media the steadfastly refuses to cover the movement that is feeding his ascendency.

So Why Are the Establishment Media, the DNC, and the Punditocracy All Declaring the Race over for Sanders? 

One answer comes from a well-known phenomena in psychology and cognitive science called confirmation bias – "a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors." So many Establishment media types who are doing quite well with the status quo, thank you, have a strong interest in seeing Clinton—the Democrat's status quo candidate—as doing far better than she is. 

Another is almost certainly money. The stench of profit-over-principles reporting has been all over journalism for decades now, and with six corporations controlling the Main Stream Media (MSM), a candidate like Sanders—who wants to reduce the influence of corporate money in elections and media—is not likely to be popular.  In fact, if Sanders were to succeed in getting money out of the election process, the corporate media would not only lose influence and power, they’d lose revenue – a ton of it.  With politicians spending more than $4.4 billion on campaign ads, the last thing the corporate media wants to see is campaign finance reform.

And of course, as Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page pointed out in their landmark study on the influence of money and special interests in politics, corporations and the ultra-rich would risk losing what amounts to nearly complete control of the policies this country chooses if a candidate like Sanders won. As Gilens and Page point out:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy. (emphasis added).

In terms of return on investment, there’s almost nothing that can beat the corporate purchase of government. For example, according to one analysis, 200 of the most politically active companies reaped an astounding 76,000%  return on their investments.  So yes, money plays a role in the Establishment rejection of Sanders, as well as their embrace of Clinton – who gets their money because the corproations believe she plays politics by their rules.

The thing is, so do most people.  When she and her Establishment enablers aren’t dissembling about accepting corporate money, she’s suggesting it has no influence on her.  Voters don’t buy this line. In a groundbreaking study of American beliefs called "the Smith Project," here’s what people had to say about the influence of special interests:

The Democratic and Republican Parties are essentially useless in changing this situation. Americans overwhelmingly agree (78%-15%) that both political parties are too beholden to special interests to create any meaningful change.

The Smith Project is one of the most comprehensive analyses of what Americans believe about the political process and their government, and it clearly shows that the people believe money buys influence.

What’s Passion Got to Do with It?

Passion drives turnout, and turnout determines elections.  It’s that simple.  Consider the 2014 mid-terms – the most disastrous election for the Democratic Party in modern history.  Democrats lost the Senate and the House by near record margins.  Why?  Progressives were fed up, and the majority of the people in the US—on an issue-by-issue-basis—are progressive. They were fed up by politicians who took money and orders from plutocrats, while running from any positions that might require commitment, constancy, and accountability.  When Republicans mounted a PR campaign against Obamacare, Democrats ran from it. They hid from global warming and the need to curtail fossil fuels; they refused to embrace government as a power for public good, allowing Republican talking points about the evils of government and regulation to stand unopposed.

The result was the lowest voter turnout since World War II. Progressives stayed home in droves, while ignoramuses jacked up on fear, hate, and blame, poured out to vote.  To quote Yeats’ The Second Coming, "The best lacked all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity…"

Until Sanders forced her to take progressive positions, Hillary Clinton was pretty much indistinguishable from the Democratic candidates who so repulsed voters in 2014.  In fact, she is the second least-trusted and most disliked candidate in the race. Trump is the only candidate that beats her on both counts.  Sanders is the most trusted and most well-liked candidate from either party. 

If the Establishment continues to attempt to declare Hillary’s coronation as inevitable, and continues to ignore Sanders, there’s some danger they may succeed in making it a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

And if she is the Democrats’ standard bearer, look for real progressives to once again stay home in droves.  It may be that the horror of Trump simply isn’t enough to get people to once again betray their values in voting booth.  In that case, the worst, full of passionate intensity, will show up at the polls, while the best stay home. 

Which Brings Us to One More Trend …

In head-to-head races against the remaining Republican candidates, Sanders does better than Clinton against each one of them.  And not by a little bit.  In fact, while Kasich gets walloped by Sanders, Clinton loses outright.  People have been aching for a choice that doesn’t include candidates who are beholden to corporate money.  Sanders has given them that.  If he were the candidate, not only would the Democrats have more assurance of taking the White House, but they’d do better in the House, Senate, and in state governments – which at the time are overwhelmingly Republican.

So to all those in the Establishment calling for Bernie to get out of the race for the good of the Party and to the superdelegates who are supposed to be representing the interests of the Party – please consider this: the person who should bow out for the good of the party might just be Hillary Clinton.

Bottom line

The Democratic Party has a choice – they can be the Party of the Plutocrats, in which case they can continue to split the difference between a minority of those voting, or they can be the Party of the People, in which case they will win across the board.

And here’s the scariest notion of all:  Trump appeals to a small – but passionate minority.  If only 36% of the eligible voters turn out as they did in 2014, he could get elected.

And that’s why passion matters.

Maybe it’s Hillary who should get out of the race for the good of the Party, the people, the country and the world.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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