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Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders bump elbows before the Democratic debat hosted by CNN on Sunday, March 15, 2020. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders bump elbows before the Democratic debat hosted by CNN on Sunday, March 15, 2020. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Socialists for Biden and the Power of Corporate Media

While behind in the race for delegates, Bernie Sanders' policy agenda—from Medicare for All to big tax increases on the wealthy—is remarkably popular with Democratic primary voters.

Jeff Cohen

It’s doubtful that Sunday night’s CNN debate shifted momentum in the presidential race currently favoring Joe Biden. The next few weeks offer the Bernie Sanders movement perhaps its last chance to win over—mostly through electronic means—Democratic primary voters.

One voting bloc to focus on might be called “socialists for Biden.”

In a speech last week from Vermont, Sanders made two key assertions. First, he said: “Poll after poll, including exit polls, show that a strong majority of the American people support our progressive agenda.” He then added: “While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability.”

Sanders was correct on both points—which tells us something about the persuasive powers (and limits) of “corporate liberal” news outlets like MSNBC, CNN, NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Despite those outlets having long maligned Sanders’ progressive proposals—from Medicare for All to big tax increases on the wealthy—his policy agenda is remarkably popular with Democratic primary voters.

By contrast, the media barrage on electability has proved far more persuasive to many Democrats—apparently convincing them that Biden can defeat Donald Trump while Sanders is a huge risk who could bring on a Trump landslide and undermine Democrats down-ballot.

On Super Tuesday, NBC News exit polls revealed the previously unknown existence of millions of socialist-inclined Biden voters. In North Carolina and Tennessee where Biden handily defeated Bernie, more voters expressed a favorable opinion of socialism than unfavorable. In Texas, which Biden won, socialism also triumphed with 57 percent favorable vs. 37 percent unfavorable. Ditto for California (which Sanders won): 53 percent favorable vs. only 33 percent unfavorable.

In four Southern states where Biden trounced Sanders on Super Tuesday and the following week (Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama), NBC News found that a majority of Democratic primary voters support Sanders’ signature policy, Medicare for All—phrased in the poll as “a single government health insurance plan for all.” Most startling were Mississippians who voted for Biden over Bernie by an 81 to 15 percent landslide, but exit pollsters found nearly two-to-one support for Medicare for All: 62 to 32 percent.

So, on the policy agenda, Democratic primary voters have shown some resistance to corporate media propaganda—such as the oft-repeated canard that Sanders would “strip 150 million people of their health insurance.” (“Stripping” is hardly accurate to describe a proposal that would provide fuller coverage—and, except for the superrich, at less cost.) When questioned continually by elite journalists and candidates like Biden about costs, Sanders has cited federal statistics showing that sticking with a private insurance system would cost more. 

Since Democratic voters are closer to Bernie than Biden on most policy issues, Biden’s string of primary wins suggests that corporate media have proved much more convincing on the issue of electability—with their drumbeat about Biden as electable against Trump, and Bernie as too risky. Primary voters, including older African Americans, are rightly terrified of a second Trump term. But not much data supports the claim that Biden would be a stronger candidate against Trump, and there are plenty of counter-arguments and counter-data, including the fact that Biden often appears unsteady and inarticulate. 

The abrupt solidification behind Biden by the corporate establishment within the Democratic Party and allied media (MSNBC, CNN, etc.) appears driven as much by an ideological fear of a Sanders presidency as by a logical belief that Biden has a better chance of defeating Trump.

Pro-Sanders activists are running out of time in their efforts to confront the electability issue and persuade progressive-leaning voters to vote for the actual progressive in the race.

Unfortunately, when it comes to electability, too many Democratic primary voters are listening to the pundit elite—the same elite that had told us in past years how “moderate,” status-quo, corporate Democrats were the most electable.  You remember President Gore? President Kerry? President Hillary Clinton?


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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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