It has been posited that were it not for the Democratic National Committee’s tactics and deep-rooted support for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders would have been the blue candidate and would have been victorious over President-elect Donald Trump. Though he, like Trump, would have been a viable “change candidate” in his party and shared similarly nationalistic views, it can be shown that a Sanders presidential campaign would have failed to gain the necessary support to defeat Trump. Sanders ultimately would have faltered, because of the both characteristics that distinguished him from Clinton and their shared similarities. 

Sanders was unlike Clinton in terms of his pervasive economic view. Sanders is a Democratic socialist and would have been far too liberal to win a national election. He believes in universal healthcare, free public college tuition and a massive redistribution of wealth. Aside from college-educated voters — whose votes didn’t swing the election in Clinton’s favor  — my sense from the election results is that a sizable number of voters, independent of party, rejected a Democratic socialist paradigm for the country. 

While many millennials supported Sanders, it must be known that their turnout is historically low. As National Public Radio wrote about the 2012 election, “Millennials continue to have the lowest voter turnout of any age group. Only about 46 percent voted in the last presidential election; compared to 72 percent of the Silent Generation, who habitually punch above their weight.” Thus, despite their support, there was no guarantee that they would have made it to the polls. 

Moreover, voters in the primary elections are far more radical than those in the general election. Thus, there is no guarantee that Sanders’s radical platform would have been compatible with the electorate in the bigger picture. Since the primary vote would be unreliable in calculating Sanders’s chances of winning the general election, we must turn to polls as the last resource. However, it must be known that polling can be a flawed tool — as evidenced by this election. While the Gravis Marketing poll shows that Sanders would have won 56 percent of the vote against Trump, it cannot be taken as truth. The so-called “shy Trump” voter effect might still manifest itself in this poll, thus proving it to be inaccurate. While a “shy Bernie” effect might be in play, it would prove to be in far fewer numbers because of Trump’s even more radical and taboo nature.

Sanders was similar to Clinton in that he would have been the Democratic Party’s candidate — a fact that would similarly work to his demise. Though an Independent candidate himself, he would have relied on the DNC for support during a presidential campaign and would have advanced a Democratic platform and narrative. Comparisons show that Clinton and Sanders shared more views regarding policy than Trump, but Sanders was even more liberal than Clinton. Since the country elected Trump, it follows then that Sanders’s leftist views would not have made him more competitive than Clinton. 

An electoral victory for Sanders might have required victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin, which Clinton was unable to achieve. As the Cook report revealed,  Clinton would have prevailed in the Electoral College vote had she won 109,000 more votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and therefore she would have been elected president. More importantly, if she’d swung Florida and Michigan by about 128,000 votes, Clinton might have emerged victorious save for a relatively small number of ballots. Out of a pool of 128 million votes, 128,000 is one-tenth of one percent — a rounding error.

It is a tremendous leap to suggest that this slim margin would have been further narrowed if Sanders had run. As evidenced by a chart provided by Mother Jones, Sanders is the most “liberal” candidate to ever run for the office. Much like Clinton, he too would have failed to get the demographics of moderate Republicans or women. 

Additionally, Sanders might have made similar miscalculations regarding the morals of Trump supporters and Trump’s appeal outside metropolitan areas, as Clinton did. In essence, his comments that Trump and some of his supporters are misogynistic, racist, etc. would not have fared well. In an interview with The Washington Post, Kathy Cramer examined the mindset of many Wisconsinites. She stated, “People felt that they weren’t getting respect. They would say: The real kicker is that people in the city don’t understand us. They don’t understand what rural life is like, what’s important to us and what challenges that we’re facing. They think we’re a bunch of redneck racists.” 

While Trump and Sanders ran similar campaigns in Rust Belt states, it can be speculated that this rural demographic would not have liked being labeled as racists by Sanders. This is ultimately echoed in his tweets stating, “I do not believe that most of the people who are thinking about voting for Mr. Trump are racist or sexist … But some are.” While this fundamentally comments on a minority of people, it is still a generalization nonetheless. After all, Clinton’s comment that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables” did not fare particularly well for her. 

It also may be speculated that Sanders’s religion could have proved to be a liability in the general election. Sandy Maisel, a professor at Colby College who tracks the status of Jews in the United States, has stated that “in some ways, it’s a non-story.” According to the Pew Research Center, studies show that 8 in 10 people say their votes wouldn’t be affected upon finding out a candidate is Jewish. However, while Sanders identifies as a secular Jew without strong organizational ties, this year saw a particularly heightened political climate marked by ethnocentrism. As mentioned above, Trump, along with a great deal of his support base, was labeled as xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic, among other things. Instances of these biases manifested themselves on numerous occasions at rallies. For example, at an Oct. 29 campaign event in Phoenix, a Trump supporter was condemned after chanting “Jew-S-A!” Similarly, according to recent FBI numbers, more than 57 percent of the 1,140 documented anti-religious hate crimes in 2014 were spurred on by anti-Semitism. Though some might state that anti-Jewish bias is not a value the majority of the electorate holds, it might also be said that it would have been brought to life because of some of Trump’s supporters. 

Thus, while it is merely speculative, evidence seems to suggest that Bernie Sanders would not have beaten Donald Trump had he been on the Democratic ticket this November. In short, while the electorate was looking for change, Bernie’s platform would have been too liberal. In contemporary terms, Sanders would have felt the “burn” if he had run against Trump. 

Nicholas Tomaino can be reached at ntomaino@umich.edu.

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