My guest today is Seth Abramson, Assistant Professor of English at University of New Hampshire.
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Seth. You recently wrote an article with a surprising and tantalizing title: Bernie Sanders Is Currently Winning the Democratic Primary Race, and I'll Prove It to You. Why did you write this piece?
SA: I think it's because I'm equal parts pragmatist and idealist. I first became intrigued by Sanders because his brand of idealism spoke to my own; I became a Sanders voter because all the data I had available to me suggested that, while either Sanders or Clinton could very well beat Donald Trump in the fall, Sanders defeating the most dangerous politician of my lifetime was in fact a far more certain bet than Clinton doing so. And I thereafter became a columnist covering the Sanders campaign because of a third realization: that Hillary Clinton is unlikely to win the Democratic nomination via pledged delegates alone. This means that Sanders and Clinton will be making their respective cases directly to super-delegates at the convention in Philadelphia. I felt like that was a story deserving of attention and coverage.
I wrote the "Bernie Is Winning" article because I thought our national discussion of the presidential election needed an article laying out (at least in part) Sanders' upcoming case to Democratic super-delegates. And the upshot of Sanders' case is, "When voters come to know both Democratic candidates intimately, they vote for me rather than Secretary Clinton more often than not." Add that to his standing among independent voters and his head-to-head national and state-by-state polling against Trump--all better than Clinton's--and it seems clear it's a winning argument. But will it actually win the day? We don't know yet. But it certainly should.
JB: Bernie has been either ignored or discounted consistently in the corporate media. Not just contrasted with Trump's coverage, which is off the charts, but any other candidate. During one 24-hour period, the Washington Post had 16 articles about Bernie, all but two of them critical, the other two neutral. So, I wouldn't say that your opinion is shared by many, if any of your colleagues. How does that lopsided coverage affect the race, the voters, etc? Your thoughts?
SA: Look at it this way: even if the Democrats do the (small-d) democratic thing and insist that super-delegates vote for the Democratic candidate who wins more pledged (voted-upon) delegates, the national media's obsessive coverage of the horse-race--and its decision to cover that race with an emphasis on super-delegates--has grievously harmed Sanders' campaign. From the start, the DNC said that super-delegates could not be "earned" until the convention in Philadelphia, and therefore should not be tallied; instead, the media made super-delegates the focal point of its election coverage and thereby helped make a Sanders win seem impossible from day one. How many prospective Sanders voters decided not to vote because they'd been told by the media that Clinton's super-delegate "lead" made a Sanders nomination a non-starter? We'll never know.
By the same token, the media has decided to "data-dump" early votes on cable-watchers at the moment each state's polls close. If you look at the "How the Votes Came In" section of the New York Times website, you'll see that in nearly every election the first votes counted, reported, and used to determine the winner of a state's delegates were early votes. What this means is that most viewers turned off their televisions while all the Election Day votes were being counted--the votes favoring Sanders, at least in the majority of states that have voted thus far.
Add to this that Sanders has been outperforming nearly every pre-election poll, and the result looks something like this in, say, Illinois (using actual data here): in the week leading up to Election Day, Sanders voters heard on TV that their favored candidate was down 42 points; as soon as the polls closed, an early-voting data-dump made it appear like Clinton was winning the state by over 30 points; and then, long after Sanders voters had gone to bed, the final tally showed Sanders losing the state by just 1.8%.
The best part: when those Sanders voters awoke, the only headline they saw was, "Hillary Wins Illinois!" So the real narrative got buried at all stages. In fact, Sanders over-performed the pre-election polling to an historic degree; won a clear majority votes in Illinois, Hillary's home state, on Election Day; and didn't lose Illinois so much as tie it--as Hillary only ended up with three more delegates than the Senator, out of 149 awarded in total.
JB: It's an interesting perspective, to be sure. And you're absolutely right: the way the results are reported totally psychs out Bernie supporters. So is this just the nature of reportage or is this a purposeful way to discount Bernie's candidacy one way or another and assure Hillary gets the nomination?
SA: I'm not very interested in the question of motivation, to be honest. Two things, however, are clear: the media has undertaken certain actions over a prolonged period of time; they've maintained these behaviors despite legitimate outcry; these behaviors have had certain effects that should be abundantly clear--indeed superlatively clear--to the very persons responsible for them; and nothing whatsoever has been done to mitigate these effects, even as they've worsened over time.
What this means is that, at a certain point, the actions of the media become not merely negligent but willful. Seen from this perspective, the question of whether there was nefarious intent from the get-go becomes immaterial.
So the pillars of journalism--accuracy, fairness, objectivity, and transparency--have all been violated by people paid a great deal of money never to do so. And for that they should be ashamed of themselves. Failing that, they should at least start doing their jobs. I see no evidence it will happen, though; when you read the Twitter feeds of the most high-profile abusers of journalistic integrity--I'm thinking of certain people who class themselves as pollsters and reporters (not mere columnists) at The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, FiveThirtyEight.com, and elsewhere--you see nothing but scorn and snark being thrown the way of Sanders supporters. And all of it's happening shamelessly and in public, which somehow makes it all the more odious and unsettling.
JB: Agreed. Let's go back to the novel premise of your article. You talk about the difference between early voting and Election Day voting as far as Bernie's numbers are concerned. Many of our readers have not yet read your article so can you fill us in a bit on this and why it matters, and how it can affect the primaries yet to come?