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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/29/20

Bernie Sanders: Pro and Con

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Bernie Sanders
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It appears that Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic Nomination -- the 538 website rates his chances as "1 in 2." Bernie is not my favorite candidate; nonetheless, if he wins the Democratic nomination, I'll work hard for him. Here's my assessment of Bernie's strengths and weaknesses.

The latest Real Clear Politics summary of national polls shows Sanders beating Trump by an average of 4.7 percent. Nonetheless, we remember all too well that Clinton led Trump throughout a long and agonizing campaign and then lost the election, courtesy of the electoral college. Bernie can beat Trump but it's far from certain.

Sanders' strengths:

1. Enthusiasm. If you've followed the 2020 Democratic nomination process, you've probably noticed that Bernie Sanders' followers are the most enthusiastic. There are a lot of reasons for this, but Sanders' rallies have the most energy.

It isn't always the case that follower enthusiasm translates into get-out-the-vote energy, but it is a major consideration; in my experience, 2008 Obama election workers were more enthusiastic than 2016 Clinton workers. Enthusiasm is an important factor because, at the moment, Democratic voters, in general, are more enthusiastic than Republican voters.

Imagine two campaign rallies in Ohio: one for Trump and the other for the Democratic nominee. Only a Bernie rally would match the enthusiasm at the Trump rally. This makes sense because both candidates rile up their audience with a populist, "blow up the establishment" message.

2. Broad Coalition: Bernie appears to be able to build the broad coalition that Democrats have been yearning for. The Nevada Democratic caucus exit polls indicate that Sanders carried most Demographic groups; for example, all age groups except those voters aged 65 and over. (Sanders carried 29 percent of White-non Hispanic voters and 51 percent of Hispanic voters.)

A lot of concerns that we might have had about Bernie's ability to build a broad coalition have been assuaged in the last couple of weeks. His core message resonates with all segments of the Democratic Party although he needs to do more to reach out to women who were once ardent Hillary supporters. (Bernie's core message is "the system is rigged:" "Bernie has fought tirelessly for working families, focusing on the shrinking middle class and growing gap between the rich and everyone else.")

3. Swing State Strength: Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because she faltered in critical swing states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wiscconsin. According to Real Clear Politics, in Michigan, Sanders leads Trump by 5.3 percent; in Pennsylvania, Sanders leads Trump by 3 percent; and in Wisconsin, Trump leads Sanders by 1 percent. (BTW: In the last Ohio poll, Sanders was ahead of Trump; they're tied in Florida.)

Sanders' Weaknesses:

1. Socialist label: Bernie describes himself as a "Democratic Socialist." This has given pundits a huge opportunity to criticize him. Many mainstream-media talking heads have declared that because of his socialist label, Sanders will never beat Trump. I'm not convinced that the socialist label will make that much of a difference.

First, Sanders isn't really a socialist. New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, observed: "The thing is, Bernie Sanders isn't actually a socialist in any normal sense of the term. He doesn't want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning; he has expressed admiration, not for Venezuela, but for Denmark. He's basically what Europeans would call a social democrat and social democracies like Denmark are, in fact, quite nice places to live, with societies that are, if anything, freer than our own."

Second, there will be two kinds of 2020 campaign ads: vitriol and substance. The Republican vitriol ads will call Bernie a socialist and predict dire consequences. The Democratic vitriol ads will call Trump a pathological liar and a Russian asset. If you already like Trump you will vote for him regardless of the negative ads; if you don't like Trump, you're unlikely to vote for him regardless of what they say about Bernie.

Nonetheless, a recent academic study published in Vox suggests that a Sanders' candidacy would be problematic: "Our survey data reveals voters of all parties moving to Trump if Sanders is nominated, a liability papered over by young voters who claim they would be inspired to vote by Sanders alone."

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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