The first votes for the Democratic primary were cast a few days ago in Iowa. That, in and of itself was its own debacle, which we will cover once all the data is in. Instead, today we will cover one of the more peculiar criticisms lobbed at Bernie Sanders coming into the race.
Leading into this, media pundits, DNC officials, and other major voices have worked over-time to attack the momentum Bernie Sanders has developed over the past several weeks.
The New York Times and other major publications have written smears about Sanders supporters, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly made divisive claims about Sanders and the campaign, and Politico published an unverified claim as real news.
Among all of these criticisms and hostilities, there is one claim that is particularly egregious: that the Sanders movement is reminiscent of the vitriol in Trump’s base.
Why do people make this assumption? The Trumpian philosophy is diametrically opposed to that of the Sanders movement. One is in favor of supply-side economics, the other for democratic socialism. One supports free market health insurance companies, the other M4A. One side enforces racist and xenophobic border policies, the other doesn’t.
Yet the relationship continues.
Let’s take a moment to dig into this sentiment. The truth is, there are similarities in the way these two affect their supporters, and both share a similar anger and economic disparity. However, for every similarity there are twice as many differences. One is ultimately a fraud parading as populist, and the other demands real and radical change to a failing system.
The Similarity: Heated Passion and Loyalty
The common criticism of both the Sanders and Trump camps is the anger that each can exhibit. As a diehard Bernie supporter (a “Bro” if you will), I both confirm and deny this assessment.
Yes, Trump’s most loyal supporters are aggressive, vitriolic, and emblematic of some of the most toxic elements of American culture. Some supporters are even prone to violence. Trump also emboldens racists, and his refusal to decry white supremacist leaders and movements has led to an uptick in violence.
Trump’s supporters also bully people online, something that occasionally happens in the Bernie camp. However, the relationship doesn’t hold up when looked at from a larger scope. Practically every campaign has its host of toxic supporters, and bad actors(among other negative news) are largely exaggerated and disproportionately reported.
So while all camps have their toxic elements, the intensity of hate is multiplied exponentially in the Trump camp. Trump often stokes these flames by encouraging supporters to be aggressive and frequently discredits anyone who disagrees with him.
While Sanders is certainly not shy about calling out corruption (both within the media and politcial establishment), he has frequently denounced any kind of vitriol in his own movement: particularly any form of sexism or racism.
All of this being said, one cannot deny a singular component both Trump and Sanders’ supporters have in common: rage. Rage at the media. Rage at the political establishment. Rage at figures and leaders who frequently dismiss or belittle the voices and needs of these people.
In many ways, this rage is justified. Many Trump and Sanders supporters come from the working class, have experienced first hand the devastating effects of deindustrialization, and both have developed a disdain for establishment politics. Both camps have also come to despise the contrived niceties and pleasantries associated with status quo politics. Both want a shaker, a mover, and a loud voice to carry their anger into Washington D.C.
Trump and Sanders both meet these requirements.
However, that is where the differences end. While both are fueled by rage at status quo politics, that rage is held by two very different coalitions with two very different schools of thought.
The Differences: Demographics and Political Philosophy
Both Trump and Sanders are given the same treatment in the media in regards to their base: both represent disenfranchised white people, particularly men. Below, I will show why that is undoubtedly true for Trump, and why it is flatly wrong about Bernie Sanders.
Who is Trump’s Base?
Trump’s base is presumed to be white and largely working class. When you look at the data, that mostly pans out. However, when you break things down further, his support is actually a bit more complicated.
Sean McElwee at Data For Progress has an incredible breakdown of Trump supporters, and his findings shed a significant amount of light on the type of people who would support him.
In his research, McElwee finds:
If we define the base as a group making up a non-trivial share of the electorate that overwhelmingly prefers one party, it is fair to call white evangelicals Trump’s base. If we define the base purely by the size of the coalition, we might prefer instead white non-college voters or whites over 50, both of whom make up more than half of Trump’s voters.”
Data For Progress
McElwee finds that while non-college whites are the largest factor for Trump’s base, the same can be said for practically every candidate in the race. The other two significant factors were whether the supporters identified as evangelicals (whom Trump overwhelmingly won the support of) or if they were over 50.
Based on these findings, we can conclude that Trump’s base is largely non-college, white evangelicals. He appealed to them with anti-choice rhetoric and by running with Mike Pence.
These are not people who support progressive policies, such as Bernie’s M4A or Free College plans. They also largely support the xenophobic and transphobic policies of the Trump administration.
Many of Trump’s supporters are also over fifty, while Bernie by and large appeals to younger voters.
In layman’s terms, these are not people who would support Bernie Sanders. However, it is worth noting that there is some cross-over. Roughly ten percent of Sanders supporters ended up voting for Trump in the primary.
While there is no way to know for sure, this is likely more of an anti-establishment vote than any kind of endorsement of Trump’s hateful policies. It is also significantly less than the number of Hillary supporters who voted for McCain over Obama in 2008.
Who Is Bernie’s Base?
The exact numbers for Bernie Sanders supporters are a bit more nebulous. There hasn’t been an in-depth analysis such as the one from Data From Progress (though that would be a fantastic read).
However, one thing is for certain. The stereotype of the Bernie Bro is debunked. The reality is, there is no significant difference in favorability between men and women on Bernie Sanders.
According to this polling data, 32% men would definitely vote for Bernie Sanders along with 31% of women.
The same is true of voters of color. Bernie leads with Hispanic voters, with 37% saying they would definitely vote with him. 32% of African Americans also said they would definitely vote for him.
That kind of support doesn’t come to someone who only appeals to white males.
In reality, based on his fundraising stats, Bernie Sanders has the most diverse and inclusive coalition in modern history. Not to mention he fundraises entirely through grassroots support. His main contributors are teachers and Walmart and Amazon employees.
Keep in mind also why these people rally around him. Bernie has built a coalition based on Medicare For All in a time when healthcare is the majority of Americans’ #1 concern. He advocates for a Green New Deal which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and address the worst effects of climate change all at once.
He also advocates for the most comprehensive reforms for criminal justice, economic disparity, and many other issues.
The anger within the Sanders coalition does not come from a place of hate for others, but from a sense of solidarity with their fellow supporters. And there in lies the difference.
While both Trump and Bernie’s camps exhibit anger at the status quo, that is where their similarities end and their differences begin.
Trump supporters have the same economic anxieties, but they use their fear and outrage to prop up dangerous and divisive polices. Sanders’ camp uses their rage to come together against bad faith forces looking to undo their movement.
You cannot — with any intellectual honesty — compare nebulous anger that facilitates fear-mongering with class solidarity, the most necessary component to any progressive movement.
So yes, Bernie Sanders supporters get mad when mainstream media lies about them and when former political figures flagrantly make divisive comments. They also are infuriated when major figures of their movement are raked over the coals for responding negatively to that toxic rhetoric.
They are mad, and they are ready to fight like hell.
And they have a right to be.