In Sanders’ Country, Berned Supporters Not Yet Ready To Back Clinton

Yesterday our local volunteer fire department (motto: “We’ve never lost a foundation!”) held its annual picnic and I took the opportunity to canvass the picnickers regarding their views toward the presidential candidates. I’m in the heart of Bernie territory (he won our town by a comfortable margin over Clinton in the state primary) and so I was particularly interested in their views toward Hillary Clinton, a couple days after the conclusion of the Democratic convention. Were they coalescing behind her?

The short answer appears to be: “No.” Several expressed deep disappointment over the Tim Kaine pick, arguing that Clinton missed a major opportunity to reach out to the progressive wing of the party by choosing a less centrist, more charismatic person. More generally, almost everyone I talked to described Hillary as a deeply flawed candidate, one who simply did not excite them. More worrisome, they seemed to believe that Trump was going to win in November. None of them expressed any willingness to vote for Trump, but all had stories of fellow Bernie supporters who were now pledging to do just that. On the whole, it was a very dispirited bunch – not exactly a promising sign two days after the convention held to unify the Party!

To be sure, one needs to be careful about generalizing to all Bernie supporters based on a very small and unrepresentative sampling at a local fire department. But I have learned the hard way that what I read on my twitter feed, and hear on the cable shows, is not very likely to tell me much about how rank-and-file voters are thinking – something I discovered when I belatedly caught on to the Trump phenomenon only after attending his rallies. Moreover, my non-random sample is consistent with the results of a recent state-wide poll* that found, when given a choice between Clinton, Trump or Gary Johnson, only 53% of Bernie supporters say they will support Clinton. Interestingly, given the choice options, 30% of Sanders’ supporters chose “someone else” – but not Jill Stein, who garnered only 1% support. Remarkably, Clinton gets under 50% support statewide in this bluest of blue states, according to this poll.

Many Clinton supporters are taking solace in a recent Pew poll showing that in a two-way race between Trump and Clinton, 90% of “consistent” Sanders’ supporters will choose Clinton. But keep in mind that the Pew survey evidently did not give respondents the option to choose a third-party candidate, or “other”. So it may be overstating support for Clinton among Sanders’ supporters who in November will have the option of voting for someone other than Clinton (or Trump).

I have long argued that most Sanders’ supporters will come around to Clinton eventually. (Of course, I also argued that Donald Trump would not win the Republican nomination!) I still feel that way. But here in the heart of Bernie-land, I sense very little excitement for Clinton’s candidacy as yet. It may be that his supporters are still in the early stages of grief, and have yet to come to terms with the fact that their candidate has lost. As one Vermont delegate told the Vermont Digger: “I realize that this is a process of bereavement, completely, and that’s five phases. I am not at the depression part anymore, but I’m not quite at acceptance.” Apparently many Sanders’ delegates went into the Democratic Convention believing that Bernie still had a shot at winning, and were completely unprepared when he came out in Clinton’s favor. So they have not had much time to adjust to this new reality. For Bernie’s part, he was on Face the Nation this morning vowing to do everything he could to defeat Trump. At the same time, however, he also said part of his role in the campaign would be to make sure Clinton didn’t waver from the policy commitments she had worked out in conjunction with the Sanders’ camp. Some might construe that as less than a full commitment to Clinton’s candidacy.

Bernie supporters. Here in Vermont they are Feeling the Bern. It’s just not the type of Bern they expected. And it’s going to take a while to heal – if it ever does.

*The Vermont poll was in the field July 11-23, so concluded before the Democratic National Convention.

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