The Nation is Not Divided. And Still Prefers Bernie Sanders
[Originally published on CounterPunch, March 10, 2016]
The reportage of the presidential primaries has been heavy on personalities and the latest numbers,
and light on information useful to voters. Comparisons to a horse race are apt. Were the news to
take a documentary approach instead, the campaigns would be revealed as they are: something existing
contrary to the public's interests.
One need only consult the public opinion record to see the primaries (and their coverage) in the
correct light. In other words, by looking at the polling data on the various issuesputting aside
party ideology, the artificial liberal-conservative polarity, and the cult of personalityit becomes
immediately clear how Americans would vote outside the highly charged blue-red contest.
American public opinion, on almost all major policy issues, exists as a solid majority, belying the
persistent myth that the country is politically divided. The reality is that most
Americansgenerally by about two-thirdsstand united; they just don't agree with Capitol Hill.
Yet, within the partisan atmosphere, grievances and frustrations get channeled into the narrow
confines of party and candidate rhetoric. The GOP, in particular, has managed to advance a so-called
conservative agenda, by speciously appealing to religious devotion and white, blue-collar anger. The
party can't rely on the limited votes of millionaires (its actual constituency) so votes must be
According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, 69 percent of Americans claim to be very or somewhat angry with
regard to "the way things are going" in the country. Similarly, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal
poll indicated about the same percentage agreeing with this statement: "I feel angry because our
political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall
Street or in Washington, rather than it working to help everyday people get ahead."
The GOP has championed (with Democratic cooperation) the very economic agenda that produced this
anger in the first place, while managing to redirect their voters' aggravations toward distractions
such as immigration. Lowering taxes for the wealthy, deregulating the financial sector, and aiding
in the deindustrialization of the country are the causes of the downward economic trend of the last
thirty years, and the reason for the above statistics.
The anger is real and justified and rational. So what do Americans want? A sampling of public
Support for raising the minimum wage: 70 percent. Support for free public college: 55 percent.
Support for addressing "now" the rich-poor gap: 65 percent. Support for raising taxes on people
earning more than $1 million per year: 68 percent. Support for Medicare-for-all universal
healthcare: 58 percent. Support for the US-Iran diplomatic agreement: 55 percent. Support for the
right to a legal abortion (including "certain circumstances"): 75 percent. Disagreement with the
Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowing corporate money to flood the political process: 78
Despite a plurality of Americans describing themselves as "conservative," the majority of Americans
are, in reality, situated at the liberal centerwhat is described in the political discourse as
progressive or far-left or "socialist." As summarized in a 2011 academic paper by political
scientists Christopher Ellis and James A. Stimson,
When asked about specific government programs and specific social goals, the American public
generally wants the government to do more, spend more, and redistribute more. But at the same time,
citizens are considerably more likely to identify themselves as conservatives than as liberals. The
American public, in other words, generally wants more government-based solutions to social problems,
but overwhelmingly identifies with the ideological label that rejects those solutions....
If we calibrate the center of the political spectrum according to where most Americans stand on most
issues, what we find is that Bernie Sanders resides squarely at the political center. And it merely
follows that Hillary Clinton and certainly all the Republican candidates are positioned to the right
of the population. Therefore, the bipartisan debate does not pertain to what Americans actually want
from a candidate.
There's little question as to how America would vote in a rational setting.
What if on election day, Americans went to the polls and voted not for a preferred candidate, but
for policy specifics? That is, what if we voted in blind elections? For instance, you enter the
booth on November 8 and, instead of choosing a candidate, you fill out a questionnaire with regard
to spending on X, spending on Y, how you feel about the minimum wage, income inequality, healthcare,
the environment, and so on. Then, after voting, your ballot is compared to the different candidates
and where they stand. The candidate awarded your vote is simply the one who best approximates your
views. Under these circumstances, given the 2016 list of Democratic and Republican hopefuls, Bernie
Sanders would win by a landslide.
This of course leaves to the side the likelihood of his success in getting laws passed through
Congress. Likewise, it should be noted that Hillary Clinton's positions are commonly not so far from
Sanders's, due in part to Sanders's successful campaign. (And given Clinton's track record of being
the consummate politician, one can speculate as to how much she would walk her talk once in the
White House.) The issue here isn't the mechanics of being president; the issue here is who the
American people actually want as president. The body of data allows little room for debate.
The Republican party of Eisenhower and Nixon is no more, and has degenerated into disunity,
ultra-nationalism, and destructive economics. Its future is unknown and unassured. The party's
voting base is shrinking, the country is quickly becoming a majority of minorities (who are better
at voting their interests), and the millennial voters coming up show similar inclinations. An
unpleasant odor accompanies the death of many organisms, and the Republican field standing on the
debate stage represents the smell of decomposition.
This leaves the Democratic party, where there seems to be a similar breach occurring. As is well
known, within the GOP tensions exist between "establishment" Republicans and the far-right Tea
Party-style politicians. Though perhaps to a lesser degree, a similar rift is forming among
Democrats, one embodied by Clinton and Sanders. The Clinton-Sanders competition essentially amounts
to a Republican and a Democrat vying for nomination. Eisenhower and Nixon, back from the dead, would
likely guess Hillary Clinton to be a fellow Republican (along with Barack Obama). And Sanders,
despite the rhetoric, is simply an FDR Democrat.
Put another way, within the Democratic party is where most Americans would prefer American politics
to be situated.
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