It is still far, far to early to draw any conclusions, but the results of yesterday’s New Hampshire (NH) primary leave open the question of where Bernie Sanders really stands in the Democratic Party race, never mind whether he can defeat Trump.
Democrats’ liberal vs. conservative wings
Four years ago, Sanders won 60% of the vote against Hillary Clinton in the NH primary. This time, against multiple candidates, he got 26% vs. 24% for Buttigieg and 20% for Klobuchar. He and his supporters are trumpeting this as a great victory, but is it really? Basically, the Democratic Party falls into two camps – the “progressives” (i.e. liberals) and the “moderates” (actually, conservatives), with Sanders and Warren (to an extent) representing the former. Together, their wing got 35% of the votes. The conservative wing of Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden got 52%. (Other candidates such as Steyer and Gabbard cannot really be classified as being in either wing.)
According to a Washington Post exit poll, 63% of voters said that the most important issue to them is whether a candidate can beat Trump (vs. having the same position on the issues). Of those, 44% voted for the progressive/liberal wing and 58% voted for the conservative wing. (Note: This is an interactive poll which is well worth examining in general.)
Then there is the question of the “youth” vote. Sanders got 51% of the votes of those under 35 years old. New Hampshire is way disproportionately white, but this lead among younger voters is not confined only to whites . According to Vox young black voters prefer Sanders over Biden by 12 points. (He also got 38% of those with incomes under $50,000.) Whether the youth vote can propel him into becoming the nominee and into the White House is questionable, however. After all, those between the ages of 20-34 only compose 31% of the US population, while those 35 and older compose 48%. Nor did the NH turnout decisively prove Sanders’s main claim: That enthusiasm for his programs would vastly increase the turnout among young voters and other disaffected voters. Total turnout in this primary was 285,680. This far outpaced the 2016 turnout of 254,780, but about matched the 2008 turnout of 288,672.
Then there is the overall message. Sanders mainly campaigns around the economic issues. (The way healthcare is raised by all but Marianne Williams, it is an economic question.) Twenty-one percent of the voters said “income inequality” was the most important issue to them. Of those voters, 34% voted for Sanders and 13% for Warren. However, how important will these related issues be to voters in general? A recent Gallup poll revealed that 60% of Americans said they were better off financially today than they were a year ago and 74% expect to be even better off in a year from now.
Working class independence
There is still a long, long ways to go, and all sorts of shocks are possible. Such shocks can totally upset the present political balance. But the more left Sandersnistas should ask themselves a question: If Sanders fails at either stage of this process, what will have been gained in the process? What sort of organization will have been left behind? In what way will any section of the US working class have been better organized independently of the two big capitalist parties? In what way will the grip on the unions by that conservative and, in fact, cowardly union leadership have been weakened? In fact, even if Sanders becomes Number 46, given that the rest of the Democratic Party would do its best to thwart his every “progressive” initiative, these questions would still remain.