The Lazy Liberal Scapegoating of Millennials and Bernie Sanders

The Hillary Clinton campaign is “alarmed by the drift of young voters toward the third-party candidates,” according to the New York Times.  So are many Clinton supporters, including Clara Jeffery and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.  Jeffery says she has “never hated millennials more,” while Drum directs his hatred not at millennials but at Bernie Sanders, whom Drum argues “convinced young voters that Hillary Clinton was a shifty, corrupt, lying shill who cared nothing for real progressive values – despite a literal lifetime of fighting for them.”  Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA is “launching a multimillion-dollar digital campaign that talks about what’s at stake and how a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump.”

These reactions misunderstand and condescend to millennials and ignore vital context about two main points.

First, millennials have very good reasons to oppose a Clinton presidency.  As I’ve tried to explain to Drum before (he has ignored me), many millennials, myself included, grew up with his perception of Hillary Clinton – that she is a good Democrat fighting the mean Republicans and subject to a relentless stream of unfair criticism from the corporate press.  It has only been during my adult life, after a lot of research, that I’ve developed my current view: Clinton may sometimes be the subject of unfair press coverage, but she also has a large, influential group of media cheerleaders and has been on the wrong side of numerous issues important to populations I care about: war, criminal justice, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, the death penalty, international trade, and anti-poverty policy, to name a few.  Drum’s idea that Bernie Sanders’ accurate critiques of Hillary Clinton’s record hoodwinked millennials into our current views is both patronizing and inaccurate.

Millennials recognize that third-party voting comes with tradeoffs.  While it does increase the likelihood that the worse of two major-party candidates will emerge victorious in an election (though much less so than third-party critics claim), it also has the potential to help break the two-party system open in the long run and holds Democrats accountable for ignoring the policies their base desires, policies that would help millions of disadvantaged people.  “Whether you think the pros outweigh the cons depends on a number of factors,” as I’ve argued before, “including how much optimism you have about a third-party voting bloc’s ability to use its power effectively and how much worse you think Trump is than Clinton.”

Which brings me to my second point: while it’s perfectly fine for someone to believe that defeating Trump should be our top priority, anyone espousing that viewpoint should have supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.  The evidence overwhelmingly indicated – for months, getting stronger all the time – that Sanders would have been more likely than Clinton to beat Trump in a general election matchup.  The only rebuttal to that evidence – that Sanders hadn’t faced real criticism and that his numbers would tank when he did, if he eventually became the nominee – fell apart very quickly upon inspection.

In fact, what drew Jeffery’s ire was a now-deleted paragraph from a New York Times story that confirmed why Sanders would have been more electable than Clinton:

The third-party candidates draw their strongest support from younger voters.  Twenty-six percent of voters ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote for Mr. Johnson, and another 10 percent back Ms. Stein.  A little more than one in five political independents say they will vote for one of the third-party candidates.

Drum points out that millennial support for third-party candidates in the referenced poll is a bit higher than it typically appears to be (he also links to a FiveThirtyEight analysis suggesting that it is strongest among people under 25), but he admits that “Clinton is clearly doing worse among millennials than Obama did four years ago.”  These results were completely predictable; millennials and independents were the groups among which Sanders most dominated Clinton in the primary and are two constituencies for whom support for Democrats (and/or showing up in November) is most likely to be conditional.  “Voters in these groups – unlike voters in Clinton’s key constituencies – may very well abandon the Democrats if Clinton is the party’s nominee,” I wrote in March.  That’s exactly what appears to be happening.

Despite the foreseeability of this result during the primary, Drum asserted that Clinton was “almost certain to be more electable in November than a self-declared democratic socialist,” citing exactly no evidence to back up this claim.  It seems odd that he, Jeffery, and other Democrats spent so little of their time analyzing the electability evidence during the primary, given their intense focus on beating Trump today.  If they had, they would have known what people like me had been trying to tell them for a very long time – large numbers of millennials and Independents who would vote for Sanders might very well not vote for Clinton – and, if beating Trump was their prime objective, spent their time pleading with older Democratic voters to support Sanders.

Millennial voting patterns are thus not only a product of voters’ legitimate analyses and electoral strategy; they’re also entirely expected.  Those upset about them who backed Clinton in the primary and/or advanced the incorrect notion that she was more electable than Sanders have nobody to “hate” but themselves.

33 Comments

Filed under 2016 Presidential Election

33 responses to “The Lazy Liberal Scapegoating of Millennials and Bernie Sanders

  1. Tom Block

    Excellent points, Ben — though I remain more terrified of Trump than you do. I vow to stop reading the newspapers if he is elected! And my favorite line of the many juicy ones in this post is definitely: “As I’ve tried to explain to Drum before (he has ignored me) . . .” I’m afraid that by the time you are ready to run for President there won’t be much of a country left to lead . . . Tom

  2. Sanity Please

    Ben, with respect as always, I believe your analysis is flawed. We disagree about how viable a Sanders general election candidacy would have been. I can tell you that my belief that he would have been weaker than Clinton was sincere and based on historic precedents. We had an honest disagreement, and Clinton’s current troubles don’t prove that he would not have done even worse.

    Now that she is the Democratic candidate, you correctly list the three most important factors for deciding whether to vote for a 3rd party: how horrible one thinks a Trump Presidency would be, whether voting 3rd party makes a Trump Presidency more likely, and how feasible and valuable it is to contribute to a left voting block that refuses to vote for Democrats.

    I think (hope) that we agree about what a disaster it would be to unleash a President Trump on the nation, the environment, and the world. If so, your assertion that voting third party will have less of an impact on the outcome than critics assert becomes pivotal. I’m trying to understand why you would say that. You want large numbers of voters to desert the Democratic candidate, yet you claim that if this happens it won’t have that much of an impact on the election.

    That is an evasion of responsibility. If you succeed, if large numbers of people switch from Clinton to Stein, then you will have contributed to Trump’s election. You argue that “lazy liberals” will also have contributed. Perhaps so. Perhaps they made tactical mistakes. But at least they will have done their best to defeat him.

    Will you be able to say the same?

    • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

      Come on.

      You might have sincerely believed HRC was stronger than Sanders vs. Trump, but it’s time to admit you were sincerely WRONG.

      The Democratic party needs those young voters and the enthusiasm they had for Sanders. The corrupt and cynical Dem establishment waged a short-sighted, scorched earth campaign against them. That is, they smeared Sanders supporters as a group as young white males who behave badly online, and the corporate media was happy to go along.

      So here we are, with a Dem nominee who is about the only person who could even come close to losing to Trump.

      As I’ve often said, the corporate Dems would rather lose elections than control of the party and the graft they derive from it.

      If Trump, the ultimate rusty tomato can of an opponent, somehow becomes President, those same Dems who tried to rig it for HRC are the ones to blame. And people like you, who went along with it.
      ~

      • Sanity Please

        You may be supremely confident in your opinion, but using all caps and calling names doesn’t make you any more correct. The fact is that younger voters remain a small part of the electorate, which is why Clinton beat Sanders in the primaries. It wasn’t the “corrupt and cynical” Democratic establishment, but Democratic base voters including — overwhelmingly — people of color who chose her over him. Just as she is having trouble connecting with millenials, he would have struggled to win the votes of moderate Democrats who are more numerous.

        But honestly, those are arguments from another time. The question now is who you are going to vote for. If you fail to vote for Clinton you help Trump to win. That’s math. Accept it. This election is in your hands.

        • FortheloveofMary

          Oh please. I’ve been voting for over 30 years and Democrats cry the exact same thing each and every time. It doesn’t matter who the GOP candidate it. He is always the boogeyman. Democrats shame, bully & red-bait each and every election. Then they shame,blame & bully more. Do you wonder why your party sits at about 28% of the electorate and falling? Progressives have LEFT the party. Check Gallup and other valid graphs as to when the exodus began, then ask yourself why. It was long before this prez cycle.

          I look forward to what it is after this election. The Democrats deserve NOTHING from Independents. Clinton had the opportunity to court us. She shunned for courting GOP instead. And you want our vote why? To save your asses & the 2 party system again? That ship has sailed. Maybe one day you’ll understand that votes must be earned. Particularly when your party is sinking faster than the Titanic all the while pretending that the ball in the grand hall has just started.

          Good riddance.

          • Sanity Please

            There are two kinds of arguments for supporting a third party candidate, one of which I respect and the other not so much. Some people acknowledge how much of a danger a Trump Presidency would pose to our world but are confident enough that he’ll lose that they feel safe voting for someone besides Clinton. Fair enough. It’s a huge risk, but defensible.

            Others minimize the impact Trump would have on the environmental ment, race relations, international law, and democracy itself. So, to be clear, you fall into the latter camp. You think elections are all about you, not about the way our nation is governed. For you they are about which party “deserves” your support and whether you have been “courted.”And you somehow haven’t haven’t noticed the unique challenge to our way of life that Trump poses. For you, this election is just like all of the others.

            All I can do is to ask you and others reading this to reflect if that is so. Read about the man-boy who would have the key to our nation’s treasury and would command our troops. Please. Vote responsibly.

    • Fed Up

      “Perhaps they made tactical mistakes. But at least they will have done their best to defeat him.”

      If liberals wanted to do their best to defeat Trump, then maybe their party should have supported the guy who was getting votes to cross lines and polled better against Cheeto Mussolini instead of using the graft and quite frankly, unprofessional behavior that their DNC used against him in the primary to ensure a Hillary Clinton victory for the behest of big donors to the party (which own BOTH parties).

      Blaming the voters is a tactic careerists use on the right wing side; the fact that liberals did so just so their friends could benefit from her presidency at the expense of millions of people goes to show that they think politics is a game, and not a life or death struggle for millions of people. The blame laid on millennials is mute because it is US who will be dealing with the struggles of climate change, no retirement savings, and a generation in ad hoc to one thing or the other in a economic climate that breeds fasicst comtempt, low growth, and mobility stagnation.

      70% of the electorate is independent in some form or fashion. Most of them are hurting. They reject the two party system and the continual lies being spewed out by it…even Obama, a good president, did not deliver on promises that were reachable, and even sided with the right wing on some pretty horrid issues like drone warfare, single payer healthcare, transparency, whistleblower protection, immigration deportation, and Wall St immunity. The gains from this unprecedented stock market have gone mostly to the top 10%. The working class and the poor actually live the destitute lives that liberals throw pity towards when their friends retweet a story on their stream about homelessness, joblessness, gender pay gaps, worsening working conditions, or crushing student and medical debt.

      So spare me with “their best to defeat Trump” talk.

      “Losers always whine about their best…..winners go home and fuck the prom queen” – Sean Connery in “The Rock”

    • Donna Bradley

      You are wrongly assuming that we “switched from Clinton to Stein”. We were never going to vote for Hellary. EVER!I I am not a millennial either I am 62. A3 generations in my family will be voting for Stein!

      • Sanity Please

        That’s your right, Donna. May you be at peace with your choice.

        • Cruzin

          At peace with your choice? Is this the new meme designed to bring the sheep back in? I have heard it about my choice to support 3rd party. I stand with OP. Back in primary all I heard is my vote (and other Sander supporters) were not needed. To go home and cry in our cereal. You had your rubber-stamped candidate and it did not matter if there was a better alternative. She was NEVER going to get my vote either. Sanders would have. Chickens…meet your new roost.

    • Thanks for the thoughts; I have three comments:

      1) Your opinion on electability, which I don’t doubt was sincere, is not the same as evidence, all of which pointed to Sanders being more electable. That has been confirmed in recent polling results. If you care about evidence, I do think you need to admit at some point that your opinion is contradicted by all that is available.

      2) Third-party voting and not voting are choices that are, at most, a -1 for Clinton, if you assume that the people making those decisions would otherwise be Clinton supporters. That’s at most half as significant as a -1 for Clinton and a +1 for Trump, to which many third-party critics equate it. Many third-party critics also claim that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election, which is very misleading, not in the least because many more Democrats voted for Bush than for Nader (see http://www.salon.com/2000/11/28/hightower/). These things are what I’m referencing when I say “much less so than third-party critics claim.”

      3) I think Trump would make a bad president, but I don’t think the difference between Trump and Clinton is as stark as many people do (see https://34justice.com/2016/05/14/perspective-should-trump-sensationalism/). I think the risks of lesser-evil voting are greater than a Trump victory this year.

      • Sanity Please

        Thanks for our response, Ben.

        We can agree to disagree about whether Sanders would be doing better in the counter-factual that he had become the nominee. I believe you put too much faith in polls of hypothetical matchups that don’t incorporate the damage that can be done to a person’s reputation by a general election campaign.

        I agree with you that voting third party isn’t as harmful to Clinton as voting for Trump would be, but that’s not really the point is it? If someone is like Donna and would never vote for her, then that’s just a vote she won’t get. But people reading this who are deciding between Stein and Clinton shouldn’t be under any illusions. In a close race, those decisions could throw the election to Trump. It’s a serious decision.

        Finally, I’m sorry but I was very disappointed by the piece you linked to arguing that Trump’s election might not be so bad. The piece seems to argue that some of his statements on issues leave room to doubt the sincerity of the most scary out of bounds things he has said. My friend, that is wishful thinking. History teaches us that it is a grave mistake to ignore the awful things that authoritarians promise to do once in power.

        It’s not just that he’s said racist things, it’s that he is a racist since the days he was sued by the justice department for blatantly denying apartments to African Americans. It’s not just that he is wrong on issues, he’s an authoritarian with no respect, or even understanding of the Bill of Rights. He says he wants to crack down on journalists when he becomes President and his treatment of journalists on the campaign makes that plausible. His plans for immigrants are now very clear after some post convention hemming and hawing, and very frightening, and if elected he will have a mandate to put them into action. The list of areas where he has promised to inflict mortal damage is very very long.

        Ben, we have thankfully never elected a man like Donald Trump to lead our nation, but history is rife with the results of countries that put their trust in authoritarian figures and lived to regret it. One reason a large percentage of immigrants oppose him and fear him is not only the things he says, but the fact that many of them have seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well. Trump is a type, and once in power his ilk tend to loot their nation’s treasuries, impoverish their people, and engage in military exploits for glory and distraction. Americans like to think we are immune to that kind of leader, but Trump’s candidacy is proving us wrong.

        Perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps he’ll just inflict the kind of damage done by previous Republicans like Bush and Reagan.

        i hope never to have to find out.

        • No problem. I don’t “agree to disagree” on evidence questions, though :), and I’ve repeatedly address the point about “the damage that can be done to a person’s reputation by a general election campaign” in my pieces (Adam Johnson also has a good piece on it, linked at the bottom of this piece: https://34justice.com/2016/04/29/the-electability-counterfactual/). The fact of the matter is that you have to ignore evidence to argue against Sanders being more electable, and I think “the evidence doesn’t matter” is a pretty untenable position.

          You raise some fair points about Trump, and they are concerns I understand. Many people I respect hold them and I see where you’re coming from. I disagree, however, for the reasons I laid out in my piece. I’d be having a harder time deciding what to do if Ted Cruz had been the Republican nominee, as I think he’s much worse than Trump. Sadly, racism is not a Donald Trump phenomenon, and I am not convinced that dog-whistle politics are much better than overt forms of prejudice.

          Anyway, I do know where you stand on the issue of third-party voting, and I very much appreciate the thoughtful comments.

  3. Max Thomas S

    This is a well argued point, but I have a few critiques:
    1. Just as Hillary Clinton has problems with the progressive wings ( includes millennials) of the Democratic Party, so too would Bernie have with moderate democrats (who constitute a far bigger portion of the party) and on the fence republicans (who might see voting for a far-left candidate a stretch too far from usual republican values). Democrats might have fallen in line with Bernie Sanders (just as many HRC voters did for Obama) but ultimately more democrats voted for Hillary (and in ’08),
    which is indicative of who they want as president.
    2. As you saw when HRC’s lead reached double-digits, Republicans panicked about down ticket losses. In the case of a greater lead, Republicans might make the case (as McCain has done), that people should vote for them to act as a check against more radical ideas. An amenable idea given how far left Bernie is.
    3. A lot of the reason why Obama has been unable to pass measures that the democratic base values is because he no longer controls the house or the senate. So equally important as third-party voting to progressives should be turning out to the midterms to vote Democrats (2014 and 2010 were disasters).
    4. Finally, a note of warning, HRC should reach out more to Millenials, yes, but Millenials should understand what’s at stake this election. The democrats are staring down the barrel of a gun. Not only is Trump uniquely unqualified to be president, a republican victory would set the progressive cause back decades. Republicans would gain control of the executive branch and cement leads in the house and senate that would be later enhanced by 2018 and 2020 elections. Republicans would also be able to stock the supreme and high courts with conservatives, whose decisions could stand for decades.

    • Luis de Leon

      You can rally all you want for the “progressive cause” and “what’s at stake” but without mentioning that Hillary supports subsidies for oil pipelines it comes off as really insincere. About 1 in 3 moderate Democrats don’t think global warming is a big deal. These are the agents of change? Moderate Democrats voted for Clinton in the 90’s where we inflamed the Muslim world with bombs, and then when we got attacked, Hillary joined the push to the right, endorsed the Iraq war and delivered us 8 years of Bush.

      What Bernie represents is a move back to the center-left, a healthy turn for the party that energized the base and young voters enough to out poll every other candidate running.

    • Thanks, Max, for the thoughts. I’ll respond to each of your points below:

      1) I’m not sure moderate Democrats *are* a much bigger wing of the party; many people who voted for Clinton consider themselves to be progressive Democrats and somehow managed to convince themselves that she was the more electable and/or progressive option – that makes them wrong on these points but not moderate per se.

      While I don’t disagree that some moderate Democrats could have fled the party if Sanders were the nominee, the evidence we have suggests that fewer people would have fled a Sanders nomination than are fleeing Clinton’s win, which is what I repeatedly showed and is what I’m referencing here.

      2) Republicans could make this case, but given that Bernie’s ideas are very popular (remember, for example, that a majority of Republican voters support raising the minimum wage), it’s hard to believe they’d have much success.

      3) Turning people out for the midterms is very important – on this point we agree. But I would push you to remember that Obama did have the House and Senate during the first part of his first term and didn’t push for very power-balancing policy. I voted for Jill Stein in 2012 in part because of my realization during the Obama years that the Democrats often pay lip service to progressive values without actually fighting for them (and while sometimes undermining them); Sanders was the rare Democratic candidate who I thought could break that mold.

      4) I think the Supreme Court is your best argument, but I still believe the risks of lesser-evil voting are greater in the long run than the risks of a Trump presidency relative to a Clinton presidency (see https://34justice.com/2015/12/19/why-i-reject-lesser-of-two-evils-ism/ and https://34justice.com/2016/05/14/perspective-should-trump-sensationalism/). I think you can make a coherent argument on both sides of this issue.

      • Max Thomas S

        Thanks for responding.
        1) I’ll concede that it’s very likely that less voters would have fled the party if Bernie Sanders was elected. No doubt because of his stance and issues. But also partly because if Bernie, a candidate popular with independents, captures the nomination, HRC supporters have nowhere else to go. I think a similar situation explains some republicans supporting Trump, they feel that an outsider has hijacked their party but they feel they have nowhere else to go.
        2) Bill Clinton was expected to win massively against Bob Dole in 1996. But Republicans focused on a down-ticket message and did not concede a majority in the house or senate. Also, Democrats suffer somewhat from poor down-ticket choices in this election and gerrymandering in the House. I’m not so sure about republicans supporting a minimum wage increase, do you have evidence for this?
        3) Yes, Obama did have control of the House and Senate from 2010 to 2012, but he only had a senate supermajority for 4 months. Also, Obama’s rhetoric on the campaign trail was that he would help bring an end to bipartisanship, obviously with hindsight this was doomed to fail and that he should have enacted a more radical agenda while he still had control of congress, but given how toxic partisanship is to legislation, this is understandable. Yep, democrats sometimes pay lip service to progressive ideas, there is no doubt about that. However, things like the ACA, which is a massive achievement, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (I think I got that right) and CC-action indicate that democrats really do care. It might be slower than one hopes, but change really does take time.
        4. Out of curiosity, why did you say that you think Cruz is worse than Trump in an earlier comment?

        • No problem! On the minimum wage, here’s a poll on it: http://www.nelp.org/content/uploads/2015/03/PR-Federal-Minimum-Wage-Poll-Jan-2015.pdf.

          On Obama, I believe you mean 2009-2010. He certainly isn’t omnipotent, but he could have accomplished a lot more than the White House tried to suggest (see https://34justice.com/2013/10/06/the-shutdown-blame-republicans-but-watch-the-democrats/).

          Finally, this piece might give you some sense of my thoughts on Trump v. Cruz: https://34justice.com/2016/05/14/perspective-should-trump-sensationalism/.

          • Max Thomas S

            Thanks. A majority of Republicans support background checks and yet hope of that legislation passing is exceedingly dim. I think the same would hold true for a large ($15) increase of the minimum wage.
            I am aware that Obama does have flaws, but he is probably the best president of the last half of the century.
            Trump has such meaningless positions and positions that you can’t actually compare HRC and DT, because the latter produces nothing substantial in an attempt to avoid facts.

            • I think it is self-defeating to give up on issues that have broad popular support, and we’ve seen with the Fight for $15 that minimum wage initiatives have been very successful on ballots and are gaining steam at the state and local level in general.

              On Obama, I’d say that’s a fine perspective, but it’s damning with faint praise. We should expect better.

              Lastly, you’re right that there is a gap between Trump and Clinton, but I think it is frequently overstated, for many of the reasons I lay out in my piece.

          • Max Thomas S

            In regards to the minimum wage, I didn’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t fight for it, just that it is unlikely to be passed, especially since what applies to some parts of America does not apply to all and businesses will need more than 4 years to adjust from a doubling of the minimum wage.

            I think Obama suffered from 6 years of not having control of both houses where necessary adjustments to his domestic policies could be made more easily (such as tightening regulations with regards to the Dodd – Frank Act, stricter gun control measures and perhaps even a public option for ACA). We do expect better (I wouldn’t go as far to say damning with faint praise though), but we should also acknowledge that he’s been pretty good.

            I did read your piece and I acknowledge that the media sometimes sensationalizes Trump’s (and democrats often in the process of trying to portray him as singularly unhinged become hypocritical in the process, for example Democrats condemning Trump for suggesting better relationships with Russia). However, it is not possible to compare DT’s policies with HRC, since a) he doesn’t have any and b) we can’t extrapolate from his positions because he changes so much.

            Also, thanks for pointing out my mistake about 2010 -2012 (when the period in question was actually 2008 – 2010).

  4. No problem. I again disagree on some of the specifics you mention, for many of the reasons I laid out in my pieces, but I have appreciated reading your thoughts and the conversation.

  5. Hi Ben – I appreciated your piece in Vox about Jill Stein. I am sympathetic ideologically to the Green Party but not very persuaded by their tactics or track record in effecting change.

    You touched on Jill Stein’s attitude toward Russia in your Vox piece. I was very disappointed when she went to Russia, for a panel that was part of a celebration of RT (a Russian propaganda outlet), she dined with Putin – and not once criticized Russia’s human rights record. She didn’t speak up for imprisoned journalists, the lack of democracy in Russia, or the treatment of LGBT communities in Russia. I’ve read her press releases bragging about this trip – and saw not one comment.

    I thought the Green Party afforded their candidates to speak truth to power (and prided themselves on it!) – yet when Jill Stein goes to Russia as a guest of a propaganda outlet and dines with an autocrat – she doesn’t say a word publicly about these important issues throughout her whole trip.

    Your piece argued she has no affinity for Russia, but I was wondering if you share any disappointment with me about this trip?

    • Thanks, Stuart – glad you liked the piece! Not sure if you saw Stein’s response to criticism she’s received about her trip to Russia, but here it is just in case: http://www.jill2016.com/jill_stein_russian_environmentalists. I don’t think you’re wrong that she could have spoken up more about Russia’s human rights record, but I also don’t view what she did as a problem. It is very easy to criticize foreign governments, and spending lots of time criticizing Russia as an American presidential candidate doesn’t strike me as particularly brave or important. What’s much harder and way more important is criticizing our own country, whose policies our elected leaders have a lot more control over.

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