David P. Hamilton :
How Bernie Sanders wins

The key to the Sanders campaign is motivating people to participate in greater numbers and more actively than they have ever done before.

Bernie Sanders in Austin - Pogue sm

Bernie Sanders, Austin, March 31, 2015. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.

By David P. Hamilton | The Rag Blog | January 12, 2016

Part A. Winning the nomination

Essentially, Bernie Sanders wins by recognizing the potential for the conventional wisdom of presidential elections to be changed by creating a new campaign model based on popular participation. Some have called it the “Alinsky model” on a national scale; that “power is derived from two main sources — money and people. ‘Have-Nots’ must build power from flesh and blood.”

For example, conventional wisdom is that the 2016 presidential campaign will cost a couple of billion for each major party candidate, most of which must necessarily come from the very rich. The .04% of the population who make maximum contributions provide the bulk of campaign funds for both parties. Considerably less than 1% contribute as much as $200 to any presidential political campaign.

What if Sanders were able to persuade just 1% of the electorate to give $200?

But what if Sanders were able to persuade just 1% of the electorate to give $200? That would garner half a billion dollars. In addition, Sanders counters dollars with people. His opponents will have more money, but Bernie will have many more volunteers and his supporters will have greater enthusiasm about his candidacy and higher levels of participation. While his opponents will buy more TV time for canned commercials, Sanders will hold more rallies with 20,000 people.

The key to the Sanders campaign is motivating people to participate in greater numbers and more actively than they have ever done previously. That means getting people to give money who in the past would have thought that such contributions were inconsequential. But as part of a movement, they are willing to do so, and thus empowered.

At this point, Sanders has received over 2.3 million individual contributions that have averaged less than $40 each, already a record in terms of the total number of individual contributions. Almost no one has “maxed out” to Sanders. His is a campaign explicitly and proudly financed by small contributions from the middle classes, not billionaires.

Sanders must inspire an expansion of the electorate to win.

Sanders must inspire an expansion of the electorate to win. He must arouse people who have lapsed into apathy over a succession of lesser-of-two-evils choices. Given that the U.S. has a lower level of participation in elections than any other developed country, reaching out the 100 million or so who don’t vote is the obvious approach for a candidate who wants a “political revolution.”

In 2012, only 55% of the potential electorate voted in the presidential election. 88% of the growth in the electorate since then has been unmarried women, non-whites, and people under 30 years old. The largest portion regard themselves as independents with no party affiliation. It has now been widely recognized that Sander’ strongest support in the early primaries will come from young people who describe themselves as independents. This group is classically under-represented in polls.

Sanders campaign trusts people to recognize their interests and to rise up to defend them. His answer to Citizens United is to counter its effects with mass popular mobilization, which, if successful, would literally constitute a political revolution. In order to win, his campaign must be unconventional. Cable news, operating within conventional conceptual frameworks, will scoff and be unable to foresee the implications of his deviations from their norms.

The youth vote is the most volatile factor of any Democratic Party winning coalition.

The youth vote is the most volatile factor of any Democratic Party winning coalition. Will younger voters turn out as they did in 2008 or will they disappear as in 2014? Sanders leads all polls among this constituency and the youth of his audiences has been widely noted. As the age group least likely to vote, it is here that Sanders must focus his greatest efforts in promoting participation to an unanticipated level.

It is a given that Sanders must make major inroads among non-white voters in order to defeat Clinton. Conventional wisdom is that Clinton enjoys overwhelming support among them. Sanders must show this assumption to be false; that non-whites will be as likely as anyone else to recognize their interests expressed in the policy positions of the Sanders campaign.

The expectations here for Clinton are high. Given her reputed insurmountable lead among minorities, Sanders only needs to exceed expectations among blacks in South Carolina and Latinos in Nevada in order to “win.”

There are two basic models on which to run political campaigns.

There are two basic models on which to run political campaigns. The traditional one employs the strategy of staking out relatively hard policy positions in the primaries to attract activists and later moving to the center during the general election. This strategy is based on the assumption that the electorate is like a bell curve, with the most undecided voters grouped in the center.

The second model is based on the idea that there actually is no significant center, that U.S. electoral politics involves partisan camps with few neutrals. Hence, the objective is to better mobilize your faction with firmly right or left policy positions. Republicans have employed this latter strategy with wide success. Bernie Sanders also follows a strategy that concentrates on base mobilization.

Sanders will continue to stake out territory to Clinton’s left with policies that he believes have wide popular support, such as single-payer health care, paid parental leave, free college tuition and $15 an hour minimum wage. He will not change in the general election if he wins the nomination. His reputation rests on his consistency, in contrast to Clinton.

The Clinton campaign is following the more traditional model. While Sanders has pushed her left during the primaries, it is universally assumed that she’ll ooze back toward centrist positions for the general election.

Hillary Clinton is a charter member of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council.

Hillary Clinton is a charter member of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council. They are the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party, the “Third Way” which is dedicated to winning elections by being “centrist,” i.e. corporate lackeys dedicated to moving the party to the right, the model pioneered by Bill Clinton. If Hillary Clinton loses, it will be largely because her strategy follows this arcane model.

But she has little choice, given that she lacks charisma and supports capitalist-class friendly politics. Her deficiencies will manifest on a bitter cold night in Iowa in early February, where only the truly inspired will show up for caucuses. Follow that with an anticipated win for Sanders in New Hampshire and better than expected performances in South Carolina and Nevada and the Sanders momentum will snowball.

During this process, one is advised to keep in mind the growing unreliability of polls and the growing irrelevancy of the TV cable news. They will both tell you Clinton is going to win. Don’t believe them. Polls have been historically based on landline phones and caller anonymity, both having now nearly vanished. As a consequence, pollster’s ability to find a representative sample of the electorate-to-be is next to impossible. Because of this faulty methodology, all the Clinton constituencies are likely to be over-counted and all the Sanders constituencies under-counted.

Cable news epitomizes corporate media, so of course, they promote candidates favored by their corporate owners. While remaining ever cognizant of this mega-corporate ownership, note the heavy advertising on cable news for products to relieve the various infirmities of old age.

The influence of cable news is in decline, especially among the young.

The influence of cable news is in decline, especially among the young. It’s audience is dying off. Fox leads the pack with 1.8 million viewers, a whopping 1.3% of the predicted 2016 presidential electorate. The real action is online, where Sanders wins by every measure.

The big story out of Iowa will be that Sanders did better than expected. That will again be the story in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond as the momentum of exceeding expectations feeds on itself. The mainstream media will express shock and surprise. The establishment pundits will be amazed and the pollsters will scurry to recalculate their demographics.

The truth that cannot be obscured is that the more people hear about Sanders, the more they like him. And the more they hear about Clinton, it’s the reverse.

Part B. Winning the presidency

Political number crunchers say that any Democrat will likely beat any Republican in the general election in 2016. Democrats start with roughly 220 sure electoral votes, while the Republicans have about 180. Ten to 12 swing states will account for the remainder of about 140 or so. 270 (half of 538 plus one) is required to win. The Democrats will need to win only 50 of these swing state electors to win the presidency while Republicans will need to win 90.

Clinton is more susceptible to scandal
mongering than Sanders.

One thing that could upset this Democratic advantage would be a major scandal, an October surprise. With opponents like Trump or Cruz, one would be wise to expect this to occur. It is indisputable that Clinton is more susceptible to such scandal mongering than Sanders.

For what they’re worth, the polls, even now, show Sanders running as strong or stronger against any Republican than Clinton, despite the fact he has far less name recognition. Sanders has the policies to hold together the Obama coalition and to attract working class white males, a constituency that Clinton powerfully motivates into the arms of Republicans.

If Clinton is nominated, there will, in my opinion, be a revolt on the left in favor of the Green Party’s Dr. Jill Stein. Stein got 469,500 votes in 2012. If Sanders earns the Democratic Party’s nomination, she’ll do worse in 2016. But if Clinton gets the nomination, Stein will get over 3 million votes, as a message to the Democratic Party about ignoring its progressive base. Meanwhile, the Republicans, obviously believing that there is no center, will come together in support of a neo-fascist.

The question is, which Democratic candidate would be able to build a winning coalition based on progressive policy instead of fear of Republican rule?

Read more articles by David P. Hamilton on The Rag Blog.

[David P. Hamilton, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin in history and government, was an activist in 1960s-’70s Austin and was a contributor to the original Rag. David and wife Sally spend part of every year in France.]

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3 Responses to David P. Hamilton :
How Bernie Sanders wins

  1. R Zwarich says:

    Many thanks to Mr. Hamilton for contributing these hopeful and very constructive thoughts. Senator Sanders is certainly the most genuinely progressive candidate running for nomination by the Democratic Party that we have seen in our lifetimes. (Like Mr. Hamilton, I came of age, politically, in the 60s).

    I am concerned, however, that people are being unrealistically short-sighted in placing so much hope in one single candidate. It sure seems to me that if a genuine “political revolution” were in motion, it would have started some years ago, rather than when the senator announced his candidacy only a few months ago, and by this point in the election cycle there would already be a unified slate of candidates, running on a unified platform, in every congressional district in the nation, and for every senate seat that is in play this fall.

    My concern is that by allowing ourselves to believe that mounting a genuine “political revolution”, a realistic challenge for political power, is as easy as running and electing a single candidate to the presidency, we are neglecting to do the things that would be necessary to mount a SERIOUS challenge for political power.

    What if all Mr. Hamilton’s optimistic scenario is accomplished, and Senator Sanders is actually elected POTUS, what do we think will happen over the course of a four-year term?

    He is pledging to do many things that are causing great enthusiasm in his supporters, but many people seem to forget that few (any?) of his boldest and most progressive platform pledges are actually within the power of the office of the presidency to accomplish.

    Is there any indication at this point that a majority of the US House of Representatives can be elected to support his ambitious policy pledges? The blatantly anti-democratic US Senate, in which a 60% majority is required to pass any legislation, is an even tougher nut, especially considering that due to its staggered six year terms, only one-third of seats are up for election in any single election cycle.

    I am concerned that people are not being realistic in assessing the immense magnitude and deeply entrenched nature of the Power Structure we are confronting. Do we really think that electing one person, even to the presidency, is going to wrest power from these people’s clutches?

    I am imagining Senator Sanders being sworn into office, and then turning to face this Power Structure alone, with no support in either house of Congress for his ambitious platform policies, and with the entire deeply entrenched bureaucracy of the Military Industrial Complex, as well as all the immense lobbying power of the Big Banks, Big Insurance, Big Money in General, as well as all the corporate owned and controlled mass media stacked against him. What’s his /our plan? What’s his/our first move?

    What scenario does Mr. Hamilton, or anyone, imagine by which President Sanders will succeed in overcoming all these immense powers to accomplish his bold campaign pledges?

    Do we see any possible dangers to our progressive cause that might be inherent in such a scenario? Can we imagine him facing defeat in Congress for every proposal, with international events manipulated to force him to make difficult choices concerning use of military force, the full force of Zionist power brought to bear to challenge his Jewish heritage concerning events in and around Israel and occupied Palestine, and the full power of the corporate mass media used to portray him constantly in the worst possible light?

    Can we imagine the vicious intensity of the vituperation that will be brought to bear against him, and blared out daily through the corporate mass media? Can we imagine him being cut to pieces, besieged in the White House, facing hateful hostility whenever he ventures forth?

    Have we considered the possibility that it might be foolish to expect that electing a single person to challenge the immense Power aligned against us might end in disaster, after four years of a failed presidency, with the Progressive Cause set back for years, (if not generations)?

    If we think that electing one candidate to the presidency can defeat the Power Structure, how, specifically, do we imagine that happening? What are we prepared to do to make it happen? Are we prepared at ALL?

    What specific course of events do we imagine after Senator Sanders’ inauguration that is going to result in actual victory, in actually breaking up the Big Banks, defeating the power of Big Insurance (to pass Single Payer), overcoming the power of Big Media, and actually defeating the power of Big Money in general?

    We do not do ourselves any favors, folks, when we foolishly underestimate the power of our opponents. Underestimating the strength of one’s opponents is a sure fire formula for defeat and failure.

    Is talking about mounting a “political revolution” when we are not prepared to do so, when we have not yet laid the painstaking groundwork, likely to meet with success? Would it not be better to think about what a genuine challenge for power would require, and then make concrete plans to accomplish these necessary steps and actions?

    Do we REALLY think that electing one person to stand and face into the maw of the dragon alone is going to succeed?

    C,mon, folks. Senator Sanders is a courageous person, but he is not Gandalf.

    • anonymous says:

      So, is Sen Sanders this year’s Nader = spoiler??

      Or is he this year’s Henry Wallace = historical footnote?

      Let’s say best case, he’s McGovern. If McGovern had faced Reagan, what would have happened then? This country would have gone Ronnie in the landslide. It still would today.

      Let’s not play games at this point. It’s okay to back Bernie until it looks like he could get the nomination. Then need to back away.

      Next POTUS picks majority of the Supremes and either solves or damages the climate forever.

      Stakes are too high to fuck around with lefty illusions.

  2. Beverly Moore says:

    I am a Bernie fan. We need someone saying these things at this time. We need the “shot in the arm” of knowing at least hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens also see need for this kind of drastic re-structuring. We need the publicity seeping out that it is indeed possible for every day people to contributing bits of money is also powerful.

    My every day reality, however, is that the majority of people I run across are woefully ignorant and/or don’t give a crap…not about the questions or the answers. And I am running into more and more vocal outright hatred.

    Most Americans, I suppose, are too busy trying to survive to have the energy to figure anything out, but to be a citizen divorced from the realities of the effect political systems have on that survival they are obsessed with is just suicide.

    It may come down to how many people can “wake up” on the one hand versus the combined numbers of those the many who may be intellectually or personally incapable of it and their buddies-in-crime, those who are unwilling, because either they have delusions of “making it big” themselves and think it might spoil their chances or the many self-loathers happy to hate-monger instead.

    It’s a scary time out there and reminiscent of the acrimony we used to incur just for showing up looking like hippies. Feels like that kind of hatred.

    Thank goodness for the gentle–and knowledgeable–people in my life. Wish there were millions more of them and no one watching the Kardshians.

    Beverly Baker Moore

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