Why Bernie Lost

A look at the “factual” reasons as well as the controversial ones

In this post I am seeking to give a more detailed and rational answer as to what exactly happened in the 2016 Democratic Primary, because I followed it very closely and although it felt to me like I was watching a car wreck in slow motion, I did try to learn the hows and whys of what happened. I believe I can tell you what you really want to know about that race, beyond simply “it was rigged” and “the fix was in”.

Low name recognition

Bernie Sanders he started with only 3% name recognition and even by the time of the SC primary and the first Super Tuesday in March, many Democrats had no idea who Bernie was, or what he stood for. Bernie was simply not able to make his case or introduce himself to enough people to win some of the key primaries early on.

Failure to reach black voters

Bernie was slow to recognize the need to speak directly and forcefully to the problems of black people in the US. Although Bernie had been a valiant fighter for Civil Rights in the past, marched with MLK, supported Jesse Jackson for President, and so on, he himself admitted that he had no idea how bad the plight of blacks in “modern” America actually was. When his speech was interrupted by BLM activists it marked a turning point in his campaign. Since then, Bernie has actually gone on to become more popular among POC than he is among whites, but during the early part of the campaign he focused on economic issues to the detriment of racial justice ones, and that hurt him.

A strong lead by Clinton early on

The Clinton campaign was able to capitalize on both of the above factors to “bank” a ton of votes in the South during the early stages of the race. This proved to be a head start that Bernie simply did not have the time to make up. While it is true that Bernie eventually became the preferred choice for the majority of Democrats, as the Gallup polls show below, that did not happen until well into April, and by then Clinton had already collected all those votes in the early Primaries.

Structural obstacles to a challenger

Many of the primaries were “closed” primaries, meaning that you had to be a registered Democrat in order to vote in the Primary. This really hurt Bernie, because he was attracting independents and young people who had not even considered registering or voting until Bernie came along. In some states this was a real problem: for example, in New York, in order to vote in the April 2016 primary you had to be registered as a Democrat by October 2015. Most people of course did not even pay attention until the few months leading up to Election Day, so many New Yorkers who would have voted for Bernie could not, simply because they had not registered as a Democrat 6 months earlier.

Institutional bias

Virtually every Democratic incumbent, members of Congress, elected officials, committee chairs, caucus organizers, poll station supervisors, volunteer trainers, ballot managers and so on were for Hillary Clinton, and had been since she launched her “Ready for Hillary” campaign and SuperPAC in 2013. That’s right — the entire Democratic universe had been gearing up for Hillary’s run since almost the day she left the State Department.

Secondly — on to the more controversial reasons for Bernie’s loss:

Election irregularities

There are still many questions revolving around the primaries in Nevada, Arizona, New York and especially California where, to my knowledge, all the votes have still not been counted. I will not go into details, but you have probably heard about the 120,000 Brooklyn Democrats who were mysteriously “purged” from the voting rolls and prohibited from voting in the NY primary. Or the many irregularities in the Arizona primary. You may have also heard how Harry Reid worked with the Las Vegas casino owners to get their staff to go vote for Hillary at the caucus, and how the DSC chair ran amok at the Nevada convention. Or how all the poll volunteers in California were taught NOT to give independent voters the correct NPP (No Party Preference) ballot form but rather a “provisional” ballot form so that the votes would need to be vetted through a separate — longer — process. This means essentially that the independent votes in California were not counted. And we all know whom that hurt.

“The Bernie Blackout”

As I mention above, everyone can agree that Bernie Sanders was an unknown at the time he announced his campaign in the summer of 2015. But although he was able to make some headway by personally spending time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the fall of 2015 still showed that almost 40% of Americans did not know who Bernie was.

The Bernie Blackout affected black voters most

The control of the Democratic message was most strongly evident among people of color, and Bernie was widely acknowledged to be a “virtual unknown among black voters” even by the fall of 2015, when Gallup showed that only 33% of blacks nationwide were “familiar” with Sanders.

Harris Poll April 2017
ORC Poll May 2017

The institutional bias was actually a game-changer

The bias towards Hillary Clinton was more than just preferential treatment and pervaded even the most basic aspects of the Democratic Primary structure. For example, the 2013 “Ready for Hillary” campaign was powered and supported by NGP VAN, the company that also provides ALL the voter databases and mailing, outreach and “get out the vote” tools to ALL Democratic candidates. They define themselves as “the leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations.”

NGP VAN, the most important DNC contractor, “donated” a bus to the “Ready for Hillary” campaign

The corrupting effect of corrupted SuperDelegates

As mentioned in the section above, there were certain institutional issues that worked against Bernie Sanders, and one of them was the fact that the Democratic Party establishment all declared Hillary Clinton to be their nominee. Indeed, almost all of the SuperDelegates were on the record as voting for Hillary Clinton long before the Primary race had even begun, or the candidates even declared. The “Ready for Hillary” campaign had done its work. One other thing that had convinced them to stand with Hillary was MONEY. The illicit money laundering and buying of favors that went on under the guise of the “Hillary Victory Fund” and the so-called “Joint Fundraising Agreements” meant that SuperDelegates in the various States who were either running for office or trying to fund local Party operations became directly indebted to Hillary, and her campaign withheld needed money, only releasing it to the State Parties on an ad hoc basis whenever they saw fit.

Joe is a US Ex-Pat with dual US-EU citizenship, who travels Europe extensively, commenting on trends, attitudes, politics and more.