Hillary Clinton won the New York state primary elections on Tuesday by a margin of 58 to 42 percent over Bernie Sanders. Undoubtedly many potential Sanders voters were disenfranchised by the state’s draconian election rules which meant that voters had to declare their party affiliation back in October 2015 – before the candidates had even begun campaigning. Sanders is favored by independents and younger voters who often become motivated only in the few weeks before the election, so the vote in the closed primary reflects the choice of party loyalists rather than the people who joined the 27,000-strong rallies he held last week.
The Washington Post reported: “According to the exit polls, Sanders won 67 percent of voters age 18 to 29. Clinton won all the others. … Clinton won 75 percent of the African American vote and 63 percent of the Hispanic vote. 79 percent of Black women supported Clinton. … Although Sanders did win 57 percent of the vote from those who said ‘income inequality’ was the ‘most important issue’, Clinton won 59 percent of the vote of those who said the economy and jobs were their ‘most important issue’.”
According to Alternet: “Media exit polls found that 80 percent of Democratic voters self-identified themselves as very loyal party members, even as they said economic issues were their top concern. That reinforced the party insider’s iron grip on its presidential nominating process.”
While it now looks like Clinton will be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, it is worth taking stock of what Sanders has achieved through his challenge in the primaries. Thanks to his appeal to younger voters, he has inserted a wedge in the liberal-labor coalition that regularly returns Wall Street-friendly candidates to the leadership of the Democratic party, and opened a political space for the rejection of neoliberalism.
He has won the support of less affluent white liberals, African-American youth, rank-and-filers in the labor movement, and working class minorities like Latino and Arab Americans. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is supported by richer white liberals, African-American middle-aged and older people, the trade union bureaucracy, hedge fund principals and venture capitalists.
The divisions within the Democratic coalition are shown graphically in the protests outside the $33,400 per seat Clinton fundraiser held last Friday at the home of a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. According to the Guardian, about 200 young Sanders supporters from the technology industry created a commotion with pots and pans at the star-studded fundraiser. “They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you,” said Quirk, a 26-year-old software engineer. “But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions.”
Underlying this political division is a significant social change in the country, dividing younger millennial voters who face joblessness and student debt from their elders. In particular, young African Americans motivated by the fight against police killings have protested the Clintons’ legacy on crime, while older African Americans who remember more vividly the civil rights movement are more sympathetic to 1990s measures taken to reduce crime in black communities rather than today’s concerns about police mistreatment and mass incarceration. Hillary Clinton’s positioning herself as continuing Obama’s legacy also resonates with this demographic, which sees her as the best bet to keep out the Republicans.
The New York Times comments: “The parents and grandparents of today’s young black protesters largely waged the battle for civil rights in courtrooms and churches. They carefully chose people who were viewed as upstanding citizens, like Rosa Parks, to be the face of their movement, and dressed in their Sunday best as they sought to gain broader acceptance. Mr. Clinton endeared himself to these generations by campaigning in black churches and appointing more blacks to the cabinet than any previous president had. But many of today’s activists — whose political consciousness has been shaped by the high-profile killings of black people by the police — do not believe that acting respectfully will protect them from being harassed or shot. They aspire not to become a part of the political system, but to upend it.”
Separate from the Democratic campaign, hundreds of protesters gathered at a Republican rally in Manhattan last Thursday to demand racial justice and “shut down Trump.” According to the Intercept, “protesters called for ‘bridges over walls’ and ‘love over hatred’ but also got more specific, demanding to ‘hold all cops accountable’ and chanting Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright,’ the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. … Regardless of who wins, they insisted, their anti-racism work will continue, as will their demand that elected officials be held accountable.”
Sanders attracted the votes of a much higher proportion of black youth in the North and Midwest, which enabled him to win the Wisconsin primary and come close to Clinton in Michigan, compared to the South where Clinton retains overwhelming support in the black community. Many black political leaders have close ties to the Clintons and look to the Democratic party establishment for patronage appointments in government.
The hostility of the establishment to Sanders is evident in the many negative articles in the corporate media about his campaign, such as Paul Krugman’s attacks on his economic plans in the New York Times. The news agencies give him little coverage compared to the attention paid to Donald Trump, and when they do it is to disparage him – like the interview with the New York Daily News where he was sandbagged by the editorial board on how he would break up the “too big to fail” banks, enabling Clinton to “grossly distort” what he had to say.
If he doesn’t win the nomination, Sanders has indicated he will drive as hard a bargain as he can to give his support to the elected nominee. This could have a major impact; he has also stated that the campaign should not end after the election (unlike Obama, who dismantled the social coalition that elected him). Sanders told The Young Turks: “if I can’t make it, and we’re going to try as hard as we can until the last vote is cast, we want to completely revitalize the Democratic Party and make it a party of the people, rather than just one of large campaign contributors.” This egalitarian sentiment is significant and pits Sanders against the party leadership.
In These Times notes: “Part of what excites progressives about Sanders’ campaign is the possibility that it will build infrastructure that can be channeled into state and local races, as well as politics beyond the ballot box. While every candidate depends on volunteers, Sanders’ operation is unusual in the degree to which supporters are encouraged to organize independently. … ‘I couldn’t ﬁnd any events when I was available, so I just started making my own,’ says Nicole Press, a freelance stage manager and teacher who has organized ﬁve voter registration drives in Harlem. … In the course of this organizing, Press met so many other Harlem supporters of Sanders that she co-founded a volunteer group, Harlem for Bernie, that now has dozens of members.”
The grassroots movement that has emerged in Sanders’ campaign needs to be given organizational form in order to challenge the Democratic party establishment. “Bernie Clubs” should be created within the party to continue to press for egalitarian policies and to elect “Bernie Democrats” in contested primaries for state and local offices. That way corporate Democrats can be defeated from below and the party revitalized.