How Many Bernie Backers Would Refuse to Vote for Hillary Clinton?

Susan Sarandon says she might prefer Donald Trump because he’d bring about revolution faster. There’s little evidence that many Democrats would join her.

Chris Carlson / AP

Susan Sarandon is like a lot of Bernie backers: She finds the Vermont senator to be a paragon of probity, doesn’t totally trust Hillary Clinton, and she’s upset about the status quo in the United States, which she fears Clinton would perpetuate.

Unlike most Bernie backers, Sarandon is an Oscar winner who owns a chain of ping-pong lounges. But it turns out those are not the only ways she is atypical.

Sarandon appeared on Chris Hayes’s MSNBC show Tuesday night, where she made her case for Sanders, citing his record on free trade, prisons, genetically modified foods, and more. Hayes pointed out that elections are choices, and asked whether she would vote for Clinton in a general election matchup against Donald Trump.

“I think Bernie would probably encourage people [to vote Clinton], because he doesn’t have a lot of ego in this,” she said. “But I think a lot of people are, ‘Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to do that.’” As for herself, “I don’t know. I’m going to see what happens.”

“Really?” an incredulous Hayes asked.

“Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately,” she replied.

Hayes accused her of adopting “the Leninist model of ‘heighten the contradictions,’” and she happily agreed. Isn’t that dangerous, he wondered?

“If you think it’s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now, then you’re not in touch with the status quo,” she said.

There are a variety of critiques one could level of Sarandon’s argument. If you’re interested in sampling them, simply look at Twitter, where many users took issue with Sarandon’s strategy while others simply posted GIFs of the closing scene from Sarandon’s Thelma and Louise. (Spoiler alert, I guess, but c’mon.) Suffice it to say that in terms of risky political strategies, whatever you think of the status quo, it’s hard to imagine that a violent revolution would do much to solve the country’s problems, as other nations that have experienced constitutional crises can attest. (There’s a reason Sanders is pushing for “revolution” through the ballot box and not other means.)

Setting aside the polemic, however, is Sarandon especially representative? Polls consistently show Clinton leading Sanders nationally, and more votes have been cast for her in the primary so far. In a tight election, though, a bloc of Democrats who refused to vote for Clinton or crossed over could cost her a win. Are there really “a lot” of people who support Sanders now but who, given a choice between Clinton and Trump, would either sit on their hands or pull the lever for Trump?

The answer is almost certainly no.

For example, take a Quinnipiac poll released last week. In that poll, 78 percent of Democrats said they had a favorable view of Sanders. But 80 percent had a favorable view of Clinton. Now, more had an unfavorable view of Clinton than of Sanders—15 to 9—but that doesn’t suggest there’s a huge groundswell of anti-Clinton Democrats.

The latest CBS News/New York Times poll suggests something similar. There’s a definite enthusiasm gap between Clinton and Sanders. Forty percent of Democrats said they were “enthusiastic” about a Sanders candidacy, versus just 34 percent who felt the same way about Clinton. But add in the number who say they’d be satisfied with Clinton and the gap shrinks to almost nothing: 81 percent would be enthusiastic or satisfied with Sanders, while 79 percent feel the same way about Clinton. (And that’s with a +/-4.5 percent sampling error.)

The Republican Party is encountering a parallel dynamic with the #NeverTrump movement, but it looks far more real. In the same CBS/NYT poll, a full 20 percent of Republicans said they’d be actively dissatisfied with a Trump candidacy, and 35 percent said they’d want a Republican to run as a third-party candidate against him in a general election. Other surveys have found even higher totals. Some political scientists maintain, based on past experience, that many of these people will rally around the eventual nominee even if it’s Trump, thanks to the polarized partisan climate.

In any case, there’s no polling to suggest any such groundswell on the Democratic side. Of course, you don’t have to go very far back to remember something akin to what Sarandon is describing in the Democratic Party—but last time around, it was in support of Clinton, not against her. The PUMAs (“People United Means Action” or, by some accounts, “Party Unity My Ass”) were such diehard Clinton supporters that they flatly refused to support the upstart Barack Obama eight years ago. So how did that turn out in 2008? Obama cruised to victory with the highest popular vote total in U.S. history, and a nearly 10 million vote lead over Senator John McCain. Sarandon is feeling the Bern, but perhaps there’s more heat than light to her claims about Sandersistas sitting 2016 out.

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