The realists think Sanders probably can’t win, but plan to vote for him anyway. A CBS poll from April shows that 44 percent of Democratic primary voters want Sanders to win, but only 23 percent actually believe he will win. That suggests at least some people support the senator to indicate political preference, not because they necessarily believe their vote makes it more likely for him to win.
They may recognize that even if Sanders fails to secure the nomination, the more states he wins and votes he amasses, the easier it will be for him to exert influence on the Democratic party platform. They may hope to send a message with their vote, signaling that they don’t support the political status quo. Or they may feel that Clinton is a more viable general election candidate, but simply like Sanders better.
If that’s the case, Clinton’s success may free up even more Democratic primary voters to vote for Sanders without running the risk of jeopardizing Clinton’s shot at the nomination. “For many people, voting is expressive as much as instrumental,” said Kim Nalder, a professor of government at California State University, Sacramento. “They aren't deluded. They are just more interested in taking the symbolic stand before facing the reality of Clinton vs. Trump.”
Then there are the casual fans. This segment of voters may be just as devoted to Sanders and his cause, but isn’t immersed in the ins-and-outs of presidential politics or well-steeped in the delegate math. For them, hearing Sanders say he stands a shot at winning upcoming primary contests, and seeing the senator continue to win states, provides enough motivation to get out and vote. They may be first-time voters or people who don’t frequently vote, but have nevertheless been inspired by Sanders to flock to the polls in 2016.
These voters aren’t likely to be cynical about the process. They trust the narrative spun by Sanders and supporters who take to social media to talk up his momentum in the race, and may not have even encountered predictions that he won’t win. “The presidential primary process in the U.S. is hopelessly byzantine,” Nalder said. “Only a handful of party insiders probably truly understand the details. What many Sanders supporters see is a candidate still in the race who still claims to have a path to victory.”
At the far end of the spectrum, there are the defiant die-hards. These voters willfully reject predictions from the mainstream media and political pundits that Sanders’s path to the nomination is effectively closed off. These are supporters who devote hours to pro-Sanders message boards, and furiously take to Twitter to denounce anyone who portrays the race differently than they do. Hearing people say Sanders can’t win may make these voters even more motivated to show support for him or to volunteer for his campaign in an effort to get out the vote. “Many of his supporters don’t trust the government establishment, but they also don’t trust the media or the polls,” Lilliana Mason, a political science professor at the University of Maryland College Park, said. “So for them, the reports of his demise are premature.”