• Live
    • Audio Only
  • google plus
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) signs an autograph at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa August 15, 2015.

    Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) signs an autograph at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa August 15, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 31 January 2016
Looking beyond Iowa, Senator Sanders must do a number of things to grow support among Blacks, Latinos, and women.

If Senator Bernie Sanders can win the Iowa Caucus Monday and then the New Hampshire primary, the mass media will have to acknowledge the real possibility that he could win the nomination. This might enable Sanders to get a closer look from likely Democratic Black and Latino primary voters, self-defined feminists, and older voters – all constituencies viewed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign as their electoral firewall.

The Clinton campaign counts on this core base in part because of  her symbolism as potentially the first woman president and because the Clintons for many years have courted Black and Latino Democratic officials. But to gain ground in Nevada (where one-third of the caucus goers will be Latino) and South Carolina (where over half the electorate will be African-American) Sanders will have to further articulate his commitment to racial and gender justice -  and not just the economic aspects of those struggles. He must also openly embrace an expedited path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.

Only if Sanders can demonstrate that he is a better candidate for the interests of women and people of color can he end run the liberal feminist and Black elected officials’ commitment to Clinton. And despite his initial awkward responses to #BlackLivesMatters protestors and his a bit belated issuing of a strong racial justice platform that speaks not just to the economic violence against communities of color, but also the physical and legal violence of the criminal justice system, Sanders is more progressive on racial justice issues than is Clinton. He must articulate more clearly that his stronger support for paid parental leave and federally funded child care renders  him a stronger advocate of women’s (and children’s) interests than former Secretary of State Clinton. Finally, Sanders should criticize Clinton’s vocal support for her husband’s administration’s punitive  federal criminal justice policies and his  “welfare reform” policies whose strict “workfare” requirements have put into extreme poverty millions of single mothers (of all races, but disproportionately women of color).

But in an Iowa, which is 95 percent white, Sanders first challenge is to turn out in every precinct in this predominantly rural state his core electoral base. Sanders leads Clinton by large margins among both older self-identified liberal and progressive Democrats (baby boom veterans of the 60s and 70s who often work in the public, care-giving and nonprofit sectors). But he also has enthusiastic support among students and recent  college graduates who face heavy debt and a precarious job market, as well as an increasing number of older white working class, particularly male voters, who feel both parties have abandoned them to the whip of the corporate economy. Here he must compete with Donald Trump and make clear that immigrants do not take jobs from whites; rather corporate outsourcing abroad and movement to the non-union South and Southwest does.

Bernie’s Socialism Problem?

In a country where only 31 percent of adults have a favorable view of socialism, how can an open democratic socialist (admittedly running on left-liberal or social democratic, but not fully socialist program) draw crowds of tens of thousands, even in red states, and garner close to 40 percent of the likely Democratic primary vote in the most recent NY Times-CBS poll?  Much of this phenomenon can be explained by the reality that 90 percent of the income gains from the past five years of economic recovery have gone to the top 1 percent of income earners.  In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 77 percent of  respondents (including 53 percent of Republicans, agreed “that there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and corporations) and 61 percent believe “that the economic system in this country unfairly favor the wealthy.”

And people who came to political consciousness after the Cold War are noticeably less hostile to socialism than older generations that associate it with authoritarian Soviet-style Communism. In fact, in a Pew Research Center poll of fall 2011, 49 percent of 18-29 year olds in the United States held a favorable view of socialism versus only 47 percent having a favorable view of capitalism. In the New York Times/ CBS poll cited above, Sanders actually out-polls Clinton 46 percent to 40 percent among  Democratic primary voters under 45, while Clinton beats sanders 63 percent to 22 percent among likely Democratic primary voters over 45. A recent YouGov poll found that Democrats favor socialism over capitalism as a model economic system by a 12 percent margin.

Most of those polled probably do not envision a society in which investment is democratically controlled by a combination of worker-owned firms and public ownership of natural monopolies and major financial banks. Rather, capitalism is increasingly associated with inequality and a daunting labor market for the young; to many younger Americans, socialism connotes a somewhat more egalitarian and just society. But with the right obsessively attacking President Barack Obama, a centrist Democrat, as a socialist and Sanders running a surprisingly strong campaign, use of the “s” word no longer excludes one from mainstream political discourse.  

Broadening His Coalition of Supporters

There is outrage among other demographic groups, and the Sanders campaign must find a way to reach them. These groups are non-college-educated whites, communities of color, and immigrants. The core of Sanders’s support remains among Democrats who self-identify as liberal, progressive, or radical. These voters are primarily college-educated and white and work as civil servants, educators, non-profit advocates, and in the caregiving professions. Hillary Clinton has close to a 20 percent lead over Sanders among the 40 percent of likely Democratic Party primary voters of color who say they are well-acquainted with Sanders. Among the 60 percent of likely Democratic voters of color who do not know enough about Sanders to make a judgment, he is barely a blip on the radar. Voters of color make up more than 35 percent of the Democratic primary vote.  Bernie still runs far behind Hillary among self-identified feminists, but he is closing the gap among self-defined “moderate,” working-class Democrats, particularly those who belong to unions.  

To change those numbers Sanders not only has to probably win Iowa, as well as New Hampshire;  but local independent Sanders groups (which drive the campaign in states where staff is not yet on the ground) have to reach out to progressive activists of color willing to vouch for Bernie within their communities. They have to work with the independent organization, Labor for Bernie, to secure local union support. The Sanders campaign has to accelerate its hiring of organizers who have deep roots in working class and Black, Latino, and Asian-American communities; to its credit, the campaign has begun to do this.  Sanders cannot simply insist that his commitment to economic justice will redress racial inequality; it is a necessary component of an anti-racist politics, but not a sufficient program to redress legal, physical and cultural forms of racism. 

Sanders should also rethink and revise his initial blanket rejection of reparations and endorse the Conyers bill that calls for a serious Congressional inquiry into the issue. Any experienced organizer knows that diverse constituencies are brought into campaigns through social networks and friendship ties. So the Sanders campaign has to both add racial justice and immigration issues to its 12 point platform, but also engage in serious dialogue with the Black and Latino activists who want his campaign to situate itself so it can have greater appeal outside of the mostly white ideological left.

Finally, Sanders has to be willing not only to criticize Hillary’s flip-flopping on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and the Keystone pipeline, but her strong support of welfare “reform” policies that have been devastating for low-income women and children.

Beyond Elections: Movement Building

To build local “rainbow coalitions” that last beyond the Sanders campaign, socialists need to prioritize linking struggles for racial justice to the Sanders effort. Struggles for immigrant rights, for equitable public education, for a $15 minimum wage, and against mass incarceration and police brutality are the civil rights struggles of our time. If a multi-racial Left is to emerge from the campaign, we need new forms of grassroots coalitions that can put street heat on government officials, while building the independent electoral capacity of the Left, labor, and communities of color. The last time the Left had such an opportunity was with Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential nomination run. We failed to build a rainbow coalition after that campaign; we cannot afford to fail again.

Joseph M. Schwartz is a National Vice-Chair of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the U.S.’s largest socialist organization. He teaches Political Science at Temple University and is the author most recently of, “The Future of Democratic Equality.”

Post with no comments.