In the two weeks since Hillary Clinton wrapped up the Democratic presidential primary, runner-up Bernie Sanders has promised to work hard to defeat Donald Trump – but he’s given no sign he’ll soon embrace Clinton, his party’s presumptive nominee.
Neither have many of Sanders’s supporters. A June 14th Bloomberg Politics national poll of likely voters in November’s election found that barely half of those who favored Sanders – 55 percent – plan to vote for Clinton. Instead, 22 percent say they’ll vote for Trump, while 18 percent favor Libertarian Gary Johnson.
“I’m a registered Democrat, but I cannot bring myself to vote for another establishment politician like Hillary,” says Laura Armes, a 43-year-old homemaker from Beeville, Texas, who participated in the Bloomberg poll and plans to vote for Trump. “I don’t agree with a lot of what Trump says. But he won’t owe anybody. What you see is what you get.”
Conversations with two dozen Sanders supporters revealed a lingering distrust of Clinton as too establishment-friendly, hawkish or untrustworthy. As some Sanders fans see it, the primary was not a simple preference for purity over pragmatism, but a moral choice between an honest figure and someone whom they consider fundamentally corrupted by the ways of Washington.
Sanders has fed these perceptions throughout his campaign, which is one reason he’s having a hard time coming around to an endorsement.
Voters like Armes, who says she’ll “definitely” vote in November, highlight the difficulty Clinton faces in unifying her party. Clinton’s paltry support among Sanders voters could still grow, as his disheartened fans process the hard-fought primary campaign. But the Bloomberg poll found that only 5 percent of Sanders supporters who don’t currently back Clinton would consider doing so in the future.
Eric Brooks, 52, a community organizer in San Francisco, won’t be among them. “I will absolutely never vote for Clinton,” says Brooks, a Sanders supporter who participated in the Bloomberg poll. Although Brooks indicated in the poll that he’ll support Johnson, that is not his intention. “I’d be OK voting for Johnson as a protest vote,” says Brooks. “But as a Green Party member, I’m going to vote for [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein. If you care about the climate, like I do, it makes a lot of sense strategically to vote for Stein, because she could get five percent, which has implications for the Green Party getting federal funding.”
Brooks says he doesn’t worry that supporting Stein could throw the election to Trump because he expects Johnson, the Libertarian, to siphon Republican votes from Trump: “Nobody in this election has to worry about being a spoiler.”
Democratic officials can take solace in a host of recent polls that show Clinton beating Trump, despite her weak showing with Sanders voters. Clinton leads Trump by six points (45.4 percent to 39.4 percent) in the RealClearPolitics average of polls and by 12 points (49 percent to 37 percent) in Bloomberg’s poll. In addition, voters historically rally around their party’s candidate, even after a divisive primary. After beating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary, exit polls showed that Barack Obama won 89 percent of Democrats in November.
Still, for many Sanders supporters, opposition to Clinton is the basis of their political identity. Thirty minutes before the start of a June 9th Sanders rally in Washington, D.C., the crowd broke into a chant: “Bernie or bust! Bernie or bust!”
“There’s zero percent chance that Hillary Clinton could ever get my vote,” said Perry Mitchell, a 31-year-old nonprofit worker from Baltimore. “She’s a corporate candidate. I don’t vote for corporate candidates. I don’t do the lesser of two evils.”
Even if the alternative is Trump?
“You’re choosing between fascism and oligarchy,” Mitchell said. His 23-year-old brother, Brady, interjected with a more vivid analogy to the Clinton-Trump choice: “Die by quicksand, or die by bullet?”
The Mitchell brothers represent a brand of diehard Sanders voters who are causing anxiety in Clinton’s world. Like Brooks, both intend to vote for the Green Party’s Stein if Clinton secures the Democratic nomination. It could be that none of these Sanders supporters was ever truly “gettable” for Clinton, regardless of whether or not Sanders ultimately chooses to endorse her. (“She’s a war criminal,” says Brooks.)
But other Sanders supporters with a dim view of Clinton appear to be driven at least in part by the Vermont senator’s message. If Clinton is nominated, says 31-year-old Bako Nguasong, “I don’t know if I’m voting. She’s definitely the lesser of two evils, but I don’t trust her.” She adds: “I know Donald Trump is evil, he’s a racist, he’s a misogynist.” But Clinton, she said, is “not for the people. She’s about money.”
A Sanders endorsement – should it eventually come – could potentially sway these voters. Others have already reconciled themselves to backing Clinton. “The party needs to be unified,” said Albert Arevalo, a 27-year-old rally-goer who preferred Sanders in the primary. “A vote for Trump would have me deported,” he quipped, noting that he is a gay Latino. “A true Bernie fan would be stupid to not vote for a Democrat. By being ignorant and not voting you are electing a racist troll.”
Debbie Braaten, a Maryland-based artist who also plans to back Clinton in November, agreed. “It’s childish in a way,” she said. “I hope Bernie says something about that to people.”
If Sanders does endorse Clinton, even some of his staunchest “Never Clinton” supporters could ultimately come around. “I do follow her on Facebook, and I don’t care about her emails,” says Armes, the Beeville, Texas, homemaker planning to vote for Trump. “Ugh, this is so hard. I guess an endorsement would probably sway me.”
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Joshua Green, Sahil Kapur