As anyone engaged in US politics knows very well by now, Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, ahead of the Democratic Convention. Despite what Bernie promised, there will be no fight on the floor in Philly. The news has shocked Berners, the loving base that has catapulted him to historic heights throughout this election cycle, and has left them wondering “What’s next”?
Right now, Berners everywhere are mourning. They’re mourning the loss of one of the best presidential candidates in the history of America – a man who never faltered during decades of political service and worked to make the American dream accessible to all, to ensure a better future for every human being who set foot on American soil. A man who inspired a generation of voters to become engaged and passionate about the political process; to fight for themselves, their communities, and their countries. Throughout his campaign, Bernie brought in unprecedented donations from millions of Americans, the wildly popular $27, including from the poor and unemployed. He pushed the Democratic Party further left every step of the way, and he never sold out his message or his followers by accepting money from large corporations and banks. He ran on the Democratic ticket as a Democratic Socialist and fiercely fought corruption within the establishment. Bernie Sanders is a man who drew America to its feet and led with unwavering conviction.
They say that the greatest leaders create more great leaders. If that’s true, Bernie Sanders is the one of the greatest leaders this country has ever known. He has already inspired Americans all across the nation to lead their communities, run for local office, and create change from the ground up. With his endorsement of Clinton, he has made way for a new wave of leaders and activists.
Despite a deep sense of loss within the Bernie community, it is a testament to Sanders’ character that his supporters are still standing proudly by him, expressing their love and gratitude in an outpouring on social media. Even as Bernie’s most ardent supporters rush to tag #NeverHillary and reaffirm their choice to not vote for her regardless of Bernie’s endorsement, there is no lack of respect for the Senator. Although many tasted bitterness and are dealing with feelings of betrayal and anger, the overwhelming sentiment is a communal understanding that he has passed the torch. He brought America as far as he could, and it is now up to the nation to continue the fight. It is now up to all of us to keep working towards a society that cares for its citizens, to hold our country to its promises of freedom, equality, and justice.
And we will go on.
For right now, though, Berners have a very difficult choice to make. Four candidates stand to benefit from Bernie leaving the race, and all have jumped eagerly at the opportunity to woo Berners who are feeling a little, well, Berned. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein. While Trump was quick to come out and try to corral lost Berners into his pen, he was swiftly and harshly rejected with a combination of anger and incredulity. Hillary, who has been attempting to appeal to Sanders’ voters since the moment she declared herself the winner, has been preaching unity and singing Sander’s praises – but many Berners are unimpressed.
Recent polls have shown that Hillary will take a majority of Bernie supporters, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at social media. This might seem silly, but it raises real questions about polling technique regarding younger voters and who has access to a more accurate picture; which is critically important in shaping candidates’ strategies. Certainly when it comes to Millennials, a huge Bernie base, one has to wonder how many were even reached. Without landlines and a strong preference for internet-based interaction, perhaps polling centers struggle to connect. Or it could be another case of the mainstream media skewing information to support Hillary. In any case, some of the numbers polled seem less than reputable.
For example, the Pew Research Center recently released a poll suggesting that 85 percent of Sanders’ supporters would put their weight behind Clinton, but this seems foolishly optimistic. Other polls show that half, or more, Bernie supporters in general would not choose Clinton. Though the discrepancies are large and the actual numbers are unclear, it appears that as of now, 50 percent-60 percent of current Bernie supporters will be party voters. Still, while Clinton enjoys a huge lead over Trump, (who has support from Berners in the single digits) she has a lot to worry about going forward.
So if Berners aren’t going to Hillary or Trump, where are they going?
The answer may come as a surprise to some, but those who have been paying close attention have felt the rumblings grow over the past month. Dr. Jill Stein, the lowest polling candidate and presumptive Green Party nominee, has seen an explosion in donations, web traffic, email subscriptions, Facebook likes, and Twitter followers. In one day, Stein has received over $80,000, approximately 35,000 Facebook likes, and 5.6 impressions. Since the news broke, tens of thousands of Bernie supporters have flocked to her, pledging to redirect their love of Bernie to support for her. This rapid redirection is reminiscent of the fallout from Warren’s endorsement of Clinton when she bled up to twenty thousand followers per day (in contrast, Bernie has lost almost no support after giving his endorsement), as well as the twenty-four hour downward spiral in ratings Washington Post saw after trashing Sanders in the notorious “16 articles in 16 hours” scandal, plunging almost instantly to just 1.1 stars (their Facebook page no longer displays a rating option).
Clearly Bernie has amassed a base of passionate, dedicated, and ever-present supporters. The question is – can they actually impact the race? And does this represent the beginning of a real political revolution or is this just another case of a (very) vocal minority? Is support for Stein real and enduring or will she fade into the background as quickly as she was brought forth? A candidate needs to poll 15 percent in order to debate on stage, so the real test is yet to come. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, has been polling at about 10 percent while Stein trails. If Berners can come together and push one or both of those candidates onto the stage, it could be an election game-changer. Without Bernie, it’s seems certain that the presidency will go to either Clinton or Trump, and the third party candidates will still have to struggle and fight for a place among the Big Two, but this could very well pave the way to breaking free of the two-party system in future elections. Additionally, third-party (or fourth-party, as the case may be) candidates may add even more chaos in an already frustratingly uncertain race. Trump risks losing supporters to Johnson, and Clinton risks losing supporters primarily to Stein, but also to Johnson. Who loses more is yet to be seen, and may decide the race.
All of this is pure speculation, however, and it is still too early to tell how Bernie’s endorsement of Clinton will ultimately play out. The election is still months away, and many voters remain undecided. If neither Johnson nor Stein manages to break the 15 percent threshold, even the most dedicated Bernie supporters will have to decide what scares them more: a Trump presidency or caving into the “lesser of two evils” trap.
Either way, it is safe to say that this race is far from over.