Big Sanders Wins Reinforce Seeming Coalition Differences–But Don’t Overestimate the Divisions

Bernie Sanders appears headed to wins in today’s contests in the Pacific states of Washington, Hawaii and Alaska. And not just wins, but overwhelming ones. With 68% reporting in Washington, Sanders leads 72% to 28%. With 73% reporting in Alaska, Sanders is ahead 79% to 21%. Hawaii is also very likely to go big for Sanders based on pre-election polling.

Of course, the problem for the Sanders campaign is that all three states have very favorable demographics for him. In states with a larger share of minority voters Clinton has also been racking up victories with similarly expansive margins.

Sanders’ persistence is particularly notable, however, since most of the media coverage of the race at this point has been marking Clinton as the inevitable victor yet it hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of his supporters.

The key question is whether the conflict between Sanders’ base of younger voters and disaffected mostly white progressives and Clinton’s more minority base presages a broader and more fundamental conflict within the Party. On this front the answer is likely no.

Sanders’ style of progressivism is almost certainly the future of the Democratic party. It would be one thing, perhaps, if the current election cycle presaged a conflict between a more economically/socially conservative minority voting bloc and a more radical but less racially sensitive white progressive bloc. But that’s not really the case. Minority voters tend to be more responsive to economic progressivism overall, with their current loyalty to Clinton more a function of personal loyalty than ideological commitment. This is doubly true for younger minority voters.

There may seem to be a significant demographic split within the Democratic Party for now, but it’s largely an accident of Clinton’s persona. The 2016 cycle likely won’t belong to Sanders, but most of his voters will grudgingly pull the lever for Clinton in November, and it’s his ideology and convictions that will dominate the scene as Millennials grow into their power and the economic progressivism of minority voters shines through over time.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.