NYT comes around to @karpmj's argument two months later.
Bernie Sanders’s Legacy? The Left May No Longer Need the Rich by Nate Cohn
When Bernie Sanders started gaining in the polls, it was easy to place him in a long line of idealistic insurgents like Barack Obama, Howard Dean, Bill Bradley or Jerry Brown.
They built strong bases of support among white liberal voters, excelling in places like Boulder, Colo., and Vermont, but their chances of being nominated hinged on building a broader coalition that included nonwhite voters. Only Mr. Obama managed it.
Mr. Sanders, despite his success in Indiana this week, has effectively lost the Democratic nomination, and for a familiar reason: He didn’t do well enough among black voters. But he gained the enthusiasm of a subtly different — and potentially larger — coalition than his liberal predecessors.
His brand of progressivism played far better among white working-class voters than that of past liberal outsiders. At the same time, he fared far worse among the affluent Democrats who represented the core of Mr. Obama and Mr. Bradley’s coalitions.
Mr. Sanders’s weakness among affluent Democrats and his strength among working-class Democrats might seem unsurprising, given his class-focused message. Mr. Sanders himself anticipated it in an interview with The Upshot in July.
But in broader historical terms, it might be something of a turning point in Democratic politics: the moment when the party’s left no longer needs an alliance with wealthy liberals to compete in national elections.
Connecticut, which held its primary April 26, vividly illustrates the huge difference between Mr. Sanders’s coalition and that of past liberal challengers.
In 2000, a flagging Mr. Bradley lost the state by 13 percentage points to Al Gore. He lost badly among nonwhite voters — losing cities like Bridgeport and Hartford by more than 40 points. He lost by more modest margins in the rural, white, working-class eastern part of the state. But he won many of the state’s affluent areas — like Greenwich and New Canaan, along with much of the traditionally liberal western and northwestern part of the state near the border with New York and Massachusetts.
Mr. Obama won almost all of the same areas in 2008, but then added strong support from nonwhite voters — enough to give him a narrow victory over Mrs. Clinton in the state. He won places like Bridgeport and Hartford, even as he fared similarly to Mr. Bradley in places like Greenwich and New Canaan. He fared little or no better in the white, working-class parts of eastern and central Connecticut.
The Sanders-Clinton race reversed this map. Mrs. Clinton lost almost all of the white, working-class areas of rural eastern Connecticut to Mr. Sanders, even though she had won most of it in 2008, as Mr. Gore had in 2000. But she beat Mr. Sanders by huge margins in the affluent parts of western Connecticut where Mr. Obama and Mr. Bradley fared well. She won back the nonwhite voters she lost to Obama in 2008, giving her wins in Bridgeport and Hartford that nearly matched Mr. Gore’s victory in 2000. It was enough for a clear if modest 5.4-point victory.
It’s a pattern that has repeated itself across the country. Mr. Sanders was routed in the wealthy, liberal parts of New York where recent progressive heroes such as Bill de Blasio or Zephyr Teachout fared well — like the Upper West Side, Greenwich Village and parts of Brooklyn.
In Massachusetts, Mr. Sanders lost the affluent, liberal voters in the Boston area, and he might well lose the Bay Area, another enclave of the wealthy and liberal.
This is the first time since 1992 that there’s been a real split between the progressive left and affluent liberals in a Democratic primary. In that race, an iconoclastic outsider, Mr. Brown, excelled among liberals in places like Ann Arbor, Mich., with a progressive message (including opposition to trade agreements), while a more technocratic candidate, Paul Tsongas, won in wealthy liberal areas like Montgomery County, Md., which includes many suburbs northwest of Washington. Bill Clinton easily prevailed over a divided left-liberal wing of the party with strong support among working-class white Democrats and black voters.
Why did affluent liberals support Mrs. Clinton?
One possibility is simple class politics: Mr. Sanders’s class-oriented message didn’t resonate among this group. If true, a candidate of the progressive left would struggle to reunite the left-liberal coalition against an establishment challenger in future Democratic primaries.
But the left might have a better opportunity to reassemble the left-liberal coalition with a different progressive candidate if the problem were Mr. Sanders, not his views. (Anecdotally, I run into a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 and say they would have supported Elizabeth Warren, who’s more technocratic and policy-focused than Mr. Sanders.)
Equally important to the future of progressives in the Democratic Party is Mr. Sanders’s strength in the white working-class areas where Mr. Bradley, Mr. Obama, and both Mr. Brown and Mr. Tsongas faltered. It was Mr. Sanders’s strength among these voters that let him stay fairly competitive, even though he lost half of the traditional left-liberal coalition.
Mr. Sanders won white voters without a college degree by a double-digit margin in Connecticut, as he did in Maryland, Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Illinois, Oklahoma, Indiana, Vermont and Michigan. He probably did so in Rhode Island as well (no exit polls were conducted there).
Outside the South, Mrs. Clinton probably won white voters without a college degree only in Ohio (the exit polls there show she prevailed with that group by one point).
One possible explanation, again, is policy. Income inequality has become a vastly more important issue to Democrats since the Great Recession, and it’s reasonable to assume that white working-class Democrats might be especially drawn to the issue. This is the best case for the progressive left; it would mean that a future progressive populist could count on similar levels of support with a strong, class-oriented message.
The evidence for this view is somewhat mixed. According a compilation of exit polls, around 40 percent of white voters without a college degree wanted more liberal policies than those of Mr. Obama, and Mr. Sanders won these voters handily. The highest number was in Vermont, where 46 percent of white voters without a degree wanted more liberal policies than Mr. Obama’s.
That’s a big bloc that progressives can count on in the future, but it’s not a majority and it’s less than Mr. Sanders’s share of white voters without a degree. That’s in part because Mr. Sanders also won among those white working-class voters who wanted less liberal policies than those of Mr. Obama, a fact that makes Mr. Sanders look as much like a protest vote against Mrs. Clinton as the harbinger of a new Democratic socialism.
But it is nonetheless striking that so many white Democrats without a degree wanted more liberal policies than Mr. Obama’s. In fact, white voters without a college degree were often more likely than either college-educated white voters or minorities to support more liberal policies.
That’s consistent with the notion that white working-class Democrats really have become more receptive to a progressive candidate over the last decade, in some cases even going from being the principal impediment to a left-liberal coalition to the strongest bloc in favor of a more progressive agenda.
According to exit poll data, liberals represented a majority of white Democrats without a college degree in nearly every primary contest. It’s a huge change from just a decade or two ago, when so many white working-class Democrats were conservative (check out this 1995 Pew Research typology of voters if you want to see what the Democratic base used to look like). Mrs. Clinton tended to win “moderate” white voters without college degrees in these states, but she lost among the self-described liberals.
A lot of this is a generational divide. Mrs. Clinton won among white voters without a college degree who were over age 30, but she was pummeled among those who were younger.
Whether Mrs. Clinton was so weak among young white voters because of her weaknesses or the appeal of Mr. Sanders’s policy message will probably decide whether the “Sanders Coalition” can be replicated in a future Democratic primary.
The exit polls, again, send a mixed message. Around half of young white voters didn’t think that Mrs. Clinton was liberal enough, or they wanted policies that were more liberal than Mr. Obama’s. But Mr. Sanders also won among those younger voters who thought Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama were liberal enough; her weakness might have had as much (or more) to do with questions about ethical governance as about policy.
Either way, Mr. Sanders’s success — in spite of weakness among wealthy Democrats — is important. There hasn’t been a viable candidate of the progressive left in a Democratic primary in a long time.
Elite Democrats in places like Manhattan; Cambridge, Mass.; and Santa Monica, Calif., have been anchors of liberal politics in the United States for decades. The ability to build a robust progressive coalition without these voters — or their donations — is a new phenomenon, and it could free candidates to pursue progressive policies in future Democratic primaries, and win.
The Democratic Party has moved far enough to the left where it’s possible to imagine a candidate of the progressive left cobbling together a majority without much support from affluent liberals. It isn’t easy — Democrats are basically satisfied with Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama’s positions — but it’s possible.