5 lessons for Democrats from the Clinton vs. Sanders fight

Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party nominee for president.

Before the Indiana primary, for Bernie Sanders to tie among pledged delegates awarded from primaries and caucuses, he has to win everywhere by an average of 30 percentage points. Every time Sanders underperforms, he needs even bigger wins to get most pledged delegates.

That’s because at the Democratic National Convention, the autonomous unpledged delegates known as superdelegates vote on the first ballot with pledged delegates. And if unpledged delegates had to vote with their states, Clinton would win.

Carucha L. Meuse | The Journal News | USA TODAY NETWORK

Carucha L. Meuse | The Journal News | USA TODAY NETWORK

Meanwhile, there are five broader lessons for Democrats from the nomination contest.

  1. A race to the end helps the party.

Sanders says he will run through the last contest, and that’s a good thing. Although his fundraising plunged 40 percent in a month and he’s had to lay off hundreds of staff members, staying in helps Sanders promote his issues. It’s also consistent with his long-ago past as captain of his high school cross-country team, a sport in which not running through the finish line hurts the squad’s score.

Clinton stayed in through the last primary in 2008 and then endorsed and worked hard for Barack Obama. While some supporters’ feelings were frayed, the alliance maintained media attention on the issues and sharpened campaign operations. Now Sanders declares he will “work seven days a week” for the Democratic nominee, whether it’s him or Clinton. Issue-oriented primaries are good for Democrats.

  1. The impatience of youth is a good thing.

Although Sanders has supporters from every age group, his strongest support is from younger voters. American social movements of the left have always involved youth, since they come to politics with a sense that big change is achievable.

Energy and passion and a commitment to change bring young people into political action. Research shows that once people start voting, work on campaigns and get involved in party politics, they’re more likely to do it in the future.

  1. Constituencies want candidates to show their receipts.

When candidates run, they not only have to say what they will do but have to establish they’ve paid their dues and produced real results.

Clinton has been supported by majorities of female, black, Latino, gay and lesbian, and Jewish voters, constituencies with whom she has long-lasting relationships — constituencies that saw her championing them and delivering for them. For instance, as secretary of state and as a senator from New York, Clinton worked to expand health services for women and gay and lesbian people, spoke about LGBT and women’s rights publicly and with foreign leaders, and made it easier to get asylum based on persecution based on gender and LGBT status.

For Sanders backers, his receipts are his long history of speaking out on issues relating to income inequality and the power of wealthy interests. While not a legislator in the league of the very accomplished former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, Sanders was successful in expanding funding for federal health clinics.

  1. Telling people they don’t know better is counterproductive.

Sometimes people strongly committed to their candidate or party are so vocal about why others should agree with them that they put down people with other preferences. We’ve seen this with claims that working-class people are voting against their interests if they vote Republican, a view that ignores that these voters may be making their decisions on non-economic issues or just see their interests differently than most Democrats.

In the nomination contest, black voters overwhelmingly voted for Clinton while some Sanders supporters argued that black people who support her are uninformed. Even as Clinton has won most of women’s votes, some of her backers implied that all women should help elect the first woman president of the United States. When trying to persuade voters, it’s always best to focus on issues. Telling voters they don’t know what they’re doing is patronizing and just boomerangs.

  1. Voters want positive messages.

Clinton’s positive vision has focused on bringing kindness, opportunity for all, and a commitment to the public good back to our civic life. Sanders has emphasized reducing the power of powerful interests.

While there are plenty of problems that cry out for attention, winning candidates and parties also know voters want to be lifted up, to hear what might be.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.