Sanders is from Vermont – Duh!

bernie-sandersBernie Sanders is an old style union leftist. He opposes trade deals. He calls for higher taxes on “the rich”. He doesn’t like trade because he thinks that locking foreign goods out of the US will benefit American workers. This has tremendous resonance with large parts of the Democratic Party. He is beginning to look like a threat to Hillary Clinton. But this is not going to last. When Bernie’s bubble bursts, will Martin O’Malley be able to ride the wind of Bernie’s explosion to mount a credible challenge to Clinton?

The thing that liberals are starting to learn about Sanders is that he is from Vermont. That puts him outside a couple of key liberal bubbles. Sanders is largely against gun control, and that’s likely to be a problem for him in the Democratic primaries. People see the word “liberal” applied to him because of his anti-trade, pro-tax, positions, and they think certain things go with that. But, in Vermont, they don’t. 

Apart from the gun thing, there is something else that marks out Vermont as being very different from other liberal bubbles, such as New York City, San Francisco or O’Malley’s home town, Baltimore. Vermont is overwhelmingly white. Urban liberals, or liberals in states which include major conurbations, are used to piecing together a racial coalition. In Vermont, it is more about rallying the white hippies. 

The Sanders experience with mobilizing a liberal vote is very different to other liberal icons such as Nancy Pelosi or Bill de Blasio. The result is that he says things which are pretty much unsayable in San Francisco or New York. Sanders is heavily critical of mass immigration, which, he claims, depresses the wages of low-income Americans.

This should be no particular surprise. Populists who argue against trade are often against immigration too. Donald Trump is a good example. It is all part of the same way of thinking and the same analysis. (It is a flawed analysis, by the way, but it is the same analysis which rejects trade and also rejects immigration). But intellectual consistency doesn’t matter. Democrats cannot be against immigration. The Latino vote is fundamental to the Democratic coalition in at least four swing states: Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. The urban vote which is critical to Democrats in almost all states is more diverse. It includes African Americans as well as Latinos, and they are more relaxed about immigration. But Latinos are still a key part of the coalition in the major cities of states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Black voters and white liberals are significant blocks, but cannot carry those states alone.

Even California, which is by no means a swing state, would look a great deal more fragile for Democrats if the party chose a candidate anathema to Latinos. 

The Sanders-Trump analysis is wrong. The data do not back it up. Pushing up prices – which is the inevitable consequence of protectionism – hurts poor people a lot more than it hurts the rich. It is not going to carry the field in either party. But when it fades, who will pick up the pieces of the Sanders campaign. Common Sense would urge a sly bet on Martin O’Malley. A good show in Iowa could let him vacuum up the Sanders vote in New Hampshire and on to Nevada and South Carolina.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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