Class Politics, Not White Male Angst, Inspires Wide Support For Sanders
Throughout the Democratic presidential primary, journalists and commentators have relied upon their interactions with Bernie Sanders supporters on social media to promote the myth that what drives white men to support the democratic socialist is angst or some form of racial resentment. But there simply is no basis in fact for this argument; in fact, it is class politics, which is at the core of the groundswell of support for Sanders.
Matt Karp, who is an assistant professor of history at Princeton and a contributing editor of Jacobin, appears on the show to talk about a story he co-authored with Shawn Gude on the Sanders campaign, class politics of the campaign, and how—despite the dominant narrative—it is not driven by white male angst.
Karp wrote a piece that deconstructed a flawed survey, which two political scientists inappropriately used to draw conclusions about white Sanders supporters. The problem, as Karp points out, is the survey included Republicans. When they are removed and only people who likely voted for Sanders remain, it shows white Sanders supporters are not only more class conscious than white Clinton supporters but they are consistently less racist than white Clinton supporters.
We spend the interview breaking down this survey, discussing why it is important, and what Karp has learned from writing about the Sanders campaign for Jacobin.
Then, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola return from a weeks-long break to highlight the hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy speech against Donald Trump. The hosts talk about the tragedy of refugees drowning as they flee for Europe. U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s appeal is briefly discussed. Finally, the hosts talk about the upcoming California primary and the Democratic Party’s disdain for independent voters.
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Below is a partial transcript.
GOSZTOLA: Let’s begin by looking at the survey itself. This is called the American National Elections Studies (ANES) survey. It’s something that multiple outlets have been using, but you used it, I think, in the correct way to look at the Sanders campaign.
KARP: This survey was done in January. It’s part of this larger—The American National Elections Studies is one of the sort of gold standard political sciences databases, I think. I’m not a political scientist so I’m not overly familiar with the many ways it’s used, but some of my best friends are political scientists. I can admit that. It’s just a huge database, where they ask Americans to weigh in on their political views on dozens and dozens of different dimensions.
The study that they did in January actually didn’t get that much attention when it first came out, but it has some of the most detailed information about what the sort of supporters of the primary candidates—not just Democrats but also Republicans—where they line up on various political spectrums. They ask all kinds of pushy questions that are designed to sort of reveal racial resentments or senses of sexism, a bunch of different policy questions.
It’s an interesting database, but to be honest, I had not really noticed it being deployed in the campaign until in the New York Times two really eminent political scientists, Christopher Achen, who is actually at Princeton and I didn’t know him but he’s a colleague, and Larry Bartels, who has done a lot of really good word, I think. He wrote a book on our “unequal democracy,” how the wealthy people have vastly more influence in passing legislation. He’s done a lot of interesting stuff on our stratified unequal democracy, but this editorial seemed to be using the ANES data to pooh-pooh the idea that the Sanders campaign was drawing on any kind of surge in left-wing energy or any belief in social democratic policy—and that because a lot of the Bernie supporters did not favor in significant ways, in fact, what they said, had less enthusiasm for raising the minimum wage and greater spending on health care on other issues.
The way that I understood that piece was part of a larger effort, especially when someone like Paul Krugman jumped on it right afterward and sort of was doing cartwheels over the idea that Bernie supporters have been revealed to be not social democratic new wave but actually just disaffected white men I think is what they said, and voting primarily based on social identities and symbolic allegiances rather than their political opinions.
But if you look at the study, the wording of the study, how they ask you to identify your political candidate, they say regardless of whether you’ll be voting in the Democratic primary this year, which candidate is your favorite. So, in other words, it kind of becomes a bar trivia question that a bunch of Republicans, about half the Republicans in the sample chose to answer, and skewed the data. Many of those Republicans chose Bernie Sanders. I don’t know why, but I don’t think it’s very meaningful. About half the Democrats chose a Republican candidate. It ended up creating a sample of Bernie voters that was way more right-wing than I think is really warranted if we’re trying to get a sense of people, who are actually voting for Bernie Sanders, what they believe.
You take those Republicans out of the sample and you find, maybe not so surprisingly, that Bernie Sanders voters are considerably to the left of Hillary Clinton voters on a number of issues, especially on gender and race questions, which I think was most surprising to me.
GOSZTOLA: Get into some specifics of what you were seeing when you compare the Sanders voters to Clinton voters. One thing, I will steer you in this direction and see if you have any specific comments along these lines. It looks like when you’re looking at the different comparisons that can be drawn that it would show some influence, that the people who are supporters of Clinton are on the side of things like the welfare repeal that you have going back to the 1990s.
KARP: Yeah. No, it’s true. Just to summarize briefly what I found, what may be the most surprising especially given the way the campaigns have been treated in the media. And, as somebody who is skeptical of much of what the corporate media does, obviously it’s not the idea that there have been many efforts to delegitimize the Sanders campaign by painting as a much of angry white dudebros has never been persuasive to me. Still, it was striking that when you actually look at these questions, like the various questions designed to measure racial resentment, things like do you agree black people are lazy or violent. Some of them were really just bald, like do you agree with this racial stereotype.
To be honest, it’s kind of depressing. Not that anyone needs to be reminded that racial resentment is real and profound in America in the 21st Century. We shouldn’t. But you would almost think with these racial resentments, people would be savvier about hiding them and not answering things like black people are extremely lazy. But, you know, twenty percent of white Clinton supporters said that. And that was the pattern throughout the data, especially data on race.
I was just looking at white Clinton supporters and white Sanders supporters, and you really see—It’s not a huge difference. There were plenty of Sanders supporters that had white racial resentments, like most white people in America, but they were consistently lower and in some cases considerably lower. When asked if white identity was important to you, I think it was twenty-two percent of Sanders supporters said so and forty-three percent of Clinton supporters said extremely or very important. And that was the pattern through all these questions.
Why that is, Kevin, that’s an interesting point that these are probably older. Like the average Hillary Clinton voters of all races, they tend to be older. They probably are a lot of these older white Democrats, who were on board with the welfare reform, and you can understand why that was a politically popular move with some sections of the Democratic Party. That’s a good point.
KHALEK: Beyond race, I mean, the other thing that you point out—This is striking to me because Hillary Clinton is running to be the first female president. Regardless of older or not, that’s been a big part of her campaign. I do think it’s interesting—like do you favor requiring employers to offer paid leave of parents to new children. And, even among the men and women voters on the Sanders side, the Sanders side comes out on the more liberal end of the spectrum. Parental leave is always thought of as a woman’s issue. So, in terms of the gender stuff, did you see that being a clear line as well?
KARP: That was surprising. The ANES doesn’t have as many questions. They really have this astonishing battery of questions about racial identity. At the end of reading all the study questions, I felt like this is a test designed to inspire racial animosity. But pollsters are really into tracking that…
KHALEK: It’s like the one popular thing that’s consistently tracked is racism.
KARP: Yeah, and literally, the questions about class you have to read through sixteen different tea leaves to figure out people’s sort of sense of class consciousness. There are way more race questions than gender questions so I had to look at policy-based questions. They did ask a couple on what they call gender policy questions. First was about equal pay for men and women doing the same work. I think it was about sixty percent of Sanders supporters strongly favor equal pay, and only about fifty percent supported it for Clinton.
My favorite little bit of data was that male Sanders supporters, who favored it a great deal, fifty-three percent of Bernie bros favored it a great deal, and that’s actually more than the number of female Clinton supporters that supported it [*paid parental leave], which was really surprising.
KHALEK: You don’t have to make an argument. Just show it because it really does cut against the entire narrative that’s been shaped by the very pro-Clinton media about Bernie Sanders supporters.
KARP: Based almost entirely on social media interactions.
KHALEK: That’s another thing too, the age difference. There’s like a total age difference between Sanders and Clinton supporters for the most part. So, it is funny that you’ve got the media saying it’s the younger generation that’s more racist. Because it’s kind of like what you are saying, when you say Sanders supporters are more racist, and it’s just not true.
KARP: Right, and then you actually look at the attitudes. On the gender thing, reporters, if they were being at all fair-minded or anyone who spent any time near the Sanders campaign. I’ve done a little bit of small-time canvassing and stuff. It’s really not—Or just go to rallies. It’s really not a sea of bros. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The positions that Bernie Sanders takes—He’s been much more aggressive about something like paid leave than Hillary Clinton. You correct me if I’m wrong. I think she didn’t come out strongly even for New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal, which isn’t as strong as what Bernie would want it to be. But even Hillary has been cautious with that like she is with everything.
For the rest of the interview with Matt Karp, listen here.