The Myth of the Bernie or Bust Movement

July 26th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

The Bernie or Bust crowd is out in full force at the Democratic National Convention. But their presence isn't exactly the harbinger of party disunity that the media is making it out to be.

It's not a great image for the DNC — Bernie Sanders supporters waving signs criticizing Hillary Clinton and alleging betrayal against progressive speakers who endorse the presumptive nominee — but it's also not a particularly accurate depiction of the Democratic national sentiment. A 2016 poll from Pew Research Center offers some clarity:


Of the most consistent Sanders supporters (voters who said they back the candidate in December, March, and April surveys), 90 percent plan to vote for Clinton in the general election. Only 8 percent said they'd go for Trump, and 2 percent said they wouldn't vote for either candidate. In other words, Bernie or Bust is a fringe movement that's receiving a disproportionate amount of media coverage, creating the illusion of party-wide discord.


This is partially because delegates at the DNC "are not normal members of political parties," as The Washington Post's Phillip Bump explains. Their views tend toward the ideological extreme, and so the #NeverHillary cohort is strongly represented at the convention.

That's why perspective matters here.

Not only are the vast majority of Sanders supporters planning to cast their vote for Clinton in November, but the level of party fragmentation we're witnessing today doesn't even stack up to that of the 2008 Democratic presidential election, Latest reports.

Only 6 percent of Democratic primary voters say they're not going to vote for Clinton, according to a 2016 CBS/New York Times poll. A 2008 CBS poll (conducted around the same time) found that 12 percent of Democrats planned to vote for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over then-Sen. Barack Obama, with an additional 7 percent saying they were either undecided or declining to vote entirely.

Before Bernie or Bust, there was PUMA (unofficially known as Party Unity My Ass). Jaded Clinton supporters, frustrated that their candidate had lost her bid for the nomination, behaved in much the same way in 2008 as Sanders supporters protesting at the DNC are behaving today.

​PUMAs also recognized that opposing the party's nominee meant splitting the Democratic vote and potentially paving the way for a Republican president — and they also protested against the presumptive nominee at the 2008 convention. Why? Among other reasons, "Because we refuse to support a nominee who was selected by the leadership rather than elected by the voters," one PUMA spokesperson wrote. Sound familiar?

Here's the thing. Most of Clinton's supporters eventually warmed up to Obama.

party unity

"Obama's support among Clinton primary supporters rose from 64 percent in May to 73 percent in mid-September, 79 percent in mid-October and 83 percent by Election Day," The Post reports. "While roughly one in six Clinton supporters eventually defected to McCain in 2008, Obama still won support from 89 percent of all Democrats, tying John Kerry's mark in 2004 for the highest level of Democratic unity since exit polling began in 1972."

It stands to reason that Clinton will see a similar Bernie bump as we near November.

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