The latest negative media narrative about Bernie Sanders is that Bernie supporters are, like their leader, only in it for Bernie, and not willing to show up to support “down-ticket” Dems (those running for lower-level offices).
The Washington Post reports that in Wisconsin’s race for Supreme Court justice, “15 percent of Sanders voters skipped the Bradley-Kloppenburg race; just 4 percent of Hillary Clinton voters did the same.”
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum, fumes, “Bernie is basing a lot of his campaign not just on anti-Hillary sentiment, but on anti-Democratic-Party-establishment sentiment. That’s fair enough, but like it or not, the Democratic Party is all we have to compete with Republicans.”
Salon ran a piece by Gary Legum with the headline, “This is the Problem with Bernie's Revolution,” and the subhead, “A far-right judge was elected to Wisconsin's Supreme Court—partly, it appears, with the help of Bernie voters.”
And Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog states, “the fact that so many Sanders supporters showed up to vote for him, but not other like-minded candidates, reinforces Democratic concerns about the senator’s electoral role.”
But there’s more, much more, to this story
The reality is that younger voters tend to not participate in down ticket races, especially those like the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, which was nonpartisan and not marked with “D” or “R.” The conventional wisdom is that, as voters age, they become more familiar with different office holders and their participation increases.
This has always been the case.
For example, in 2008, Wisconsin had a similar spring election: Both Republicans and Democrats had contested primaries and the ticket included a hotly contested state Supreme Court race between conservative Michael Gableman and liberal incumbent Justice Louis Butler. In that race, then-Senator Obama also beat then-Senator Clinton by a nearly identical margin as Sanders beat Clinton—with Sanders having a similarly large base of support among younger voters.
In that the election, the “roll-off rate”—the number of voters who voted for Obama or Clinton and didn’t vote for Butler in the Supreme Court race—was a whopping 64 percent. Butler got only 402,798 of the 1,113,285 votes cast in the Democratic primary and ended up narrowly losing by about 20,000 votes. In other words, in 2008 nearly two out of every three voters that participated in the Democratic primary didn’t vote in Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
In 2016, the roll-off rate from Dem primary voters to the liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate was absurdly low—only 8 percent.
Young voters—those between 18 and 34—had the highest roll-off rate for both Clinton (16 percent) and Sanders (24 percent) supporters. But, historically speaking, both campaigns did a great job of educating their voters about this important down ticket race. Roll-offs were much lower than previous years.
Using cocktail napkin math, if Obama won Wisconsin with 58 percent of the vote, similar proportions of high roll off rate voter demographics as Sanders 57 percent win, then it’s reasonable to compare 2008’s 64 percent roll-off rate to 2016’s 8 percent and safely estimate that Sanders’ voters did exponentially better than Obama's voters.
Yet I don’t remember a media narrative of Obama only being about Obama and not helping down-ticket candidates.