Can Clinton count on Sanders voters?

A few days ago I wrote:

Once Clinton becomes the nominee, it’s likely that Democrats and left-leaning independents will coalesce around her candidacy. Probably not to the same extent that her supporters coalesced around Obama in 2008, but to a considerable degree.

In March, when Clinton was far ahead of Trump in the polls, I was even more convinced of her ability to win the support of Sanders voters.

But is my analysis correct? Throughout the campaign season, I have overestimated standard ideology as a force in this election. I believed that once Trump’s non-conservatism was laid bare, he would falter in the primaries. It rarely happened.

I view Democrats/leftists as more single-minded and purposeful than Republicans/conservatives. On this view, there is a reasonable basis for believing that, even in this year of discontent with traditional politicians, ideological concerns will induce Sanders voters to coalesce around Clinton in the general election — as Clinton supporters coalesced around Obama eight years ago. Many of them undoubtedly will.

However, we shouldn’t overlook important differences between Clinton’s 2008 supporters and voters who this year feel the Bern. Clinton’s supporters tended to be older, conventional voters. They were traditional liberals who, once their candidate lost, could be expected to do the pragmatic thing — support the remaining liberal in the race. I don’t recall them throwing chairs or threatening people.

Sanders’ supporters tend to be young and unconventional. Their unconventionality is a point of pride; their pragmatism is subject to doubt.

Many aren’t Democrats and many others are not strongly connected to the party. Many, I suspect, are driven less by an ideological commitment to socialism, or even leftism, than by a profound sense that something is wrong.

Many Sanders supporters don’t view the Democratic contest this year as between two good liberals, the way most Clinton supporters viewed the 2008 race. For them, the race pits an outsider hero who understands how insiders have gamed the system to the detriment of the country against the consummate insider and system-gamer (who, not coincidentally, has gamed the nomination process itself).

A goodly share of these voters might well eschew the issue-pragmatism that induced Hillary’s backers to support Obama in 2008. Some will back Trump, an outsider in a sense who sounds some of Sanders’ themes more convincingly than Clinton can. Others will stay at home on election day.

This, at any rate, is the case for believing that Clinton will struggle mightily, and often unsuccessfully, to bring Sanders voters into the fold. The case now strikes me as plausible.

On it, I think, rests Donald Trump’s hope of being elected president.

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