Category Archives: Bernie Sanders

is bernie sanders a socialist

Is Bernie Sanders a Socialist?

He has many left-wing views, but is Bernie Sanders a socialist?

Throughout his failed bid for the presidency, Bernie Sanders gained attention for his left-wing ideology that, if ever implemented, would dramatically expand the size and scope of the federal government.  To his right-wing critics, those ideas reeked of socialism; to those on the center-left, they seemed impossible to enact, though not entirely without merit.  Is Bernie Sanders a socialist, an adherent to a reviled ideology, or a left-wing ideologue who stops (just) short of socialist goals?

Despite his desire to nationalize healthcare (which, yes, is a socialist policy) and more tightly regulate the economy, Bernie Sanders is not a socialist.  Rather, he is a social democrat, a person who embraces the market, but wants the government to provide a strong social welfare net and play an active role in regulating multi-party transactions.  Many proclaimed socialists, especially those in European countries, support social democratic policies, largely because their more radical dreams couldn’t come to fruition.

Importantly, social democracy is not socialism.  In a socialist economy, the state owns the means of production and centrally planned the economy.  Private property remained and some small businesses still exist, but the state controls the vast majority of the economy in hopes of limiting the accumulation of private wealth (capital) and ensuring and equitable distribution of goods.  Bernie Sanders is not a socialist, clearly, as he doesn’t advocate the state taking over the economy.  Social democracy, Sanders’ actual ideology, keeps capital private; the private sector – not the state – control the means of production.  Government spending, regulation, and taxation redistribute privately created wealth to provide baseline equality for all people.

The Scandinavian nations that people identify as socialist – and which Bernie Sanders touts as idealized socialist examples – actually practice social democracy.  Denmark, for instance, has one of the freest markets in the world and its leaders bristle at Sanders’ characterization of the country as “socialist.”  This “Nordic model” allows people to compete for jobs, for capital holders to develop new business and amass wealth, and for the economy to thrive sans state control.  But the governments do provide a number of benefits, paid for by relatively high taxes.  In others, the perfect example of social democracy.

Bernie Sanders is not a socialist (despite his numerous claims to be a democratic socialist) and misapplies the term with a surprising frequency.  And that’s rather dangerous.  Socialism, of course, is a failed ideology that simply cannot succeed.  It invites tyrannical government control while stripping the incentives needed to create economic growth.  Even its supposed democratic variety – that is, democratic socialism – has these problems: Democratic socialism seeks the same state-centralized ends but hopes to reach them through democratic maneuvers, rather than having it imposed by the government.  Sanders’ popularity and misapplication of socialism makes voters – especially the young voters that comprised his coalition – view socialism favorably because they don’t understand it.  By and large, proclaimed supporters of socialism mistake socialism for social democracy and so press for socialism when it’s really the latter they desire.  

These mistakes enable the resurgence of true socialist adherents as their label no longer immediately turns off voters.  It also distorts real policy considerations as people push for socialism without understanding the ideology and by using false examples that actually describe an offshoot of capitalism, an offshoot in which Sanders and many of his supporters believe.  So, is Bernie Sanders a socialist?  No: Sanders is not a socialist, but his inability to grasp the difference between (democratic) socialism and social democracy enables the mainstreaming of extremists who push an ideology that fails in theory and practice.

what is democratic socialism

What is Democratic Socialism?

What is Democratic Socialism? Lipstick on a Pig

A new mania has gripped the American left: Democratic socialism.  The ideology embraced and popularized by Bernie Sanders has seen rapid growth, predominately among young political actors who hope to fundamentally overhaul the American economic system, but recognize that the traditional “socialist” label only polarizes.  So, to dress the dead ideology, they’ve conveniently stuck a loved word — “democratic” — in front of it and have taken their anger to the internet to commence a “political revolution” (whatever that means) one meme at a time.  With that said, what is democratic socialism, really?

Even democratic socialists struggle to answer that question.  The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) lauds “our socialism” as a means to “a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution” of goods, presumably, and “non-oppressive relationships.”

That sounds wonderful until you realize it’s the meaningless collection of buzzwords that drive masters of the English language insane.


What is democratic socialism’s goal and how is it implemented?

What does this mean?  How does a government implement the popular control of resources and production?

Herein lies the rub.  Democratic socialism organizes around a core belief that the people should control resources and production through democracy.  But, at best, this is impossible, and, at worst, it’s a sure road to oppression and tyranny.

Democratic ownership and allocation of resources and production immediately cannot naturally happen because, in a nation of any size, considerable disagreement about the control of resources will arise, making any sort of popular, or democratic, agreement impossible.  But that assumes democratic socialists want all individuals to equally participate in incredibly complex decisions, naturally a terrible idea and an impossible feat of coordination.

So perhaps democratic socialists don’t mean an active democratic control but rather democratic control through free and fair elections in which various candidates submit proposals for how state-owned/centralized resources and capital should be distributed among the population.  Except this would also fall to pieces immediately.

Minimal-winning coalitions explain why.  The theory, introduced by William Riker, contends that any political party or faction would expand to a size just big enough to win an election or ensure passage of a desired bill.  Doing so enables the coalitions members to compromise as little as possible.

democratic socialism what is it

Take a simplistic example in which a five-member legislature debates a stimulus bill that needs majority support.  The legislators have ideal points (the amount of spending they believe to be most effective for the economy) as follows: A) $100 billion, B) $75 billion, C) $60 billion, D) $40 billion, E) $25 billion.  Lawmaker A introducers her $100 billion spending bill, but no one signs on.  So she proposes an admit to lower spending to $75 billion and lawmaker B then supports the measure.  They still need one more to guarantee passage and so offer another amendment bringing the number down to to $60 billion and achieve the minimal winning coalition.  If the coalition tried to attract more support, they could only do so by lowing the stimulus and moving the successful package further away from their ideal points.  In short, a minimal winning coalition (versus an expansive supermajority) ensures legislation that maximizes ideal points for its members.

Of course, that problem can be alleviated by mandating supermajority support for bill passage, but that moves away from the proclaimed goal of popular control.

This logic extends to any number of issues a polity faces.  Coalitions seek maximum benefit even though it my displease others.  Consider, too, that across a broad range of issues, some coalition members might care little and simply support the proposals offered by concerned members.  Such logrolling (to be a bit unfair) helps establish “long coalitions,” or parties (see “The Party Decides” for an in-depth explanation) that exist to win elections and deliver ideological goals to its constituency without necessarily turning outside of itself for the support needed to pass legislation (action that would necessarily require compromise and thus a deviation from ideal points).

A democratic socialist society in which each election became a referendum on the distribution of society’s resources and goods would naturally incite many arguments about optimization and result in displeasure for some, perhaps many.  Any given coalition could become malicious, recognizing that by establishing a minimal winning distributional coalition it could monopolize government resources and simply ignore the needs of its opposition.  Democracy and democratic control could actually exacerbate the very inequality against which democratic socialists rail.

So if direct and indirect democratic control won’t work, perhaps DSA members would prefer the traditional socialist central planning in which the state controls the means of production and unelected technocrats distribute goods based either on contribution or need, both of which are purportedly democratic.

Except that’s not democratic and it invites corruption and kleptocracy.

Those are the best case scenarios: It simply doesn’t work and the system collapses or enacts market-based reforms to salvage itself (some argue that democratic socialism embraces the market so long as all needs among the citizenry are met.  If we classify those needs as solvable by welfare benefits, we’ve described social democracy, not democratic socialism.  Scandinavian countries, heralded as democratic socialist utopias are actually market-based social democracies).

democratic socialism

At its worst, the democratic ownership of the resources and production simply invites tyranny.  Democracies already invite corrupt actors who seek, largely through democratic means, to assume and consolidate power for their own vanity or profit.  Add to that natural incentive borne from the inherent corruption of humankind the spoils of state-owned resources, and demagogues have every incentive to gain power no matter the cost because its payoffs are so high.  Controlling the means of production means controlling society.  The leader and her political party can reward loyalty while punishing opponents into poverty.  They can skim from the state and, by starving opposition of economic life, nip their ability to meaningfully compete in elections.

Democratic socialism’s implementation by any of the means outlined above simply enables and invites tyranny through centralized economic control.

So, what is democratic socialism?

In short, a disaster waiting to happen.  The ideology relies on lofty dreams that ignore human reality, as evidenced by the entirety of our history.  It assumes a level of beneficence amongst all people that simply does not exist and dreams of utopia without outlining the steps needed to get there.  Like any fairytale, it arouses the imagination, but could never be implemented.

What is democratic socialism?  A resuscitation of a failed ideology that either could never exist or, if brought into existence, would quickly devolve into tyranny.

bernie sanders frontrunner

Is Bernie Sanders the 2020 Democratic Front-Runner? Not Yet.

Elizabeth Warren’s presence means there is no early front-runner.

Vox’s highly talented Matt Yglesias wrote a provocative and persuasive piece explaining why he believes Bernie Sanders stands as the Democrats’ 2020 front-runner.  To be sure, Sanders has a lot going for him: The 2016 runner-up has established a national brand with high name ID, rabid supporters willing to donate and volunteer, and a continued foot in the political circuit as he tours the country holding rallies for like-minded politicians and in hopes of advancing his primary legislative goal, universal healthcare.

However, Sanders also suffers from lasting animosity churned up during the 2016 campaign.  A number of Clinton supporters blame Sanders, at least in part, for Donald Trump’s upset victory.  They chastise him for not leaving the primary in the early spring months and not working hard enough to prevent his supporters from either staying at home or casting a third-party ballot on election day.  These critics hold some truth — Sanders should have eased himself from the national stage following Super Tuesday — but other points miss the mark.  Regardless, tensions exist.

But on top of lasting 2016 anger, old-age (he’ll be 78 come 2020), and policy ideas still to the left of many Democrats, Sanders is not the 2020 front-runner for one simple reason: Elizabeth Warren.

Warren running would complicate matters for Sanders

Naturally, we don’t yet know whether Warren will run, but her actions show someone interested in running for president.  She’s become a constant thorn in Trump’s side and has released a book and traveled the country promoting it.  Her standing among Democrats remains quite favorable.  From Warren’s actions stems “nevertheless, she persisted,” a ready-made slogan for Warren allies to promote a nascent candidacy.

Warren endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, but largely remained aloof of the primary.  As such, she earned no hatred or ill-feelings from members of the competing camps.  That would work to Warren’s benefit if Democratic primary voters hope to put 2016 behind them.

Building on that point, Warren could be seen as a compromise candidate.  Warren’s considered more moderate than Bernie Sanders, though her congressional voting record actually places her to the left of the proclaimed democratic socialist.  She appeals to the fervent Sanders supporters; more moderate Democrats would likely prefer her to Sanders and be willing to accept her as an alternate to more establishment Democrats such as Cory Booker or Kirsten Gillibrand.

If Warren runs, she would fracture the Sanders coalition while also putting pressure on moderates.  Her lane would be that of compromise: Peal voters from the middle and wings.  By nature, that would preclude any one candidate from becoming a front-runner as the ideological lanes would become blurred as the moderate, left, and compromise candidates draw similar numbers.  Sanders would be especially hurt as the party’s left-wing does not yet claim a majority of primary voters — unity would be essential to mount a victorious campaign.

Without Warren, Sanders would be the front-runner

Should Warren choose not to run, Sanders would indeed be the front-runner.  His lane would be clear from notable challengers.  The logic also works the other way — if Sanders decide to forego another run, Warren would assume front-runner status, largely by virtue of name ID (Biden would pose another challenge, but his centrism would likely alienate too many voters despite his endearment to the party).

It should be no surprise that two years before the 2020 campaign enters its first leg we have no front-runner.  Nor will we have one until early 2019 when Warren, Sanders, and others decide whether to jump into the race.  Until then, jockeying will continue as party leaders try to establish their brand and win the invisible the primary.

democratic socialism

Democratic Socialism: A Disastrous Ideology

Democratic Socialism must be avoided

What is Democratic Socialism?

Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly resonant campaign introduced a new phrase into our political lexicon: Democratic Socialism.  The phrase seeks to rhetorically touch up “socialism,” an ideology rightly associated with death, despair, and disaster.  Democratic socialism, however, is a catastrophe wrapped in a seemingly innocent movement.  Tt should be avoided and shunned at all costs.

Democratic socialism strives to combine the forces of democracy with social ownership of enterprise — in other words, it hopes to establish a socialist system.  Preceding “socialism” with “democratic” doesn’t modify socialism.  Socialism’s goal is itself democratic in theory: Centralized ownership benefits the masses rather than those with capital (capitalists).  The phrase “democratic socialism” solely seeks to distinguish this vision from the Soviet Union’s Marxist-Leninism, not modify socialist goals.

Similarly, “social ownership of enterprise” amounts to no less than the nationalization of industry and the centralization of production.  Only by the government owning the means of production could enterprise ever achieve social — ie, democratic; ie, lay — ownership.

So democratic socialism offer socialism, but by a better name.

And socialism, of course, does not work, for it quickly descends into despotism while destroying economies.

bernie sanders democratic socialism

Descent to Tyranny

History proves that statement: All socialist experiments led to autocratic, repressive states that deprived their citizens of natural rights. Democracy itself tends towards self-destruction through demagogues who subvert constitutions and strive for self-serving authoritarianism.  Democratic socialism would remove the republican safeguards that prevent demagogic takeover while increasing the riches of office — subvert the constitution, establish unilateral government control, and enjoy the spoils of all nationalized industries.

In other words, the leader, or leading party, has every reason to bend the economy to their desires.  Tyranny of the minority ensues, with the beneficiaries of the centralized system fighting the majority of the population, necessarily involving coercive forces and a seizure of rights (and wholly destroying the democratic socialist vision).

Destruction of the Economy

Even in the idealized world in which the government remains true to democratic virtue and does not succumb to natural human desires to enrich oneself, socialism — and so democratic socialism — falls short of all stated goals.  It destroys the economy by ignoring human nature.

All socialist societies dream of eventual classlessness (which, combined with the abolition of private property, amounts to communism) with the centralized means of production that supposedly serves the (democratic) masses.  It ignores market forces in place of government-decided prices and output (it is impossible for the government to determine optimal quality and price; in attempting to do so, it will be surely be swayed by some minority — a further imposition of minority tyranny as a select few decide the availability of goods for general purchase).

Without incentives and with central planning, the economy quickly stagnates.  Human nature requires incentives to spur productivity and innovation.  Without the ability to reap rewards for hard work — with the government guaranteeing an outcome — worker productivity and the standard the living decline precipitously.  Output then declines, which either forces prices to rise (as they would in a market) or the government subsidizes consumers and producers to maintain a certain price level, straining government coffers and causing debt to spiral, or a government-enforced price (without supplying subsidies) quickly leads to scarcity when production halts as its cost quickly outstep income.  Either way, the economy tumbles and the standard of living plummets.

democratic socialism
The revolution thrust Cuba into abject poverty.


Democratic socialism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  The phrase itself does not modify its fundamental belief in a socialized economy.  Socialism always seeks to be democratic, but because of human nature — because of demagogues and the ease with which a corrupted socialist state can be used to enrich oneself — always descends to tyranny.

The economy similarly suffers.  Central planning ignores incentives, and thus human nature.  Historically and theoretically, socialism leads to dramatic declines in the standard of living.  Only pain and suffering increases.

And so democratic socialism must be avoided.  Democratic socialists must be spurned.  Those seeking to overhaul the economic system into one that has never once worked must never gain power.

Socialism Doesn’t Work

Learn from History

How soon we forget.  How quickly collective memory fades.  How poorly schooling covers recent history.

How shameful that the country’s youngest voters gravitate towards an economic theory that has never once worked.

Voters between 18 and 29 years of age view socialism – which has resulted in countless failed experiments that doomed countries and resulted in millions of death – more favorably than capitalism.

socialism doesn't work

This aligns well with the recent Democratic primary: Self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders dominated among young leftists whereas Hillary Clinton thrived with middle-aged and older liberal Democrats better versed in the fatal conceit of socialism.

What is socialism?

Socialism, which involves the government centralizing, nationalizing, and controlling the means of production, never works in practice.  The Soviet Union should be the most glaring example of socialism’s discontents.  While the USSR never implemented true communism – they settled for a derivation of Marxism, further perverted by despotic repression – it fully implemented collectivism.  And its economy utterly failed.

An initial postwar boom driven by massive fiscal investments in heavy industry – economic growth can be attained even in collectivist environments when enormous resources are thrust upon a given sector; however, that growth is neither efficient nor sustainable – led to epic economic stagnation that the Soviet Union tried to alleviate through market-based reforms.  In other words, the world’s greatest socialist experiment turned to capitalism to salvage its state (and, in the end, it still could not).  This also says nothing of the unfathomable human cost, both in terms of death, poverty, and suffering, that accompanied the failed endeavor.

Real-World Socialism

Incentives matter and under true socialism, with government owning property and the means of production, there are no productive incentives.  Individuals have no reason to innovate or search for profit – a quest that does create jobs and drives down costs while boosting the standard of living for a nation and all its inhabitants.  China, though ostensibly socialist, has realized the need for incentives and thus has implemented many market reforms.

Communist Cuba has entirely failed, resulting in unspeakable poverty and a continuing flood of refugees escaping the villainous regime.

Venezuelan socialism has destroyed the once-vibrant Latin American country.

Scandinavian countries, often touted as socialist successes, are not, in fact, socialist.  Sweden and Finland are among the world’s most competitive countries.  Socialism spurs no competition (and competition drives employment and high standards of living).  Denmark, which Bernie Sanders esteems as the dream socialist state, takes offense at such a label and prides its market economy.  Another tidbit: the public services provided by Denmark are not exemplary, Denmark has privatized many infrastructural elements, and there’s much doubt about the welfare state’s sustainability.  Denmark’s welfare state doesn’t replace the (labor) market – it furthers it.

Socialism vs. Social Welfare

Perhaps favorable views of socialism stem from ignorance

Socialism is not a robust welfare program, but rather the centralization and state-ownership of the means of production.  Government controls capital and industry; the economy is planned centrally with no regard to individual desires, profit incentives, or human capital.

Welfare is not socialism.  A social safety net through services such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit provide for seniors and the poor, helping the latter compete – and hopefully thrive – in a robust labor market.  Welfare is not about stripping from individuals the means of production but rather by helping labor market entrants and ensuring an equal starting (but not finishing) ground for all.

The younger generations who favorably view socialism may well confound the two concepts.  Couple this with fading collective memories of the Soviet Union’s economic failure, massive human toll, and ultimate dissolution, and today’s youth may yearn for a theoretically appealing – but in reality appalling – economic program.  The Great Recession and general income stagnation makes many lust for change of any sort.  Unfortunately, critical thought rarely accompanies such lust.

Capitalism is imperfect, no doubt.  But capitalism – and capitalism only – has led to remarkable economic growth and a breath-taking rise in our standard of living.  It’s produced wealth unimaginable just 200 years ago and product creation in so rapid a pace that the size of a computer dropped 99 percent in just four decades, while simultaneously becoming many orders of magnitude more powerful.

Embracing an economic ideology that has always failed over markets and competition is simply foolish.  Today’s left must not ever embrace socialism.

democratic demagoguery

The Road to Democratic Demagoguery

Anti-party reforms welcome demagogues

Our Constitution’s intricate separation of power, its checks and balances both between governing branches and between the government and the people, and republican emphasis emerged from the Founding Fathers’ fear of direct democracy and majoritarian temptations.  They purposefully designed a Republic and left its maintaining to posterity (“a Republic, if you can keep it”).  On that front, we have largely failed – democratizing reforms, including the direct election of senators and primary elections to choose party nominees, redistributed political power to the masses, leaving government susceptible to flaring passions and fleeting factions.  That, by nature, encourages demagoguery.  Political aspirants need only appeal to emotions to rile and form a majority which they can ride to party nominations and, thanks to strong partisanship, general election contention.  Democratic demagoguery, then, once attained will be as dangerous as its right-winged counterpart.

The Republican Party has succumbed to demagogic temptations by nominating Donald Trump.  Democrats, though behind many of the democratization initiatives, have thus far avoided descending into the irrational throes of a malevolent actor.  But that might not always be the case.  The recent assault on DNC and party legitimacy, launched by Bernie Sanders’ quixotic 2016 presidential bid and carried on by the frothing mass of his most die-hard supporters, threatens to further democratize the party and leave it vulnerable to a presidential hopeful who stokes the redistributive and vindictive passions lit by Sanders himself.  In other words, by working to delegitimize the national party and build class-based animosity and distrust, Bernie Sanders has set the Democratic Party – an entity with which he doesn’t even affiliate – down the road to Democratic demagoguery.

That democratization invariable increases the risk of demagoguery is readily evident for as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 1, “paying an obsequious court to the people commenc[es] demagogues and end[s in] tyrants.”  This is not surprising: Few in a fully democratic electorate have the time, will, ability, or interest to learn, in depth, about all political issues a district faces.  True following the American Revolution, such a statement is even truer today as politics competes with a near-infinite supply of other time-consumers, ranging from sports and movies to bars and books.  Add to that a seemingly ever-increasing number of issues on the ballot in the form of initiatives, referendums, candidates for offices many don’t know exist and it becomes incredibly difficult for the entire electorate to master politics.  And so they don’t, relying instead on cues from those who specialize in the field.  Unfortunately for those who eschew demagogues and the temptations of passion, relying on authority can quickly lead voters astray should the leading figure act to manipulate interests, push falsehoods, and legitimize ignorance or bigotry.

A Well-Designed System

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats erected roadblocks – well, hurdles – that make it challenging for a demagogue to overcome the party’s interest.  Superdelegates, for one, have no obligation to vote for the delegate leader.  Fearing a demagogue or other potential nominee dangerous to the party or country, superdelegates can block a nomination, throwing it to the convention floor, or put another candidate over the top (assuming, of course, the candidate does not attain a majority of delegates).  Democratic demagoguery can thus be avoided.  There are not enough superdelegates to single-handedly decide the nominee or bolster an “establishment” candidate that simply flounders through the primary.  Supderdelegates can make a difference, but only at the end of reasonably close contests.

Secondly, Democratic caucuses and primaries are proportional.  There are no winner-take-all contests.  Plurality candidates would struggle to earn a majority of delegates – similarly, other candidates would have little incentive to drop out as an insurgent demagogue would not necessarily win the nomination prior to the convention.

Third, some states hold closed primaries or caucuses (the same is true on the Republican side).  This encourages voters to take an active political step – affiliating with a party – that increases allegiance with the organization and, through that allegiance, forms (ideally) a lasting coalition in which voters are not just mobilized by temporary arousals, but also with an eye toward the party’s long-term health, which a demagogue might endanger.  Bernie Sanders and his supporters have attacked the first and last of these procedures.

How Democratic Demagoguery Arrives

The Sanders wing of the Democratic Party hopes to further democratize presidential selection by eliminating superdelegates and opening the caucuses and primaries to the entire voting-age population.  Both ideas have the potential to imperil the Democratic Party, especially given that reform-empowered voters have already shown a willingness to embrace, with little question, far-from-center rhetoric and ideology.  Removing superdelegates vanquishes the party from its own nominating affair – no longer would party elites, workers, officeholders, and elder statesmen have a say in who represents their party atop the ballot.  Without the presumably tempering influence of such partisans, Democratic presidential nominations would be left to that which feared the Founders: Direct popular whim.  John Adams claimed that popular rule “soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.  There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”  There’s no immediate reason why this statement shouldn’t apply to parties.  The Republicans, though victorious, might have effectively killed or at least thoroughly poisoned the party with Trump’s nomination and election.  Removing superdelegates would only increase the chances that a mischievous and momentary majority within the Democratic Party could doom the entity to history’s disgraces.

Similarly, opening the primaries to those who care little about the party as whole and instead act to satisfy immediate interests without regard to the party’s long-term standing risks demagoguery.  Independents, contrary to public opinion, are not moderates; they’re closet partisans who often inhabit the ideological wings and vote for far-right or far-left candidates.  In contested open primaries, Donald Trump won 12 of 17 contests (or 71%) whereas in contested closed contests, he won ­13 of 22 contests, or 59% (data from Ballotpedia).  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton carried self-identified Democrats by 27 points while losing independents by 31 (per FiveThirtyEight).  Open primaries allow ideological wingers – those most prone to a demagogue who legitimizes and furthers those viewpoints – to challenge and perhaps emerge victorious over the staid center.  In short, it eliminates another potential party defense against demagogues.

Don’t Encourage Demagogues

Combined, these desired changes – eliminating superdelegates and thus profound party influence in its own nominating affair as well as opening all primaries to independent voters with no attachment to the party’s long-term health and standing – erode republican institutions that, in a sense, protect voters from their primal selves.  It’s worth pointing out that these reforms arise from perceived (though non-existent) DNC corruption and unfounded belief in a “rigged” primary.  These themes themselves have been pushed by demagogues (Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders)!  Clearly, it’s a self-serving cycle: Diminish the party’s standing in order to decentralize the nominating affair and open the door to demagogic victory.

To avoid following the Republicans down the path to charlatan-led extremism, to avoid Democratic demagoguery, Democrats must recognize that while republican institutions do not fully empower they electorate, the checks on popular temptations serve the party itself and the country as a whole.  For, as Alexander Hamilton so eloquently said: “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.”  Let the parties that control our government follow those same guidelines.

Bernie Sanders Fundamentally Misunderstands TPP

As Bernie Sanders’ quest for the Democratic nomination for the presidency winds down, he has set his sight on other lofty ambitions: influencing the Democratic Party’s platform.  Recently, that’s meant vehemently condemning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Sanders decries as unfairly forcing workers to compete against “low-wage countries who earn pennies an hour.”

Sanders stands against TPP for economic reasons, though his arguments largely miss the mark.  TPP will likely not affect the American economy.  A U.S. International Trade Commission study predicted that the trade agreement would “lift U.S. gross domestic product by a small amount – 0.15%, or $42.7 billion, by 2032 – and increase employment by a net of 128,000 full-time jobs.”  The effects are not spread evenly.  Business services and agriculture would each grow by around $10 billion; manufacturing would decrease by around the same amount (per the ITC study).

Criticizing the TPP on economic grounds is not the right line of attack.  The approach ignores evidence to the contrary and, more importantly, fails to analyze TPP’s geopolitical ramification, the agreement’s motivating factor.  Sanders’ TPP disparagements therefore shows that he fundamentally misunderstands the multinational trade pact – TPP is much more a strategic foreign relations move by President Barack Obama than it is a free-trade pact designed to affect the domestic economy.

China’s influence across Asia is growing.  Its development as a country and increasing international clout threatens America’s standing as the world’s sole hegemon.  The spread of Chinese political thought – illiberal, totalitarian governance coupled with a quasi-capitalistic economic system – threatens America’s commitment to liberal democracy.  TPP comes at a time when “China is…pushing to accelerate the transition to a new order in Asia – one in which China itself has greater influence over the United States, Japan, and other smaller states in the system.”  The trade agreement seeks to contain China by boosting America’s image in Asian and Southeast Asian countries, some of whom, like Vietnam, already view China’s rise with weary eyes.[1]

And it’s easy to see how TPP will accomplish that goal.  A study done by Peter A. Petri and Michael G. Plummer of Brandeis University estimates that the economies of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore will grow by 8.1, 7.6, 5.9, and 3.9 percent, respectively, by 2030.  There’s no better way to ingratiate America to the people of these countries than through economic and income growth.  Both will increase the standard of living for people throughout TPP member states and, coming from American action, will pull those countries away from Chinese influence.

Lowering trade barriers, apart from creating prosperity for the involved countries, fosters a culture of openness and togetherness.  Member nations must work together to establish rules by which all must abide.  Doing so creates the long-sought society of states where countries coexist in a peaceful, stable order that builds wealth and promotes the general welfare of all those involved.  TPP creates that society, headed by the United States, in a region where an aspiring hegemon hopes to overpower American interests.

What’s more, if successful, TPP could induce China to apply for membership.  Though such an action is not imminent, President Obama mentioned that China has “already started putting out feelers about the possibilities of them participating at some point.”  Their membership would hinge on “major changes to its economy, international diplomacy and attitude toward free trade.”  In turn, that would ideally lead to China further accepting capitalistic reform and the political liberalization that usually accompanies market reforms (this on top of the benefits accrued from China entering a society of peaceful states).  Distant, perhaps infinitely so, the possibility of China entering TPP and working with America on equal grounds is worth mentioning as a TPP plus.

TPP poses the best means for America to curry favor with Asian and Southeast Asian countries while containing Chinese influence.  As such, opposing TPP on pure economic grounds not only fails to accommodate research findings, it displays international ignorance.  Sanders embraces a position that simply does not make sense and, in fighting TPP, he demonstrates that TPP’s true benefits and design eludes him.  As Michael J. Green and Matthew P. Goodman stated, “The opponents of TPP have offered no better pathway to [the aforementioned] beneficial future.”

[1] In a sense, TPP fights fire with fire: China expanded its sphere of influence largely through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.  Soft power often yields the best results in foreign relations.

bernie sanders wisconsin

Bernie’s Big Wisconsin Night

Our model gave Bernie Sanders a 58 percent change of winning the Wisconsin primary and estimated he would earn 53 percent of the vote, thus carrying 46 delegates.  The actual results? 57-43 in favor of Sanders, leading to his taking 48 delegates (to Hillary Clinton’s 38).  He clearly beat our expectations, though at the same time, a large victory in an 82 percent white state (with a small African American population) is not necessarily shocking.  Regardless, the victory is sure to lead to another influx of hard money into the Sanders campaign coffers and will serve as a springboard into New York and other Northeastern primaries.

That said, Bernie Sander’s performance in Wisconsin still leaves much to be desired: He’s still losing African-Americans by a lot (69-31).  The upcoming states have decent African American populations that can make or break Sanders’ attempts to close the delegate gap.  This problem isn’t new – a failure to connect with African Americans has plagued the Sanders campaign since its inception and is the prime cause for Clinton’s large delegate lead.  Her sweep of Southern states, many by shockingly large numbers, rendered Sanders’ victories in small caucus states and his close upset in Michigan meaningless.  And though Clinton could not best Sanders in Wisconsin, the demographics of the upcoming states and her continued strength with African Americans (though she’s not as strong with minorities as a whole, winning them in Wisconsin 57-43) should portend well for her.

Sanders supporters will naturally counter with two arguments.  The first would be that Sanders is narrowing his gap among African Americans.  Compared to the opening days of the campaign, that is indubitably true.  Sanders lost African Americans in South Carolina by a whopping 72 points, 86-14.  Compare that to Wisconsin and it’s easy to claim that significant inroads have been made.  However, we’re not seeing any current movement.  In Michigan, his most significant upset, Sanders lost African Americans 28-68; similarly, in Illinois a week later, he lost the minority 30-70.  Numbers have hardly changed since the middle of March despite Sanders’ win streak and supposed momentum.  As of yet, he’s simply not changing numbers.

The other argument Sanders supporters would advance revolves around momentum.  Sanders is on a large winning streak and that’s giving his campaign renewed hope and his supporters renewed faith in ultimate victory.  With this momentum has come millions of dollars – $44 million in March alone.  Can Sanders translate momentum into votes?  There lies the make-or-break question.  If Sanders can translate momentum – a seemingly overrated and overplayed buzzword – and his cash windfall into votes and support among minority communities, the upcoming states might become competitive and maybe, just maybe, he could close the delegate gap.

Is Wisconsin a turning point in the race?  Not in itself.  It’s a state Sanders needed to win and did; he achieved the necessary.  Only if Sanders can compete in New York will race be altered.

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wisconsin democratic primary predictions

Wisconsin Democratic Primary Predictions

We’re back with our Democratic prediction model, which fared very well during Western Saturday (it correctly predicted the winner in each of the Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington caucuses and its vote share estimates also fell close to the actual results).  While those results likely did not change the trajectory of the race, they have certainly infused Bernie Sanders with momentum: In the past week, Wisconsin polls flipped from having Clinton up 6 points to Sanders being up an average of 5 points.

Our Wisconsin Democratic primary predictions show two different (and simultaneously expected) results.  The table below depicts win probabilities for the two candidates.  It largely aligns and mimics the polls — Sanders has a clear advantage and is indubitably favored, but not overwhelmingly so (a win probability one would expect with a candidate leading the polls by just more than the margin of error).

Hillary Clinton Win Probability

Bernie Sanders Win Probability


However, the vote share model tells a different story.  The vote share Wisconsin Democratic primary predictions point to a decisive, landslide victory for Sanders.  Our vote share model relies heavily on demographics and those of Wisconsin trend favorably to Sanders — the state is overwhelmingly white (82 percent) with a very small African American and Hispanic population (6 and 5.6 percent, respectively).  These demographics are similar to those of Minnesota, a neighboring state which Sanders handily won (with 62 percent of the vote; Minnesota also favored Sanders because it was a caucus).  Sanders fares very well with white voters and their large presence in the state’s electorate leads to the model advantaging him in the primary.  In other words, if he’s to make up the delegate gap, Wisconsin is very favorable terrain to net a large number of them.

Hillary Clinton Vote Share

Bernie Sanders Vote Share


Will our predictions bear out?  Based on polls, it seems so, though given Sanders’ recent momentum and financial resources (which could fund a substantial last-minute ad blitz), it would not be surprising to see Sanders win by slightly larger margins.  Considering that Wisconsin is 82 percent white, the predicted margin is actually rather disappointing for Sanders – favorable demographics in a medium sized state offer him an increasingly rare opportunity to pick up a large amount of delegates and begin to meaningfully close his deficit.  We predict the below delegate allocation:

Hillary Clinton Delegate Expectation

Bernie Sanders Delegate Expectation


These targets, again, seem reasonable given the polls.  If Sanders earns more than 46 delegates from the primary, it will be a good day for him.  If he passes 50, it will be a very good day for Sanders (though, unless indicative of beating polls and expectations, the single victory here will not alter any race dynamics).

As always, take these numbers with grains of salt as they reflecting underlying electoral conditions, not the campaigns or the candidates or momentum or news, etc.  These estimates may well be wrong (we fully admit that) and in the case they are, we’ll go right back to the drawing board to refine and edit our models.  Any comments about these forecasts or our models are welcomed!

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alaska caucus hawaii caucus washington caucus delegates bernie sanders

Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington Caucus Recap

Bernie Sanders had a big weekend, notching victories in the Alaskan, Hawaiian, and Washingtonian caucuses.  He won each state by large margins – the Alaska caucus by 63, the Hawaii caucus by 69, and the Washington caucus by 45.  A boon to his momentum and fundraising (he brought in around $4 million in the days following the caucuses, ensuring he has the financial resources to invest heavily in Wisconsin and other upcoming primaries), the victories did not change the race’s trajectory, as we have documented.  That said, while it remains to be seen whether Sanders can turn these victories into lasting momentum, a positive sign for his campaign emerged from the night: Sanders beat expectations, necessary in all the upcoming caucuses and primaries if he hopes to win the nomination.

First of all, we define “expectations” as our delegate estimates based on PoliticalEdu’s model.  Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally, so we simply multiply vote share estimates by state delegate totals to create a benchmark to which we set our expectations.  The model explains around 96 percent of the variation between actual vote shares, so it is quite accurate and continues to “learn” as more results become available (we add each result to the model to hone and refine the relationship between variables, allowing the model to adjust to new electoral inroads a candidate makes and the changing primary landscape).  It is, of course, not perfect and thus our delegate targets are not perfect, but the model’s high degree of accuracy and focus on underlying electoral factors provides a strong baseline estimate; beating the model’s expectations shows a campaign that overcomes earlier trends and gains votes at the expense of the opponent.

With expectations defined, let’s turn to Saturday’s results.  Our model showed Sanders taking 74 percent of the vote in the Alaska caucus, sufficient for 12 delegates.  Here Sanders exceeded expectations.  He took 13 delegates from the Alaska caucus with 81.6 percent of the vote.  Though he clearly beat the model and its delegates expectations, doing so only led to his gaining a single extra delegate.  Alaska is an incredibly small state and only had 16 delegates at stake.  Beating expectations in Alaska is fairly meaningless – Sanders surpassed his vote share target by around 10 percent and got only one more delegate.  A remarkable feat lost significance because Alaska had so few delegates in the first place.  Sanders’ large Alaska caucus win netted him just 10 delegates over Clinton; he needs that margin of victory in large states where he can eat into the still very large delegate gap separating him from Clinton.

In the Hawaii caucus, our model again showed Sanders earning 74 percent of the vote and with it, 19 delegates.  Here he underperformed, getting (“just”) 70 percent of the vote and 17 delegates.  He fell two delegates off his target: already, his expectation-defying performance in Alaska is overshadowed by coming up short in Hawaii (up 1 delegate in Alaska but down 2 Hawaii, netting to being down 1 in delegate expectations).  As delegate number increases, Sanders simply cannot afford to underperform expectations, otherwise he will have little chance to close Clinton’s delegate lead.  Each delegate matters, especially with Sanders trailing by a substantial amount, and failing to meet expectations in any state – even a small one like Hawaii – makes his climb to the nomination a little bit harder.

Turning now to the Washington caucus, we forecasted Sanders taking 68 percent of the vote and 69 delegates.  He easily defied expectations by earning a staggering 73 percent of the vote and 74 delegates, surpassing expectations and securing his largest single-state delegate haul of the primary season.  Sanders was hugely favored in the state, which has small a African American subset and tends to be very liberal.  That said, once again beating vote share estimates by almost 10 percent is an impressive feat, especially considering we already had high estimates and expectations for his showing.  Importantly, unlike the Alaska caucus, the Washington caucus had a substantial number of delegates.  Beating his expectations by around 10 percent earned him an extra 5 delegates (as compared to the single extra delegate he picked up in the Alaska caucus).  Five delegates alone do not, of course, close the delegate gap, but Western Saturday showed that Sanders is able to surpass high expectations and drive up the score in states he should win.  Moreover, the Washington caucus showed that Sanders’ appeal is not limited to small states – a trouble that has so far plagued the Sanders campaign.  The question remains, though: can he beat expectations in large, diverse states – states through which the path to the nomination weaves?


Sanders Delegate Expectation

Actual Delegates



(A strong showing, but Sanders must make expectation surpassing a trend that carries over into the New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California primaries).

It remains to be seen whether these victories will propel Sanders in the upcoming contests.  He still faces a daunting task in closing Clinton’s lead.  Doing so seems highly unlikely, but if Western Saturday serves as precedent or starts a trend, Sanders may well overperform estimates in future primaries and caucuses.  Well it be enough?  Probably not – he’s trailing large in must-win states.  But habitually overperforming delegate estimates will give Sanders and his supporters hope and may result in tighter contests than many are expecting.