Scott Alexander writes at SlateStarCodex:
In other words, the media narrative that Trump is doing some kind of special appeal-to-white-voters voodoo is unsupported by any polling data.
On the other hand, there is a candidate whom the media narrative fits like a glove. A candidate who may win primary among whites, but loses in a landslide among minorities. A candidate whose black support is almost an entire order of magnitude lower than his white support.
That candidate is Bernie Sanders.
According to the same YouGov poll mentioned above, 38% of whites support Bernie Sanders for President, compared to 37% of whites who support Hillary for President. However, only 13% of Hispanics support Sanders, compared to 63% for Hillary. And only 4% of blacks support Sanders, compared to 64% for Hillary!
A South Carolina poll from this month broadly agrees. CNN finds that the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat among whites (48-47) but that Hillary has an overwhelming advantage among blacks (84-7).
Other polls are slightly less extreme but tell the same picture. Gravis (early August) found Hillary leading comfortably among all races, but Sanders’ support among whites was still twice as high as among blacks. The Washington Post also found Sanders doing abysmally overall, but his support among blacks was super-abysmal – only 5 percent!
Suppose we measure a candidate’s “whiteness” by the ratio of their level of white support to their level of nonwhite support within their party. Donald Trump seems to be somewhere around 1.3 – 1.5. Bernie Sanders is somewhere from 3 – 10. It isn’t even close. If any candidate is “playing to the politics of white insecurity” or “preaching to the white electorate” or “harnessing the white vote”, it is he.
(though I should clarify that in a general election, Sanders would no doubt garner much higher nonwhite support than Trump just because of the D after his name. We’re only talking about relative to other people in their own party here)
This explains a couple of otherwise mysterious things. How is Sanders on track to win in Iowa and New Hampshire when he is losing so badly nationally? Well, because Iowa and New Hampshire are two of the whitest states in the country. And how come I keep hearing people say “I’m sure Sanders will win, because even though the media and Big Business support Hillary, everybody I know supports Sanders”? Well, are those people white? Is their entire friend group white? Do they live in very strongly white areas? Then Sanders probably has much higher support among their friends and neighbors than he does nationally.
This might just be a transitory matter of two candidates with different styles and no relevance beyond this particular primary. Or it could represent the first cracks in the alliance that makes up the Democratic Party.
Racially, the Democrats are more diverse than the nation as a whole; since few nonwhites are Republicans, the Democrats are 60-40 white/minority. Socially, the Democrats combine enlightened college-educated creative professionals who want to help the poor, with poor people who want to be helped. And ideologically, the Democrats combine old-school quasi-socialists very concerned about Big Business and income inequality, with social justice activists who think the real issues are race and gender. So far these have been very benign splits. Everyone’s interests basically line up the same and nobody has a lot of reason to fight with anyone else – unlike the Republicans, who are already in civil war.
But the current election brings all three splits into near-alignment. The quasi-socialists, whites, and enlightened professionals generally support Sanders. The social justice activists, nonwhites, and poor people generally support Clinton – this bizarre situation of the guy most vocal about helping the least fortunate getting support from everyone except the least fortunate themselves. While I don’t really expect any fireworks to fly, it’s a risky situation and makes this an interesting time to be watching politics.
But mostly I bring this up not because the presidential primary is interesting in itself, but because it really drives home two important points that I’ve tried to make before.
First, in this post, I suggest that when talking politics “white” sometimes literally means people of European descent, but other times means what I dubbed the “Red Tribe”, very loosely corresponding to Republican voters, but also with connotations of southern, poor, uneducated, religious, and exaggeratedly patriotic. This seems to be one of those second times. Even if Donald Trump had 100% support from all minorities, he would still be “the white people candidate”, or even, as some people have called him, “the white power candidate”. Likewise, even if 100% of Sanders’ supporters were white and no black or Hispanic person had ever had the tiniest positive thought about him, we would never get the same kind of “is Bernie Sanders a demagogue harnessing white voters?” story that Trump inspires every day. Sanders supporters aren’t white! They have degrees from Ivy League colleges! They’re the good guys!
Second, in this post, I argue against the theory that groups with few black members are necessarily racist or exclusive (frequently seen as “Silicon Valley is problematic because of how few black techies there are”). I note that black people are severely underrepresented in groups as diverse as runners, BDSM participants, atheists, fanfiction readers, Unitarian Universalists, furries, and bird watchers. They’re also underrepresented in movements with apparently impeccable leftist and anti-racist credentials, like Occupy Wall Street and the US Communist Party. Given the frequency with which the “your group has few minorities, that means you’re racist and need to become more explicitly leftist in order to shrieve yourself” argument gets used to punch down at nonconformist or “weird” groups, there can never be too many counterexamples. And Bernie Sanders’ campaign is such a counterexample. It fits poorly with the “low nonwhite representation is caused by insufficiently strong social justice orientation” theory, but very well with the counter-theory I propose in that post: nonwhites are just generally less eager to join weird intellectual signaling-laden countercultural movements.