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Bernie Freak-Out is Overblown

February 28th, 2020 by dk

I’m not a Bernie Bro, but the current hysteria about his success seems to be getting out of hand.

Based only on votes that have been tabulated, Bernie Sanders is the preferred candidate for the Democratic nomination. Skeptics point out that lackluster turnouts so far belie Sanders’s claim that a groundswell of new (especially young) voters will produce his so-called revolution. But Sanders is not yet running against President Trump.

The same people who claimed Trump couldn’t win are now dissing Sanders. We shouldn’t let pollsters and pundits replace voters. Nobody can predict how citizens will choose between an economic socialist and a cultural populist. We just don’t know.

Every race includes the unexpected and the immeasurable. This race is shaping up to be just like all the others, only more so.

Pollsters are failing with increasing regularity partly because we ditched our landlines. Phone calls were more welcome when we were sitting at home doing nothing. Now we’re barely willing to talk on the phone to our friends, much less to a stranger with a script.

Those of us still willing to speak to pollsters are also more likely to fib. Racism is notoriously difficult to detect in a survey. (It can be done, but it requires extra questions and sophisticated analysis.) Socialists also consider themselves outcasts. We might be undercounting them in the same way.

Pundits assume that democratic socialist policies will whither under the bright lights of a presidential campaign, but that constant attention may have the opposite effect.

Americans may see advantages for themselves. Raising the minimum wage or forgiving student debt could help a nephew get a place of his own. More robust health coverage might calm the nerves of a parent or a spouse. Taking on corporations might sound good after Wal-Mart refuses an exchange because it was purchased 31 days ago.

In other words, people will be living their lives while candidates are articulating their vision. What colors shine through that prism will be very individualized, even if the resulting electoral map will show only blues and reds.

If Bernie’s army of passionate volunteers can somehow be melded with Bloomberg’s technocratic Get Out The Vote machinery, there could be a political sea change in November. That’s not a certainty, but nothing is. We may all be voting from home because the coronavirus has made public gatherings too dangerous.

Sanders is an outlier, to be sure. But so was Trump. We haven’t seen two more fiercely non-generic candidates in at least a century. They have foiled the pundits and pollsters already. November’s vote may turn out to be beyond what Russian meddling can manipulate.

My best friend voted for Trump. He wanted change and he got it. Sanders offers the same quality that attracted him to Trump. “Authenticity,” he confided in me, a non-pollster. “I believe them when they speak, even if I don’t agree with them.”

The last four successful presidential challengers represented radical change from the previous administration. Voters will make the decision, not pollsters. Authenticity may be an immeasurable factor that produces an unexpected outcome.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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