In a highly complex economy and multiethnic empire like America, material resources will flow not only through a class hierarchy (from owners to managers to workers), but through ethnic patronage networks. Who is at the head of such patronage networks is less relevant than the fact that the recipients are chosen based on ethnic group membership, and are expected to provide political support to the party that heads the network.
That could be old-fashioned machine politics, which relies on low-status drones to show up to the polls on the appointed day, in return for local leaders making sure their drones do not starve or go homeless. But it could also be the selection of a "talented tenth" among the protected ethnic group, who aim to join the elite class through having seats reserved for them at the upper-status table.
Universal populist or socialist outcomes are threatened by both aspects of this system, which means-tests its rewards. In the class dimension, are you an owner or a manager / professional? If so, here are your goodies; if you're a lowly worker, go fend for yourself. In the ethnic dimension, are you a member of a protected ethnic group? If so, here are your goodies; if you're from some other group, go fend for yourself.
Bernie Sanders and his most ardent supporters have been trying to overturn the prevailing system in favor of a universal populist system. But they lost their Democrat primary last time, and are shaping up to face even bigger losses this time. What were the relative contributions of class and ethnic forces to his movement's undoing, and how could they recover for 2024?
We'll start with the 2016 primary, when things were simple because there were only two candidates, Hillary and Bernie. If class were the stronger force, then the elite voters would tend to favor one candidate, and ordinary voters the other. If ethnicity were stronger, members of certain ethnic groups (those protected by the machine) would favor one candidate (the boss), and members of other groups (those not protected by the machine) would favor the other (the reformer).
It may have been forgotten by now, but the 2016 primary was mainly split along ethnic rather than class lines. This showed up in the various exit polls, but to get a more reliable and large-sample-size overview, we turn to the American National Election Survey. As part of their 2016 survey, they asked respondents whether they voted in the primary, and if so for whom, as well as a battery of demographic and opinion questions.
Since the main ethnic split is non-Hispanic white vs. everyone else, that's the one used below. For class, the most reliable signal of aspiring to join the elite class is getting a college degree.
This was Bernie's 2016 support in % by ethnicity and class:
If class were stronger, the degree column would be similar, and the no degree column would be similar. If ethnicity were stronger, the white row would be similar, and the non-white row would be similar. Lo and behold, ethnicity trumped class -- by a lot. Non-whites only gave Bernie around 30% -- and that was true for both working-class and elite minorities. Whites gave Bernie just under 50% -- again, regardless of whether they were working-class or elite.
To show how much greater the effect of ethnicity was, relative to class, the following chart shows how unified or divided the ethnic and class groups were. The two bars on the left show class differences within each ethnic group, while the two bars on the right show the ethnic differences within each class. The differences are expressed so that positive numbers reflect Bernie's typical support base -- whites and the working class. Click to enlarge.
The two class difference bars are small in size, compared to the two ethnic difference bars. Each class difference was small -- only 4 points. Each ethnic difference was large -- 22 and 14 points.
The left-most bar being negative means that it went against the prediction from Bernie's overall performance -- you'd think that, even if he lost minorities, he still would've been more popular among those without a degree than those with a degree. And yet he was slightly more popular with elite minorities than with working-class minorities.
I interpret that to reflect the elite minorities relying somewhat less on the machine politics to avoid starvation and homelessness -- if they have a college degree, that's not a real concern. That gives them a little more freedom to shop around, although they are still primarily concerned with patronage for protected ethnicities (reserved elite seats for the talented tenth).
Notice that the ethnic difference was larger among the working class than the elite class. Again I take that to reflect reliance on patronage. Working-class whites are left out on the stoop, as far as machine politics or elite promotion goes, while working-class minorities at least get the protection of the machine in exchange for their votes. Elite members of either ethnicity aren't so reliant on the machine for basic survival, so they won't be quite so polarized by the campaign between the machine vs. the reformer.
In sum, Bernie lost a battle over ethnicity -- he did not motivate enough white people of either class to turn out, and he did not demoralize the minorities on his enemy's side into staying home. Of course, a successful strategy would not have referred directly to ethnicity, but the reformist anti-machine pitch would have struck an ethnic chord nonetheless, since it's mainly minorities who are plugged into the machine, or have elite seats reserved for their group.
"We can't allow the future of all of America to be manipulated by the corrupt urban machines any longer. The American people -- all of the American people -- need real change, right now."
That would have resonated with both the white working class and the white professional class, neither of whom owe their survival to the machine or the talented tenth patronage networks. Throw in Trump's reminder that minority drones voting for the machine only get to avoid starvation and homelessness, rather than truly thrive, and that would have demoralized a lot of the drones into staying home in apathy.
Fast-forward to the 2020 primary, and Bernie is not only losing the ethnic battle but the class battle too. Most of his former professional white supporters have defected to Elizabeth "Barabbas" Warren, although his working-class white supporters remain fairly faithful. He (and Warren) still have minimal minority support, which remains consolidated around the machine candidate (Biden).
This development also shows that ethnicity is stronger than class in these primaries. If Bernie's professional white voters from 2016 had chosen to defect solely on the basis of class interests, they would've simply gone over to Biden. The elite class would be united behind Biden, rather than split along ethnic lines as they were in 2016. Instead, they demanded a candidate of their own -- it could've been Harris or Buttigieg, but they found their ideal match with Warren.
So, just as in 2016, the elite class is split, with minority elites favoring the machine candidate, and white elites favoring an anti-corruption reformer -- only this time, a reformer who is solidly professional-class in her goals (Warren), rather than one who focused on the working class (Bernie).
Unity vs. fragmentation is therefore along the ethnic dimension -- whites are fragmented, minorities are united. That is not a picture of class struggle, where at least the elites would be united, and the working class either united or divided.
Incidentally, why did professional whites abandon Bernie this time around? They still wanted to reject the machine candidate who draws his support from minorities -- they still want to be the white crowd, just as they do in their choice of neighborhood, school, culture, and hobbies. But they always have to make sure everyone knows they are the good white people, the noble white people -- not those bad, disreputable white people.
Back in 2015 and most of 2016, professional white liberals just assumed that working-class white Democrats would follow their lead on everything. So they had no reason to reject a coalition with working-class whites during the primary, and were perfectly fine being part of the Bernie group.
However, during and after the general election, professional white liberals learned that a good chunk of Bernie primary voters had actually defected to Trump, since he was more populist than Clinton (who was a woke elitist). Although it was only 10-15% of Bernie voters who switched, that had to have been concentrated among the working-class Sandernistas in the Rust Belt, and not the prog crusaders of the coastal elite bubbles. So among working-class white Bernie voters, the defection rate was probably closer to 50%.
That, combined with the broader elite backlash against the white working class for putting Trump over the top in a way that no other Republican could have dreamed of, made the professional white Bernie supporters want to find a candidate of their own for 2020. They could not tolerate mixing their purity with the pollution of the deplorables -- who, by voting Bernie-then-Trump, proved themselves to be crypto-fascists.
The Warren people are not even trying to reel back in the working-class white Bernie voters. They must remain ritually clean, and a demographic that has revealed itself to be dirty crypto-fascists cannot be allowed back into the holy circle. At the same time, they can't tolerate contamination by the corrupt machine demographics, so they're just splintering off into a purity cult that does not intend to win anything. Better to die pure than to live polluted.
This one-two punch is why Bernie will garner less support this time than the last. And that also means the Democrat nominee, likely Biden, will do even worse in the general than Hillary did. Last time, there was only a two-way fracture among the Democrats -- machine drones and disillusioned reformers. Now there will be a three-way fracture -- machine drones, bitter fans of the professional-class reformer, and disillusioned fans of the working-class reformer. For Democrats, party unity and enthusiasm will be lower in 2020 than in 2016.
So how could Bernie and his diehard supporters recover by 2024 to pull off a realignment then, if not right now? His most pressing problem is the lack of college-educated white support, which he had back in 2016 but lost to Warren fans. Those professionals left over their disgust toward the deplorables in Bernie's coalition, so the only professionals that Bernie could scoop up would be those who are Independent or Republican -- the kind who prefer Tucker Carlson as their mainstream news source, and Michael Tracey as their go-to Twitter journalist.
Obviously they would have to be economic populists, but a good chunk of them are, despite having college degrees. And they would love to join up with former Trump-sympathizing populists, regardless of what party or class background they had come from, and regardless of who they have to support now, after Trump's failure to realign the system in office.
Bernie or his successor would still have to ignore -- indeed, demoralize -- the machine drones, but bringing in the Tucker fans would make that all the easier. Those newcomers would have even less loyalty to urban Democrat machines, or to the talented tenth elite promotion system. They're mainly white, after all.
Why wouldn't they go with their pure class interests and choose Warren? Because she's an impotent polarizer and a puritan, not to mention an annoying libtard. The newcomers would want to feel socially and culturally welcome, not hectored by wokescolds for their original racist sins, male privilege, bla bla bla.
Bernie actually offered that, relative to Hillary, in 2016 -- she was the polarizing, annoying woketard, not him. He, or his successor, needs to bring that back. And what's stopping him now? -- he's already lost the professional white liberals to Warren or her successor. He needs all the help he can get from professional whites who are moderate or conservative on social issues, but still populist and anti-interventionist.
Tulsi and Yang have made a pitch in that direction, but they have minimal or no political capital to amass an army and make changes happen. Bernie should start laying the ground by going on Tucker -- like he did on Joe Rogan -- all throughout the primary and general election, preaching the realignment rather than just "vote blue no matter who". And there is no realignment except through massive defections from the dominant to the opposition coalition.
It should be simple -- "I just want all Americans to be taken care of on a material level, and to be left alone in social and cultural matters." Whoever brands as the non-crazy Democrat will win the defectors. So far, only Biden is attempting that, to attract yuppie Republicans. Bernie must go even further, to attract populist Republicans. That means ignoring the concern-trolling libtards when he says "live and let live" to cultural conservatives. For every yuppie libtard Bernie lost to Warren, he would pick up two moderate populists who watch Tucker.
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