Politics

Will Bernie Fans Only Vote for Bernie?

We asked a bunch of Sanders supporters in New Hampshire.

Bernie Sanders at a rally with supporters behind him holding signs that say, "Bernie."
Bernie Sanders in Milford, New Hampshire, on Tuesday.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

MILFORD, New Hampshire—Four years ago, 12 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary ended up voting for Donald Trump in the general election, according to two surveys. That defection rate is not unusual; the same percentage of Republican primary voters that year ended up voting for Hillary Clinton, political scientist Brian Schaffner explained to NPR. But keeping Democrats unified after a sprawling and increasingly contentious primary season will be essential if the party is to retake the White House in November. So far, signs are not promising: A poll conducted in January by Emerson Polling found that only 53 percent of current Sanders supporters say they will definitely support the eventual Democratic nominee, even if it is not Sanders. By contrast, at least 85 percent of Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren supporters say they will support any Democratic nominee.

With that in mind, I set out to talk to Sanders supporters in New Hampshire about what happens after the primary here next Tuesday: which other candidates they like, who they don’t like, and whether they’re ready to hold their noses in November no matter who gets the nomination.

Most of these conversations took place at a Sanders rally here on Tuesday evening, where doors opened just as the Iowa Democratic Party released initial results showing Sanders and Buttigieg essentially tied in the caucus results. These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Rick Dumais, 38, IT professional, Amherst

Are you voting for Sanders on Tuesday?
Yes, I’m very committed. I think I’m classified as a super-volunteer. I even did something I wasn’t comfortable with: The campaign asked if I had room in my home to house a field organizer from out of state who needed a place to stay. I said yes. I’d never lived with a stranger before, but I’m doing it.

Would you vote for the Democratic nominee if it doesn’t end up being Sanders?
What happened [in Iowa] is really frustrating. I heard stories that don’t seem right: changing caucus locations for no reason, this strange app no one knew about, keeping it a secret. We learned that Pete Buttigieg was partially funding the app, and a supporter was programming it. Then Pete comes out and says, “I won” with no evidence. So I have concerns that the national party and the DNC will do things like that with the intentions of making things harder for Bernie. If that proves to be the case, and something happened to cause Bernie not to be the nominee, it would be very hard for me to vote for someone else. [Ed. note: There’s no evidence the Buttigieg campaign was funding the app.]

Who is your favorite Democratic candidate other than Bernie?
I really like Tulsi Gabbard. She’s not perfect. But I love what Tulsi stands for.

What about your least favorite?
Probably Pete at this point. He’s doing this for all the wrong reasons, and I don’t understand why the establishment loves him.

Jennie Rowntree, 26, unemployed, Nashua

Are you voting for Sanders on Tuesday?
I have a chronic illness and just got started on Medicaid. Bernie’s big for me because of “Medicare for All.”

Would you vote for the Democratic nominee if it doesn’t end up being Sanders?
Oh, definitely. We need to get rid of Trump. At this point, of all the Democratic candidates, there’s only one who I’m like, “Please, no.”

Who’s that?
Tulsi Gabbard.

Who is your favorite Democratic candidate other than Bernie?
It would be Pete, definitely. It’s weird to go there from Bernie, who’s so left-wing. But Pete is so eloquent and has so many good ideas.

Kayla Marr, 25, bartender, Manchester

Are you voting for Sanders on Tuesday?
For sure. Health care is my main situation. I’m about to turn 26 [the cutoff for young adults staying on their parents’ health insurance plans], so it’s key. Bernie has been so true and consistent for his whole life.

Would you vote for the Democratic nominee if it doesn’t end up being Sanders?
Oh, I’d vote for any Democrat, absolutely.

Who is your favorite Democratic candidate other than Bernie?
Tulsi, because she’s very real. Maybe she’ll get more traction in the next four years.

What about your least favorite?
Mayor Pete, as of today.

Nusar Milbes, 28, EEG technologist, Manchester

Are you voting for Sanders on Tuesday?
I just moved here three weeks ago from California. If I’m able to vote by Tuesday, 100 percent Bernie. He’s the only one addressing the root issue, which is neoliberalism. That addresses the overwhelming majority of wealth concentrated in the 1 percent, the prison-industrial complex, the military. I’m Muslim and Palestinian, and I’d like him to be more left, but he’s as left as I can expect.

Would you vote for the Democratic nominee if it doesn’t end up being Sanders?
Most likely, especially if I’m here. In California, I probably wouldn’t, unless it’s like Tulsi Gabbard.

Who is your favorite Democratic candidate other than Bernie?
I don’t mind Elizabeth Warren, she’s pretty good. I’m not as familiar with the others as I’d like to be. I’d just really like it to be Bernie.

What about your least favorite?
I don’t like Kamala Harris, but she’s out. [Laughs] Definitely not Joe Biden. I never even liked Barack Obama. I’d vote for him, but he was still in that Democratic neoliberal mindset. The military increased, and he never closed Guantánamo. He joked about drones.

William Kearney, 26, restaurant worker, Nashua

Are you voting for Sanders on Tuesday?
I’m all in. I started following him in 2016.

Would you vote for the Democratic nominee if it doesn’t end up being Sanders?
Yeah. I won’t feel great if it’s Biden or Bloomberg. Warren would probably be my No. 2. If Yang had a bigger following, he’d probably be my No. 2, but he’s pretty much out. I don’t like Pete. A moderate won’t energize the race. And, it’s not my thing, but did you see the video of the woman in Iowa who wouldn’t vote for him when she found out he’s gay? I don’t have faith in the American people.

[Kearney’s friend Ryan Keller enters the conversation. Keller is 25 and lives in Massachusetts.]

Keller: I’m not voting for anyone but Bernie. Why would I vote for someone who doesn’t care about me and what’s important to me? The way I see it, it’s a form of privilege to take the time to go and vote for someone who won’t change anything. It’s ludicrous. If the party refuses to support what I want, I don’t see a reason to support the party.

Kearney: You have that luxury in Massachusetts.

Keller: Yeah, my vote has never been in a swing state.

Kearney: I’ve lived all over, but this year, being in New Hampshire has been really great.

Whitney and Evan Dudzik, both 34, Merrimack

Are you voting for Sanders on Tuesday?
Whitney: No. I’m voting for Elizabeth Warren, but Bernie is a close second.

Evan: I’m probably voting for Bernie, and Warren is my No. 2.

Would you vote for the Democratic nominee if it doesn’t end up being Sanders?
Both: Absolutely.

Who is your least favorite Democratic candidate?
Whitney: Biden and Amy. If it ends up being really close [in Iowa] between Biden and Bernie, and Warren slips, I would vote [in the New Hampshire primary] for Bernie. I don’t like it; I want Warren. But I want Bernie over Biden.

Anica Naprta, 54, doctor, Amherst

Are you voting for Sanders on Tuesday?
Yes, for sure. I like that he supports Medicare for All, that’s very important to me. Also that he supports less expensive, or even free, education. He’s the person who promotes social justice on all different levels.

I’m from Croatia; I came here in ’92. That’s another reason. I love this country, and what is happening in this country, it hurts me. I never felt like a foreigner here. I was accepted from Day 1. America is a great country. I’m a revolutionary, and [Bernie] is, too.

Would you vote for the Democratic nominee if it doesn’t end up being Sanders?
Yes. Trump is a dangerous man. I have seen what dangerous men can do.