Main Stream Media Doesn’t Get
Bernie Sanders’ Inequality Message
May 2, 2016
Most measures of income inequality are based on the amount of income earned. They do not take into consideration the psychological reaction of the voter to inequality or whether the economic system is believed to be unfair to people like them.
There is no reason to expect all voters to be receptive to an inequality message to connect to all voters. The underlying basis of Mr. Todd’s question does not support the conclusion that voters are not receptive to an income inequality message.
Besides simply looking at a voter’s income to decide if he is receptive to an income inequality message, we also have to consider how income inequality affects the voter psychologically. If a voter believes that his income is disproportionate to the effort he has expended to obtain that income (e.g., education, hours worked, occupation, experience), then the voter is likely to believe that he has experienced inequality. However, a voter still may not be receptive to an income inequality message because he or she may still harbor suspicions that somehow he has failed to meet the mark and a low income is his just desert.
For a voter to be receptive to income inequality messaging, he or she must also believe that his disproportionately low income is due to a rigged system rather than his or her own lack of effort. Often coming to believe that the system is rigged to our disadvantage is the result of comparing the reward of others who have put forth even efforts than we have and still not been proportionately rewarded.
For a voter to be receptive to income inequality messaging, he or she must also believe that his disproportionately low income is due to a rigged system rather than his or her own lack of effort.
When we see the results of a rigged system are depriving others as well as ourselves, we become receptive to a message of income inequality and supportive of candidates who may be offering extreme solutions. We do not know how many people believe the system to be unfair because the efforts of people who are like them have not been rewarded to the extent they should have been.
Senator Sanders responded Mr. Todd’s question by saying that he had lost in those states because “poor people don’t vote.” And, in fact, according to Politifact, about 69 percent of people earning less than $30,000 don’t vote. The reasons for not voting vary from voting laws that discourage the poor, like weekday voting and political that is more attuned to the needs of the rich more than the poor. Although Senator Sanders’ answer artfully avoided any direct reference to his inability to appeal to black voters, blacks are more likely to be poor than whites for a number of reasons, including geographic location, education, and, most importantly, steady work.
Nonetheless, in the first 16 primaries, Hillary won 11 and blacks represented large percentages of Democratic primary voters in them. Many of these black voters must have been poor and, inevitably, the question of why Bernie’s appeal to these black, and possibly poor voters, is so limited compared to Secretary Clinton.
Psychologically, blacks may be less susceptible to believing the economic system is unfair because, arguably, it is less unfair today than it was 40 years ago. Also, blacks, particularly older blacks, are especially loyal to the Clintons. The Clintons, have been involved in the black community from the beginning of their political careers in Arkansas and are well known and trusted in that community.
Finally, older voters, including blacks, still obtain their news from the main stream media and were unlikely to hear Bernie’s message; younger voters were much more likely to learn about Bernie’s message from internet sources. Mr. Sanders’ appeal to millennials (18 to 29 year olds) far outdistanced that of Mrs. Clinton.
Psychologically, blacks may be less susceptible to believing the economic system is unfair because, arguably, it is less unfair today than it was 40 years ago.
Another consideration is whether voters who are receptive to Bernie’s inequality messaging were qualified to participate in primaries. In open primaries any registered voter may cast a vote regardless of his political affiliation. This means that a voter registered as a Republican or Independent could vote for Bernie. In closed primaries only those voters who registered as a Democrat could vote in the primary. For example, although Bernie announced his candidacy 162 days before the October 9 deadline for registration, he had very little chance to introduce himself to most New Yorkers. Some New Yorkers who may have been receptive to Bernie’s message may have been illegible to vote for him because they were not registered as Democrats.
Bernie’s message has appeal. Bernie’s wins, the crowds at his rallies, and his fund raising show that voters are receptive to his message of income inequality. Moreover, the growth in his crowds and fundraising suggest that an income inequality message is taking root. Now the question is can Bernie recruit the leaders needed to carry his message forward.