Bernie’s 'Political Revolution' Is Actually Happening, Although the Corporate Media Won’t Tell You That

Election '16

Bernie Sanders has made voter-turnout history, getting about a third more votes than any other primary candidate in the history of New Hampshire primaries, but much of our media is reporting the opposite; that it’s no big deal what he’s accomplishing.

Rachel Maddow rolled out the latest confused bit of reporting on the evening of Friday, February 12th. Whether this ended up on the air as a Maddow-producer “brilliant idea” or was suggested by the Clinton campaign is unknown, but the entire piece was confounding.

Rachel started by saying that the rationale for Bernie’s becoming president and actually getting something done (when Obama had such difficulty) is that Bernie’s mobilizing huge numbers of new and energized voters.  She showed a bunch of examples of his talking about his “political revolution” and how he’s bringing new people into politics.

Then she dropped the anvil, as she does so well.  

It turns out that fewer people showed up to vote Democratic in New Hampshire and Iowa this year than they did in Obama’s 2008!  If that’s the case – and it is – then how could Bernie possibly claim that he’s “energizing” “new” people?  He must be running a con on us, or he’s just a deluded old man who dreams of revolution but nobody’s really showing up.  

Time to doubt both Bernie and his ideas, right?

After all, as Rachel points out, “40,000 fewer people voted in this year’s New Hampshire Democratic primary than did in 2008,” she said.  Adding, for emphasis, the three-word sentence: “Forty thousand less!”

“And it was the same story in Iowa last week,” Rachel continued.  “Voter turnout was a record for Republicans in Iowa, but on the Democratic side it was down.  Iowa voter turnout on the Democratic side was DOWN from 2008!”

Clearly Bernie’s campaign is running a scam, right?  The entire rationale for his candidacy is built on sand.  His “revolution” isn’t happening so far, so why might it happen later? Time to doubt that Bernie’s claims of political change are even possible, much less reasonable.


Rachel missed a few facts – something unusual for her usually brilliant political analysis.  

First, Bernie’s main premise wasn’t that he could get more people to vote for him (although he’s asserted that and is actually doing it, as I’ll get to in a moment).  His main premise is that, unlike President Obama, he will ask the American people to be very, very, very involved in the political process.  He’s talked over and over about how if, as president, when he’s trying to get meaningful legislation through, he’ll invite millions of people to come to DC to let Congress know what they think.

But more importantly, in this story (played out in other media as well as MSNBC) the numbers were passed along to us from their source in an astonishingly confusing fashion, given their context.

The 2016 turnout on the Republican side was bigger than in 2008 in both NH and Iowa – because, in large part, the Republicans were running more candidates this year than last cycle.  Democrats, on the other hand, are running fewer candidates.

In 2008, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and Bill Richardson all had on-the-ground get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operations running in both New Hampshire and Iowa.  This year, instead of seven well-funded, well-staffed GOTV operations running in those states, there were only two: Clinton and Sanders.  (O’Malley ended his campaign after Iowa, and thus didn’t even show up in New Hampshire’s election in any meaningful way.)

And looking at votes by candidate (something that Maddow astonishingly ignored), Bernie, with 151,000 votes in New Hampshire, shattered the prior record of 112,000 in 2008, a record set by none other than Hillary Clinton.  Bernie got more votes this year in New Hampshire than Al Gore and Bill Bradley got combined in the 2000 NH primary.  

In other words, Bernie is turning out voters, just as he said he could. In fact, as Jon Orlin pointed out at

Besides winning the New Hampshire Democratic Primary by a wider than expected margin, Bernie Sanders just made history.

He won the most votes ever in a New Hampshire Primary. That’s not just for the Democratic Primary in New Hampshire. He won more votes than any candidate in any Republican New Hampshire Primary, too.

Sanders got 31% more votes than the previous record-setter, John McCain in 2000. He also got more votes than Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. It is worth pointing out that all those candidates didn’t become President.

Orlin then cites the statistics in context:

Primary winners, since 1952 when the New Hampshire primary gained its importance: (Source: Wikipedia)

New Hampshire Democratic Primary Winners

2016: Bernie Sanders: 151,584

2012: Barack Obama: 49,080

2008: Hillary Clinton: 112,404

2004: John Kerry: 84,390

2000: Al Gore: 76,897

1996: Bill Clinton: 76,797

1992: Paul Tsongas: 55,663

1988: Michael Dukakis: 44,112

1984: Gary Hart: 37,702

1980: Jimmy Carter: 52,648

1976: Jimmy Carter: 23,373

1972: Edmund Muskie: 41,235

1968: Lyndon Johnson: 27,520

1964: Lyndon Johnson: 29,317

1960: John F. Kennedy: 43,372

1956: Estes Kefauver: 21,701

1952: Estes Kefauver: 19,800

    Which means that Bernie’s claims of pulling off a political revolution – even at this early point in time – are looking good, particularly considering how anomalous 2008 was (as another “change” year election).  

    As my colleague Dylan Hydes, an attorney, fellow member of the Voqal board of directors (, and blogger at, wrote in a note to me: 

    In Iowa and New Hampshire, 2008 was a statistical anomaly, which makes it a very poor baseline. Democrats brought 171,000 voters to the Iowa caucus this year and 251,000 to the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. Both of these numbers are significantly higher than 2000, 2004, or any other prior year.

And if we are going to use 2008 as a baseline, remember what happened in the 2008 general (60% voter turnout in the general, Dems wins the White House, Dems win huge majorities in Senate and House).

So if Bernie can get Democratic turnout near those levels (which he is already doing despite having only one opponent), Dems have a very good election night in November.

Bernie’s candidacy has made history, regardless of where it goes from here.  The revolution may not be as well televised as Sanders fans would like, but it is certainly rolling ahead at full steam with every possibility of taking the White House and taking back, like in 2008, both chambers of Congress.

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