Democrats Really Did Need a Bernie Sanders

National vote totals find that Clinton won the popular vote. But, as we know, the electoral college is what counts. Three states Clinton was expected to win–Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin–went to Trump (technically, Michigan isn’t certified, but there would need to be a treasure trove of uncounted votes to change the outcome). I reviewed the past two elections in those three states. Here’s what I found:


2012 (D) 2,564,569 (R) 2,115,256

2016 (D) 2,267,373 (R) 2,279,210


2012 (D) 2,990,274 (R) 2,680,434

2016 (D) 2,844,705 (R) 2,912,941


2012 (D) 1,620,985 (R) 1,407,966

2016 (D) 1,382,210 (R) 1,409,467

In 2012, Obama won a total of 7,175,828 for these three states. Romney won 6,203,656. In 2016, Clinton won a total of 6,494,288 votes. Trump won a total of 6,601,618. So, in these three crucial states, Clinton won 681,540 fewer votes than Obama, whereas Trump won 397,972 more votes than Romney. The 2016 figures will change, but not by much, and it is unlikely that the percentage difference will change much at all.

There was a substantial enthusiasm gap in this campaign. Trump supporters were motivated. Clinton did not effectively motivate the electorate in the states that mattered (Sanders won two of these three states in the primary). Her lack of support was the greater factor in this election. Part of this was a rejection of her candidacy. The numbers suggest that Obama would have beaten Trump in all three states (we can’t simply transfer the vote counts over, but the gap is huge). On the other hand, part of the vote was popular rejection of the Democrat’s destructive neoliberal policies. Obama is complicit in those policies. 

What Democrats needed was a candidate who would have enthused voters and given them a reason to vote for their candidate. They needed a candidate who rejected the Clintonian policy agenda, the agenda that affected working people in these three states (and other states, as well). They really did need a Bernie Sanders. 

* * *

Update: (from Patrick Barrett), David Bodamer did a similar analysis but backed it up to 2008. Here is the comparison:


2008: Obama: 2,872,579; McCain: 2,048,639

2016: Clinton: 2,267,373; Trump: 2,279,210


2008: Obama: 3,276,363; McCain: 2,655,885

2016: Clinton: 2,844,705; Trump: 2,912,941


2008: Obama: 1,677,21; McCain: 1,262,393

2016: Clinton: 1,382,210; Trump: 1,409,4674

From Obama 2008 to Clinton 2016, Democrats lost 1,331,865 votes in these states. Republicans gained 634,701 votes. It is even more clearly the case that Clintonism is driving voters away from the Democratic Party.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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