Who Will Bernie Sanders’s Supporters Back Next?

Bernie Sanders greets supporters after a campaign rally in Santa Maria, Calif. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

ORLANDO, Fla. — One of the biggest questions in the political world is what will happen to supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Everyone in presidential politics — from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump to the Libertarian and Green Party candidates — sees an opening to bring disaffected, dissatisfied and politically independent backers of the Vermont senator into their coalition this fall.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is hoping Mr. Sanders’s supporters rally around her campaign in a display of party unity, if she is the Democratic nominee in July. She currently has a substantial delegate lead and is expected to clinch the nomination next week. Mr. Trump, the presumptive nominee, has bragged that his campaign will receive support from disaffected Sanders backers.

But it’s not just the major-party candidates. Third-party campaigns, in particular, are eyeing Mr. Sanders’s supporters to bolster their bids this fall. Libertarian and Green Party candidates — who, in many ways, sit at the opposite ends of the political spectrum — are both looking to bring Sanders voters into their coalition, assuming his bid for the Democratic nomination is unsuccessful.

“I side more with Bernie than I do with Hillary. Bernie supporters, I think are going to find the same thing,” Gary Johnson, the nominee of the Libertarian Party, told reporters this weekend at the party’s Orlando convention.

Mr. Johnson urged Sanders voters to take the online quiz ISideWith.com, which matches users with political candidates based on their responses. Mr. Johnson noted that when he took the quiz, he matched with Mr. Sanders at 73% — higher than any other candidates in the race other than the other Libertarians.

Libertarians are by and large a right-leaning political movement that stands for a government that is smaller in scope and power, but hold positions on civil liberties and social issues that overlap with Mr. Sanders. The Green Party is a left-leaning progressive movement with environmental and social justice concerns front and center in the party’s platform — and has substantial ideological overlap with many of Mr. Sanders’s positions.

Massachusetts physician Jill Stein, the likely Green Party presidential nominee, blasted the “rigged economy” and “rigged political system” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week — lines that could have come right out of Mr. Sanders’s standard stump speech.

Ms. Stein said that her campaign and the Green Party broadly were looking to make sure that “when Bernie is thoroughly sabotaged by the Democratic Party, his supporters have a place to go.”

“We have issued a formal invitation to Bernie to talk with us about potential collaboration,” she said. She hasn’t received a reply from the Vermont senator.

Mr. Sanders has been propelled to victory by a younger-leaning coalition of voters who are more resistant to party identification. In 24 out of 27 states, Mr. Sanders won among self-identified independents, according to a Washington Post tally. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, won among self-identified Democrats.

In addition, some supporters of Mr. Sanders do appear to show some willingness to cross over to the Republican ticket or consider a third party. The latest Journal/NBC poll this month found that 66% of Sanders supporters would vote for her over Mr. Trump, while 17% would vote for Mr. Trump. The other 17% of Sanders supporters said they would vote for neither candidate, another one, or weren’t sure.

But bruised feelings at the end of a primary battle often don’t last into the general election — and many of Mr. Sanders supporters are nominal Democrats who will eventually rally around the party’s nominee, if history is any guide. Many of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters in the spring of 2008 expressed an unwillingness to support Democratic nominee Barack Obama — but he suffered no major defections from the party’s coalition in the fall election and was handily elected.

Mr. Sanders himself has downplayed the possibility of supporting a third-party bid, suggesting that defections from the Democratic Party in November could lead to Mr. Trump being elected.

“This is where politics becomes very sticky. And that is, I believe personally, that Trump is a pathological liar. I know he knows very little about public policy. I think he could care less,” Mr. Sanders told Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks last week.

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