Despite eroding poll numbers, Hillary Clinton remains the Democratic front-runner and odds-on favorite to win the nomination due to overwhelming support from Democrats of color. The gender gap that she enjoyed earlier in the year among women voters has largely evaporated. Accordingly, Clinton may not be able to hold off Sanders unless she maintains a significant advantage among black and Latino Democrats. While their support has remained relatively solid, there are a number of reasons Clinton and her team should be concerned.
1) Bernie Sanders has a longer and stronger record on civil rights.
Some African-American commentators have derided Sanders for citing his participation in the 1963 March on Washington as a reason to support him. This criticism is misguided as Sanders has throughout his life supported laws and programs designed to safeguard and strengthen the political power of minorities and in 1988 endorsed Jesse Jackson for President. In just this calendar year: Sanders 1) attended, unlike Clinton, the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Selma; 2) joined President Obama’s call to restore the Voting Rights Act; 3) introduced two bills to facilitate voting by minorities.
2) Hillary repeatedly played the race card against Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries.
Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton counted on strong support from black voters who remembered her husband’s Presidency with fondness. As minority voters began to embrace Illinois Senator Obama, Clinton, her husband, her surrogate Geraldine Ferraro, and other allies repeatedly made remarks that many in minority communities deemed insensitive.
3) Sanders has a much better record when it comes to addressing economic injustice.
While economists debate whether free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) have on balance benefited the United States, a consensus has emerged that they tend to exacerbate wealth inequalities within signatory nations. Thus, African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, who comprise a disproportionately large percentage of impoverished Americans, have lost ground compared to whites.
Clinton has a decidedly mixed record when it comes to Free Trade. In 2000, She supported granting permanent Most Favored Nation status to China. As Secretary of State, Clinton repeatedly pushed for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which economist Robert Reich calls NAFTA on steroids. Senator Sanders has repeatedly argued and voted against free trade bills because, he says, they lead to job losses and an erosion of wages in the United States. He is now calling for jobs programs to address the 51% unemployment rate among recent black high school graduates and 36% unemployment rates among recent Latinos grads.
4) Sanders is willing to criticize Israel.
Polls show that African-Americans are more skeptical than other Americans of the good faith of Israel’s leaders and more angry about that country’s periodic military spasms against the Palestinian people. For nearly thirty years, Sanders has criticized Israeli hardliners and justified his endorsement of Jesse Jackson’s Presidential bid in 1988 by noting Jackson’s support for Palestinian self-determination. Over the past year, Sanders has been upfront in his opposition to Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza.
Clinton, pro-Hillary super-Pac “Correct the Record” touts, has been a staunch supporter of Israel her entire career and calls Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “partner and friend” despite Netanyahu’s attack on Obama in an address to Congress earlier this year.
5) Clinton’s record is pro-incarceration, pro-death penalty, and she takes money from the private prison industry.
In the 90s, Hillary supported “three strikes and you’re out” laws. She recently acknowledged that they led to an unacceptable rate of incarceration but has not called for their repeal. Clinton has also been a longtime advocate of the death penalty despite numerous studies showing that courts disproportionately sentence defendants of color to be executed. Compounding the problematic nature of Clinton’s criminal justice stance is the financial support she accepts from the private prison industry which houses and profits from a higher percentage of black and Latino inmates than state and federally operated jails and penitentiaries.
From the beginning, Sanders strongly opposed three strikes and you’re out. He accepts no money from corporate lobbyists, bundlers, and rejects super-Pac support. He has introduced a bill that would ban for-profit prisons. Sanders has also always opposed the death penalty. Demonstrating that Sanders is superior on these issues, a Black Lives Matter offshoot – Campaign Zero – rates Sanders positively on eight of its ten core issues while Clinton only earns a positive rating on two issues.
Due to favorable name recognition and a plethora of endorsements, Hillary Clinton has built up a sizable advantage over Bernie Clinton among Democrats of color. As they become more familiar with his record and the differences between the two candidates, her advantage may dwindle or even disappear.