As Sen. Bernie Sanders' path to the Democratic nomination becomes tougher and Sec. Hillary Clinton pushes closer to a win, the Democratic Party would do well to take the "Bernie or Bust" movement seriously. The "Busters" are a group of Sanders supporters who say they won't vote for Clinton in November if she is the party's nominee. Losing the support of a substantial chunk of Sanders' voter base would threaten the Democratic Party with a loss in the general election. But there's a way the party could win over Sanders supporters.
In a McClatchy-Marist poll, one in four Sanders supporters said they would refuse to vote for Clinton in November, a number that is alarming in the context of hypothetical general election match-up polls. Clinton is polling on average 7 percent ahead of Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, compared to Sanders' 15 percent lead over the real estate mogul. Clinton's single-digit lead is far from comfortable, and the Democratic Party will no doubt want to get as many Sanders supporters as possible on its side if Clinton is the nominee.
Sanders himself has said he'll back Clinton if she's the nominee, since she'd be far better than a Republican president. But roughly a quarter of his supporters are not planning to follow his lead here. How can the party convince these supporters to fall in line?
Sanders may have pointed to the way when, after losing four out of the five states that voted on April 26, he said he's staying in the race not only to try to win, but to pack as many delegates as possible into the party's national convention. The reason? The delegates will be forming the party's official platform at the convention in July. In a statement on April 26, Sanders said he and his supporters would push to include the following into the Democratic Party platform:
A $15 an hour minimum wage, an end to our disastrous trade policies, a Medicare-for-all health care system, breaking up Wall Street financial institutions, ending fracking in our country, making public colleges and universities tuition free and passing a carbon tax so we can effectively address the planetary crisis of climate change.
Now, this would mark quite a shift to the left for the party, something it has a reason to be wary of, since this could put it on shaky ground with its more moderate members. But it could also bring many of the Busters into the party's fold. And this wouldn't be just a short-term strategic move.
Many of Sanders' supporters are young adults, and, as Whitney Houston so aptly put it, the children are the future. Millennials tend to be more progressive than older Democrats, and the Millennial generation is now the most populous generation. Their support could be crucial for the party's vitality going forward.
The soul of the Democratic Party will be up for reshaping in July, and adopting a more progressive agenda may be the ticket to winning over not only the Busters, but the generation that is both largest and going to be around the longest.