The Virus and the Vote: A Case for Bernie Sanders to End His Presidential Bid

March, 2020

Sayeh Yousefi & Jack Mageau, Contributors

Regardless of what you think of the man, it’s clear that Bernie Sanders has a strong record when it comes to acting in the best interests of the American people, especially vulnerable communities, racial minorities, and undocumented immigrants. His supporters are quick to tout his record protesting racial injustice in the 1960s, opposing now-widely criticized choices in US foreign policy such as the war in Iraq, and advocating to bring the rising threat of climate change to the public’s attention. Despite his admirable positions, Bernie’s refusal to back out of the Democratic primary, ignoring the potential risks it poses for Americans and the Democratic Party’s hopes of defeating Donald Trump, has shown a reluctance on Sanders’ part to do the right thing when it matters most: in the midst of an international crisis. 

Bernie stands to gain little from continuing his primary campaign. He is almost certainly eliminated, and his remaining in the race shows that the well-being of the American people, in particular the marginalized and vulnerable, is not worth taking a stand for when it does not serve directly to his benefit. While pushing Joe Biden to the left on a number of issues may carry significant benefits, Sanders remaining in this race may endanger the Democrats’ chances of defeating Donald Trump, require excess donations and spending in a time of worrying economic downturn, and could seriously endanger the health of the American people amid a deadly pandemic. 

The bitter truth of Sanders’ campaign chances, despite his optimism and that of his supporters, is that there is almost no chance that he is capable of winning the Democratic Primary. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Democratic Primary forecaster, Joe Biden has a 98% chance of obtaining the democratic nomination. A Bernie Sanders victory, on the other hand, is calculated at approximately 0.1%, which places his chances of winning as the third most likely outcome after the Primary having no winner (2%). Even with the political upheaval caused by COVID-19, it remains unlikely that Bernie will be able to pull off a significant comeback in the immediate future, seeing as Michigan and Missouri’s exit polls saw voters dramatically viewing Biden as the candidate most trusted in a crisis situation.

Bernie’s decision to stay in the race prolongs the primaries’ voting process, and through no fault of his own, will ultimately put people at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 by going to voting booths. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has both distracted from the Democratic primaries and made for a conflicting struggle between protecting health interests and the democratic process, poses dangers to voters going to packed polling booths, poll workers, and the general public.

While several municipalities have postponed their elections due to COVID-19 concerns, both candidates have continually been encouraging voters to go to poll booths. This has stirred concern among public health authorities, given that most polling centers do not allow for the recommended 6-feet distance between people. In Arizona, there are reports of insufficient cleaning and sanitization supplies for poll workers, conditions that would put the most vulnerable voters at high risk of contracting the virus.

Given the high risks of voting at polling stations, officials have begun considering alternative voting options, namely mail-in votes and electronic voting. Several governors and state officials have been pushing voters to vote by mail in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, but concerns over an increase in faulty ballots may thwart this effort. Voters are naturally wary of the alternative option – electronic voting – given the debacle of the Iowa caucus and the threat of foreign hacking, and, thus, there is little in the way of viable alternatives to in-person voting. As COVID-19 spreads through the U.S., any activity (be it part of the democratic process or not), will be putting the most vulnerable populations at risk. Bernie continuing his campaign and keeping the primaries alive despite his next to zero chance of winning simply propagates the risky process of people going out to voting booths, creating an unnecessary increase in risk of the spread of COVID-19.

Sanders’ political campaigns famously rely on small to medium sized donations and grassroots support, and he has been immensely successful up to this point, raising a record-breaking $46 million dollars in the month of February alone. In light of the dramatic decline in the American economy and huge numbers of people being either permanently or temporarily laid off, carrying on this massively costly campaign becomes increasingly futile, especially as Sanders’ chances of winning dwindle to almost zero. Even while Sanders’ campaign has admirably raised over $2 million dollars from 50,000 donors for a number of organizations aiding in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, from a practical and moral standpoint it becomes increasingly untenable for Sanders to ask even his most loyal supporters to continue to pour increasingly diminishing resources into his campaign.

Ultimately, given the nearly impossible chance of Bernie securing the Democratic nomination, continuing his campaign only weakens the Democrats’ ability to beat Trump in the General Election. By keeping his campaign alive, Bernie’s attacks on Biden, given that he has almost no chance of winning, only serve to tarnish the image of the Democrats’ likely presidential candidate. Additionally, these attacks on Biden, as justified as they may be, threaten to split the Democratic voter base, making it significantly harder to present a united front against Trump in the upcoming election. 

In the long run, this isn’t about Bernie Sanders. This isn’t about his persona or his policies, which many people do find inspiring. It also isn’t about Joe Biden. Biden is a flawed candidate who may or may not be able to beat Donald Trump in a general election. This is about doing the right thing in a time of crisis, and only Bernie Sanders can make this decision. After the events of the 2016 primary, the Democratic Party establishment should be cautious about being seen as interfering in the democratic process with regard to Bernie. Biden is clearly hesitant about alienating Bernie’s supporters, all of whom he will need in the General Election. This is Bernie Sanders’ decision to make, and for someone who has spent his entire life fighting for Americans, it is time for Bernie to step back—to allow the Democratic Party to prepare for potentially the most important election in American history, and to allow himself and his supporters to follow the instructions of the medical experts: pack it in, and go home.

By keeping his campaign alive, Bernie’s attacks on Biden, given that he has almost no chance of winning, only serve to tarnish the image of the Democrats’ likely presidential candidate. 

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