Politics

The Reason Bernie Sanders Defied The Polls In Michigan

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Students and supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., cheer and hold up signs, including one of Sanders, during a campaign rally at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016.

FLINT, MICHIGAN — Bernie Sanders upset Hillary Clinton in the Michigan presidential primary on Tuesday, securing a larger share of voters of color than he has ever before and significantly winning young voters, who came out in record numbers.

Though the polls predicted she would easily win Michigan, Clinton secured just 65 percent of Michigan’s African American vote. That number is significantly lower than her usual results — including Mississippi, which also held a primary on Tuesday, and where she secured almost nine in ten black voters. The only state where Sanders won a larger share of African American voters was his home state of Vermont, which is only 1.2 percent black. Michigan, meanwhile, is more than 14 percent black.

Frederick Malone, who was wearing and selling t-shirts reading “Black Men for Bernie” at a press event in Flint on Monday, told ThinkProgress that the more black voters hear about Sanders’ policies, the more they support him.

“Bernie’s been for the black people for a long time,” he said. When asked why Clinton has been winning Southern states with large black populations, Malone faulted it on Sanders’ speaking skills.

“Hillary, she expresses herself a lot better than Bernie,” he said. “Bernie, he can’t communicate all of the things he has done. He’s been at this a long time. He marched with Martin Luther King.”

Frederick Malone sold T-shirts at a press event in Flint.

Frederick Malone sold T-shirts at a press event in Flint.

CREDIT: Kira Lerner

Sanders also performed well with other people of color and young voters. He made an intense last minute push to campaign on or near college campuses and it paid off — 21 percent of voters were under the age of 30, and Sanders won 81 percent of young voters.

One of those events was held the day before the primary in Dearborn, a city to the west of Detroit with the highest concentrations of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in the United States. The line for the rally wrapped around the building, and hundreds of young Muslims — students and recent graduates — filled the theater’s seats.

Sanders won Dearborn with 67 percent of the vote, compared to Clinton’s 33 percent.

Nineteen-year-old Amira Hachem, who was at the rally with a group of friends, said Sanders’ stance on free college tuition is what sold her. “We’re all college students and we’re all focusing on student debt — we don’t want to live the rest of our lives just pinned on debt,” she said. “We want to live with the money we earn. He’s the only one who’s really taking a good stance on that, and that’s why we’re supporting it.”

Hachem and her friends, all Muslims born and raised in Dearborn, also called out Islamophobia from candidates like Donald Trump and said that Sanders has made them feel comfortable as young Muslims in America.

“This is my first political rally ever,” 24-year-old Lena Tarraf said. “I feel so strongly about this.”

Widad Asoufy, also a Muslim American, said she used to be a Clinton supporter, but switched to Sanders after she researched his stance on the issues more carefully. “Across the border — climate change, student loan debt, the economy, it seems like he’s welcoming all races and ethnicities,” she said. “He’d be like the inclusive president. He’s spoken a lot against Islamophobia and made me feel comfortable to vote for him.”

At that rally, Sanders was well aware of the strategy it would take for him to pull of a Michigan victory.

“We will win if there is a large voter turnout,” he said during his speech, to huge applause. “Please make that happen.”

Amira Hachem, Ziehab Beydoun, and Lena Tarraf at Sanders' event in Dearborn.

Amira Hachem, Ziehab Beydoun, and Lena Tarraf at Sanders’ event in Dearborn.

CREDIT: Kira Lerner