Super Tuesday Reveals Yawning Divide Between Horse Race and Issues

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By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

American politics is broken in multiple ways, as Super Tuesday in San Pedro vividly showed us.

“Apparently, we had voting atrocities in LA County, with busted tech and long, long lines,” said Peter Warren, a co-founder of Indivisible San Pedro. “I know people who tried at Pedro High and Little Sister’s and it was a horror show on Tuesday.”

But that’s only a blip compared to the bigger picture.

Super Tuesday came in the wake of belated recognition of the coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19, which has spread to 58 countries as of March 1. It has had severe impacts on our local economy, but no impact on the elections despite the fact that America’s profit-driven healthcare system — and lack of paid leave — makes us far more vulnerable to its spread.

“Even with the coronavirus spreading, lax labor laws and little sick leave mean that many people can’t afford to skip work,” the subhead of a story in The Atlantic explained.

“My terminal in the Port of Los Angeles had a meeting Wednesday [Feb. 26] and informed us that they were gonna lay-off 40% of their steady longshore workforce due to ship cancellations,” Derek Salcido, who works at YTI Yusen tweeted.

“We are the only terminal I know that has had big layoffs so far,” he told Random Lengths News.

But the outlook is bleak, with volume down 25% in February at the Port of Los Angeles, Executive Director Gene Seroka said.

Health care has consistently rated as Democratic voters’ top issue concern, but by 2-1 they have prioritized beating Donald Trump, and Super Tuesday confirmed that, said Doug Epperhart, president of Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council.

“It seems obvious that Democrats’ number one issue is beating Donald Trump and most of them have decided that Joe Biden has the best shot at winning in November,” he said.

Former Vice President Biden won 10 of the 14 states—dramatically more than expected before his South Carolina victory on Saturday revived his flagging image as a winner and triggered a rapid consolidation of establishment support.

That itself is a form of brokenness according to Vladimir Putin biographer Masha Gessen.

“The basic problem with the electability conversation is that it turns voting into betting,” Gessen said on Democracy Now! election coverage special. “What we’re looking at is a race that was shifted — as in a horse race, not an electoral race — that was shifted fundamentally over the last couple of days and that is a rational decision, but it has nothing to do with politics.”

Late deciders broke overwhelmingly for Biden, but there was no substantive reason for their vote, Michigan political scientist Matt Grossmann said.

“In exits, issue priorities continue to have no relationship to vote & issue positions have little,” Grossmann  tweeted. “Obvious candidate makers (support for socialism over capitalism, return to [Barack] Obama’s policies) are more but not fully related & likely reflect rather than cause candidate selection.”

Horse-race voting is relatively new, compared to decades of horse-race media coverage, which has cumulatively taught millions of voters to think like horse-race bettors, as Gessen describes. But it’s difficult to do otherwise, when issues are only treated as a background blur, in contrast to the foreground focus on horse-race position and developments, which are, in themselves, readily distorted or mis-reported entirely. Biden received overwhelmingly more coverage when he first announced, especially at MSNBC, according to data presented by Maria Bustillos of Columbia Journalism Review.

Perhaps more telling is how consistently negative or absent MSNBC’s coverage of Sanders has been. As reported by Sludge on Jan. 29, that’s probably no accident, given its corporate owners. According to FEC records, 94% of Comcast executives’ and vice presidents’ contributions to Democratic presidential candidates have gone to Biden.

“Voting is among other things a strategic act and there is absolutely nothing wrong with voters thinking that way,” Boston College political scientist David Hopkins told Random Lengths News. “Perhaps Biden isn’t the most electable candidate due to the Ukraine issue or other reasons, but it’s up to his opponents and critics to make that case to voters.”

But that’s very hard to do when you’re consistently marginalized. Trump received millions of dollars worth of free airtime when he was the GOP’s outsider insurgent. Sanders is lucky to get a few minutes for a victory speech.

“The focus has to be a laser beam on the true opposition, Trump, and not on replacing the establishment in the Democratic Party or in general,” said June Smith, long-time community leader. “Obama was weak on building the party which has helped create this ‘crisis.’”

“Sanders needs to focus on Trump, not the party. Biden needs to acknowledge that the ‘old establishment’ has to change and turn to young people to lead the way.”

But this is far easier said than done.

Traditionally, young people are thought of as short-sighted, in need of guidance from elders with a broader time horizon. But with Greta Thunberg and the Sunrise Movement, it’s the exact opposite: they are the ones thinking in terms of humanity’s future, with responsibility for future generations. And, support for their outlook cuts across candidate lines, as well as generations.

Some media will portray Bernie Sanders’s Super Tuesday underperformance as proof that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal is unpopular, but “That’s simply not true,” Julian Brave NoiseCat of Data For Progress told Democracy Now!

“We just ran a poll in four Super Tuesday states on the Green New Deal, the progressive standard, the thing that was attacked as lefty-style Venezuela socialism on Fox News, the thing that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi called ‘The Green Dream, or whatever,’” he said. “We found that there was an 80-plus point margin of support for the Green New Deal in Colorado, in Virginia, in Super Tuesday states.”

So, the horse-race/issue disconnect looms larger than ever.