Sunday, 31 January 2016

The difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on climate change?

Just two days ago 350 Action published a comparison of the plans of the presidential candidates to combat climate change. 350 Action is the political arm of climate action group, which was founded by Bill McKibben. They tried to ask all candidates 70 questions. A summary of the differences between Sanders and Clinton can be found above. They clearly found that Bernie Sanders plans to do more.

For the non-Americans reading this blog let me add that on the Republican side they had "more luck eliciting declarations of climate denial and defenses of the fossil fuel industry than any significant evolution on the issue." The US Senate voted this week about whether human activity significantly contributes to climate change. A weird thing of itself. The more so in 2016! Of the 54 Republican senators just five accepted that statement. Relative to that extremism, the differences between the Democrats are small.

In December also Think Progress made a comparison of the 3 Democratic candidates and they similarly found Bernie Sanders to have more positions favored by the environmental movement. For the record, Martin O’Malley scored even better.

Both organizations state that it took some time of campaigning against Bernie Sanders before Hillary Clinton improved her climate change plans.

Bernie Sanders clearly came out as the favorite presidential candidate during a “Climate Emergency Caucus” of the environmental group The Climate Mobilization, which fights for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Sanders won 69 percent of votes at their mock Democratic caucus. Clinton, O’Malley and uncommitted all got about 10 percent.

If you care about climate change, Bernie Sanders is clearly your man. However even if Hillary Clinton would have had better plans, I would go for Sanders because you also have to be able to execute the plans and there are other important issues apart from climate change.


In my assessment the main problem in America is the excessive influence of money. Everywhere rich people unfortunately have more influence, but the way corporations and billionaires determine US policies destroys the democratic heart of America. This is to a large part possible because of unlimited campaign contributions, which lead to legal bribery.

The oligarchy is first of all deeply undemocratic. Corporations have different interests than the people. It is amazing the kind of obvious highly popular policies cannot pass Congress. Renewable energy is enormously popular in the public, but does not get much political support. People who are not allowed to fly because they are on the terrorist watch list can buy an automatic weapon. The US Congress explicitly voted against a bill fixing this problem. In 2008 the population had to bail out the banks to avoid an even larger depression because they are to big to fail. That is the end of the market mechanism, when the upsides are private and the downsides get privatized. That is calling for taking too much risk, but the banks are now bigger than in 2008. Because companies legally bribed so many politicians, politics is not able to fix these obvious problems.

The money makes rational debate impossible. The politicians cannot negotiate and compromise because they have to do what their donors want them to do. That is why you get the childish debates we see in the climate "debate" because a real debate is not possible. It would be better when the donors would sit at the table. Like in the medieval times when the local war lords were "advising" the king.

"If government is to play its role in creating a successful economy, we must restore comity, compromise, openness to evidence"
Ben Bernanke

The bribed politicians also have a huge influence on the public and published opinion. By saying crazy things in the media, such as James Inhofe saying that climate change is a hoax and Cruz calling climate science dogma, these kind of statements start to sound acceptable. Most people do not take the time to carefully review the evidence; people are social animals and we normally negotiate our opinions interacting with others and the opinion of leaders is very influential. Especially authoritarians are susceptible to picking up the opinion of their leaders. If only a weather presenter from Chico, California, would blog daily about all those obvious problems with climate science that the experts do not see, the situation in the USA would be fully different. Money in politics is an important reason for the American exceptionalism in the climate "debate".

Bernie Sanders sees money in politics as the main problem that needs fixing. For that reason alone, I would vote for him if I could. Without fixing this, it is nearly impossible to fix other problems. Without fixing this, solving climate change is like running a marathon with a 50kg sack of rice on your back. First the weight needs to be removed.

Money became so dominant in large part due to disastrous Supreme court decisions that money is speech and that corporations and humans. One way to fix that is a better Supreme court. The next president will select one to three Supreme court candidates. Executive actions can make the money streams more transparent, which would likely reduce them and make them less influential. The president can press for a constitutional amendment. (Simultaneously, the people can try to get an amendment via the states.)


In national polls Clinton has more support among likely Democrat primary voters, but in this stage national polls are not very informative. Just imagine someone calling you up to ask you about something you normally do not think much about. Would you like to carpet bomb Agrabah? Polls are very different from elections and referendums. National poling results at the moment largely reflect name recognition. When an election comes up, people start paying more attention and talk to each other. Only when we get closer to elections, do polls start to have value.

National polls are especially not very informative yet because Clinton has a much higher name recognition than Sanders.

This Monday there is the first caucus in Iowa and after that in New Hampshire. In New Hampshire Sanders is well ahead by now. In Iowa Clinton and Sanders are too close together and the polls do not agree with each other. The main problem is determining who is a likely voter and especially whether young people will show up. Young people overwhelmingly support Sanders. Normally they hardly show up, except in 2008, when they thought they could get real change. I would expect this to happen again. This time it is worth it. Some polling organizations even only classify people who voted in previous caucuses as likely voters. This completely excludes young people.

[UPDATE after Iowa. The result was basically a tie Clinton and Sanders in Iowa. Clinton had 0.4% more "votes". Interestingly, it was a tie for almost all subgroups (income, education), except for young people who support Sanders more and women who support Clinton more. It was even a tie for people who voted Clinton in 2008.

You can see this as a win for Clinton because Iowa is quite white and Clinton does better among people of color. Thus you could argue that Sanders should have won. I do not see this argument as very convincing. There is nothing special about Clinton's policies when it comes to minorities compared to Sanders; that is a policy tie. This can easily change.

I find it more convincing to say that Sanders won. He came from nothing. She was the clear favorite at the beginning of the campaign. Clinton has a lot of name recognition, support of other (local) politicians, more money (from large donors) and had several year to prepared herself. It now becomes harder to ignore him in the media, where he did not get covered much up to now. And when people get to know him, they like him and his policies. So I would say: in Iowa a tie, nationally Sanders won.]

(For the same reason, polling results for Trump are unreliable because many of this supporters normally do not go to caucuses and one can only guess whether they will go the the Iowa caucus this time. [UPDATE. While wining in the polls, Trump lost, almost became third. Not good for his image.])

When Iowa and New Hampshire go to Sanders, the primaries start to get interesting. That is when the corporation will start fighting back, when people will start to inform themselves about Sanders. That is when we will learn how he handles stress and whether he will do a good job in the general presidential election.

I expect he will, but then I am biased as European. The published opinion will try to convince the public that Sander's plans are impossible. For me it is hard to imagine they can pull such nonsense off, most of what Sanders wants is completely mainstream in Europe. No matter how right-wing a European party is, I cannot imagine them accepting that people die because they waited too long with going to the doctor. That sounds as if death panels are okay as long as the hands of the panelists are invisible. It is mainstream in Europe that college is not only a personal benefit, but contributes to society and prosperity as well, that everyone who has the skills and the drive should be able to go to university.

I am afraid after the first primaries will also be when Clinton will show here inner Republican even more. The last two week she already started deceiving the electorate to attack political opponents. I have no problem with playing hard, but I do like politics to be about ideas.

Winning the primaries also depends on whether the voters believe you can win the election. That is hard to judge, but the evidence at this moment does not support Clinton's claim that she is more electable. There is also not a strong case yet to say that Sanders is more electable, but his numbers are going up as people get to know him, while Clinton's numbers are stable or go down.

In match-up polls between one Democrat and one Republican candidate Sanders on average performs better. Clinton wins over Donald Trump with a difference of +2.7%, but Sanders wins with +5.3% and the recent two polls are even above 10%.

Clinton versus Cruz would be won by Cruz by +1.3%, although the recent one Clinton wins. Sander versus Cruz would be won by Sanders by 3.3%, although the recent ones Cruz wins marginally.

Like normal polls, these match-ups do not say much. It is very hard for people to imagine the real choice they would have to make and they hardly know the candidates yet. Thus rather than look at the current polls, we have to try to understand the dynamics of the campaigns. The Daily Kos writes:
[Bernie Sanders] has the overwhelming support of independents, whereas Hillary has lukewarm support from them at best, giving him a huge general election advantage. He also has crossover appeal to Republicans, earning up to 25% of their support in his home state. Already, numerous Republicans for Bernie have been documented. But Bernie is also best positioned to win because he will bring new voters to the polls, who are then likely to vote Democrat—the young, the poor, and the disillusioned.
I would expect the real difference between a Republican and any Democrat to be large it the end. Now the Republican candidates can hide their ignorance or lack of empathy during the debates in an enormous field, in debates that cannot go into depth. In the main campaign there will be only two candidates during the debates; any Republican ignorant outsider will be destroyed there. And if a debate contrasts Cruz or Rubio to a human being, they will look even more extreme and even less sympathetic.

No sitting Republican Senator has endorses either Trump or Cruz. Their celebrity couple name is Crump (ht Stephen Colbert). The deeply conservative magazine the National Review made an entire issue Against Trump.

There are many decent Republicans who will be put in a tough spot when one of the currently leading candidates will become the official Republican candidate. I expect that easily 20% will not vote for one of these radicals. In case Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate they will mostly stay at home. In case Bernie Sanders is the candidate a considerable part will vote for him.

“It’s like being shot or poisoned… what does it really matter?”
Sen. Lindsey Graham on Ted Cruz and Donald Trump

Climate change will become an ever large liability for the Republicans. In this primary they cannot soften on the issue, but in the general election they will look completely out of touch with reality. Even people who do not care about climate change itself, will have some doubts about giving such people the nuclear codes. That in a year that quite likely again becomes a record warm year. The third record in a row.

In Vermont Sanders got a decent amount of votes from Republicans. They hate money in politics as much as Democrats. Independents like Sanders more than Clinton. He is sympathetic and trustworthy, with a very consistent voting record. People are fed up with the establishment, which you can see by the popularity of completely incompetent outsiders in the Republican primary. Sanders not taking money from the establishment and running for real change can distance himself from that.

In a race against Trump, he can claim to be his own man, while he can claim that Clinton needs to do what her donors want. In contrast Sanders can also claim to be independent and he actually wants to stop the legal bribery. Trump does not.

In the past, a candidate in the middle would have an advantage. They take some of the voters from the other party and the wings of their party were forced to vote for them to prevent worse. Nowadays, however, with only 50 to 60% of the electorate actually votes, the most important job of a candidate is to get the supporters to actually vote. I would expect Sanders to be able to generate more enthusiasm than Clinton. He has more supporters and large rallies. Both are helped by a radicalized Republican party that makes Democrats clear that they need to vote.

Last month, I made this prediction.

I am reasonably confident Sanders will win; naturally this is not science, just my personal assessment. The Democrats also wining both chambers is a more daring prediction. On the positive side, many more Republican seats are up for election. Let's concentrate on the House, which is more difficult than the Senate. Charlie Cook and David Wasserman:
Today, the Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port counts just 33 [House] seats out of 435 as com­pet­it­ive, in­clud­ing 27 held by Re­pub­lic­ans and six held by Demo­crats.
Still to win the House, the Democrats "would need to win as much as 55 percent of the popular vote, according to the Cook Political Report's David Wasserman". A ten percent difference is large, but has been done before.

Making this happen will depend on turnout and thus on enthusiasm and the hope to finally transferring the power back from the corporations to the citizens. This will not be easy, but easier with Sander.

If Congress does not change color, the climate "debate" suggests to me that reaching out, Clinton's strategy, does not help one thing. We have seen how well it worked for Obama. The only thing that helps is pressure from the electorate. Without sticks, the carrots do not work. Without disinfecting sunlight lighting the ugly spots and fear of being unseated nothing good will happen in Washington. If the Congressmen expect that their donors can no longer help (as much) them the next election, they may feel freer to actually do their job.

The problem that remains is getting money out of the media. Getting money out of politics partially solves that problem; the media gets a large part of that money from the political ads. I sometimes wonder if ads are there to influence consumers or the media. Getting all money out of the media is tough because the freedom of the press should not be endangered in the process. Any suggestions?

Related reading

Democracy is more important than climate change #WOLFPAC

National Review: Conservatives against Trump

Read more at:

In 50-49 vote, US Senate says climate change not caused by humans

On Climate Questions, Only One Candidate Has All the Right Answers

Voter's Guide: How the Candidates Compare on Climate and Energy


Magma said...

I like Bernie Sanders as well as the almost-forgotten Martin O'Malley. (He's young; maybe he could run as VP for a one-term president.) But same as you, I can't vote.

One error: the AGW-rejecting Senate vote happened just over a year ago. You linked to an article that was rerun 53 weeks after it first appeared. Minor mistake, since none of those senators have changed in the meantime.

Victor Venema said...

Nothing wrong with the political positions of O'Malley, I guess he does not do well because he acts so much like a well-trained politician. My guess is that he stays in the race as long as possible in the hope of a large Clinton scandal and then he could take her place.

Thanks for spotting that error. I was already wondering how often the US Senate votes about those things. But then, I think they already voted a few dozen times against Obamacare.