Conservatives for Bernie

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Bernie Sanders Holds Campaign Rally In Oklahoma City
A nontrivial number of primary voters supporting Bernie Sanders in Oklahoma were nobody's democratic socialists.Photo: J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Amidst all of the talk about the legitimately important phenomenon of self-identified liberals (or “very” liberals) showing up in the Democratic presidential primaries, there’s something in the shadows that also should be noted: Bernie Sanders is receiving significant support from the small but (in some states) significant share of Democratic primary voters who do not identify as liberal or as moderate, but as conservative. 

In Oklahoma, Sanders’s most impressive Super Tuesday trophy, 19 percent of Democratic primary voters described themselves as "conservative." They went for Bernie 54/22. Coming at ideology from another angle, 28 percent of Oklahoma primary voters said they’d prefer the next president "change to less liberal policies" than Obama’s. They went for Sanders 59/24. 

In Massachusetts, there weren’t enough self-described “conservatives” in the exit poll sample to create a candidate preference finding. But asked the same question as in Oklahoma about the policies of the next president, 16 percent opted for “less liberal policies.” They went for Sanders 60-38.

I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this, but it’s reasonably clear some Bernie voters aren’t real precise in their ideological definitions, don’t know much about Bernie or democratic socialism, or are acting on some other motive. I’ll offer one other purely anecdotal bit of information: Intrigued by the fact that the only county Sanders won in my home state of Georgia was tiny, rural, Echols County (Clinton narrowly won the most likely Sanders hotbed, Athens-Clarke County, where the University of Georgia is located), I called around down there, and one informant told me that the handful of Democratic voters in the county were mostly very old, and didn’t much cotton to women working outside the home, much less running for president. 

So yeah, there are probably some people voting for Sanders who aren’t feeling the Bern so much as they’re feeling the heartburn over uppity womenfolk and/or remember Hillary Clinton as a liberal influence on her husband’s administration. There’s nothing much Sanders or his campaign can do about that, but it’s worth remembering before every single vote he receives is automatically counted as part of a mandate for a leftier Democratic Party.