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"Bernie Bro" (sometimes spelled "Berniebro"; collective Bernie Bros) is a term coined in 2015 by Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic to describe young, male supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the 2016 United States presidential election. The term has remained in use for the 2020 United States presidential election.
Although in 2016 polling showed Sanders' supporters to be more white than the Democratic electorate as a whole, Sanders' polling base in the 2020 Democratic primaries was actually more diverse than that of most candidates, with most voters of color voting for him and presumptive nominee Joe Biden.
Robinson Meyer, a writer for The Atlantic, coined the term "Bernie bro" in an October 17, 2015 article to describe young, white, progressive men who, in his view, believe that "The only reason you, and every other Facebook user, haven’t supported Bernie yet is your own willful ignorance".
In the article, Meyer characterized the Bernie Bro as "male... white; well-educated; middle-class (or, delicately, 'upper middle-class'); and aware of NPR podcasts and jangly bearded bands." Furthermore, according to Meyer, "[t]he Berniebro asserts that this country needs highly principled, pie-in-the-sky progressive policies, regardless of how likely they are to become legislation. The Berniebro supports free college for all and a $15 minimum wage.... The Berniebro voted for Barack Obama in 2012. And 2008, if the Berniebro was old enough to vote."
Use in electionsEdit
In January 2016, the BBC noted the Bernie Bro phenomenon, noting "a number of prominent members of the media - followed with their own reports of seeing Sanders supporters deploying vicious rhetoric towards anyone questioning the Vermont Senator or his backers."
In February 2016, Brian Fallon, Hillary Clinton's press secretary, characterized the Bernie Bros as "nasty and vitriolic." Bill Clinton accused the Bernie Bros as carrying out "vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane ... not to mention sexist."
After the 2016 Nevada Caucuses, Amanda Marcotte wrote an article for Salon in which she described the actions of Sanders supporters at the Nevada Democratic Convention towards state Democratic Committee chairwoman Roberta Lange as aggressive and sexist. Marcotte offered the following analysis:
"There continues to be ugly fallout from the bizarre happenings at the Nevada state Democratic convention, where convention-goers, mostly Bernie Sanders supporters, screamed and freaked out and verged on rioting in anger over convention rules perceived to disfavor their candidate. The battle was as ugly as it was inconsequential — the number of delegates being fought over is far too small to make a difference at the national convention — suggesting that the rage on display, which is pouring out in online Sanders supporter circles as well, was not really about a principled object to the arcane rules of one state's convention, but about many Sanders supporters simply refusing to accept that their candidate has lost the primary race to Hillary Clinton."
During the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, followers of Sanders campaign were again accused of promoting hostility toward other Democratic candidates. In its parody of the February 2020 New Hampshire Democratic debate, Saturday Night Live lampooned the "Bernie bros" as being "an army of internet trolls" of which Sanders was king.
Prior to the 2020 Nevada Democratic caucuses, the leadership of the Culinary Workers Union passed fliers criticizing Sanders' and Warren's Medicare for All proposals, claiming they would eliminate workers' healthcare. Union leaders claimed they were harassed online by Sanders supporters in response to these fliers. Sanders responded by condemning any harassment and defending the union's right to bargain for its membership, although he also pointed out that such conflicts are inevitable due to anonymous posting, and also mentioned the frequent sexist and racist attacks made by supporters of other candidates on members of his own team.
Several primary rivals criticized Sanders' campaign for the behavior of some of his supporters. Following her candidacy withdrawal, Elizabeth Warren said "we are all responsible for what our supporters do, and I think Bernie has a lot of questions to answer here" and added that an inclusive Democratic Party could not be built on a "foundation of hate". In an NBC interview, Joe Biden also criticized the attacks on Culinary Union leaders and told Sanders should "find out who the hell they are". Following Sanders' victories in several early states, Michael Bloomberg's team made several video compilations showcasing alleged inflammatory tweets by "Bernie Bros" and accused them of vandalizing campaign offices with messages such as "authoritarian", "classist", and "oligarch".
Sanders campaign responseEdit
In February 2016, Sanders distanced himself from the group as a result of alleged sexist attacks against rival Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. On CNN's State of the Union programme, Jake Tapper asked whether he had heard "about this phenomenon Bernie Bros who support you and sometimes attack in very sexist ways". Sanders replied "I have heard about it. It's disgusting...Anybody who is supporting me and who is doing sexist things, we don't want them. I don't want them. That is not what this campaign is about."
In an interview with Thom Hartmann, state Senator Nina Turner (a campaign surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders) criticized the use of the term: "I just think it is really hyped by the Clinton campaign. I mean, both candidates have people who really, really support them and sometimes in ways that are not nice. But it's the same thing, if people want to research this, it's the same thing that the Clinton campaign did to President, then Senator, Obama. I think they were called 'Obama Boys.' So it's really the same stuff recycled that there are a group of men out there that are rabid and they're sexist and they're really against Secretary Clinton." Max van Dyke made a similar point in 2017.
During the ninth 2020 Democratic debate, Sanders suggested that Russians were impersonating people claiming to be his supporters online. Twitter rejected Sanders' suggestion. A Twitter spokesperson told CNBC: "Using technology and human review in concert, we proactively monitor Twitter to identify attempts at platform manipulation and mitigate them. As is standard, if we have reasonable evidence of state-backed information operations, we’ll disclose them following our thorough investigation to our public archive — the largest of its kind in the industry."
Online reaction to the phenomenon from Clinton supporters ranged from organizational action to the creation of memes to counter media coverage surrounding the campaign. Bros4Hillary, an issue advocacy organization, was created to coordinate a response for Hillary Clinton supporters, and sought to provide an intersectional, progressive safe-haven from perceived abuses taking place online. Following the 2016 presidential election, the group was renamed Bros4America and worked to elect progressives in the 2018 midterm election.
A Washington Post article analyzing mass trolling in the 2020 primaries points to a Facebook tool introduced in 2019 that allows sharing to multiple groups easily from a mobile device. Researcher Trevor Davis notes use of the tactic may help explain the scores of memes against Sanders’s opponents appearing in nearly simultaneous bursts, distributed by "highly networked clusters" of Facebook users. Davis did not conclude the campaign itself was involved but focused instead on the Facebook activity by supporters.
In March 2020, Harvard social scientist Jeff Winchell analysed tweets from supporters of Sanders along with other politicians, and concluded that there was no significant difference in the percentage of negative tweets between those of supporters of Sanders and other candidates, but that Sanders supporters were more likely to be on social media and therefore appeared more aggressive.
According to Vice News, in September 2019, women under 45 comprised a larger share of Bernie Sanders' supporters than men of the same age group. After the 2020 Nevada caucus, the Washington Post stated that he was "forcing a sudden reckoning in the Democratic party" due to his strong support from Hispanic and Latino voters.
In January 2016, The Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald called the Bernie Bro narrative a "cheap campaign tactic" and a "journalistic disgrace", indicating that a large number of women supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton: "one has to be willing to belittle the views and erase the existence of a huge number of American women to wield this 'Bernie Bro' smear". He also asserted a lack of evidence for the concept. He summarized his opinion as follows: "The goal is to inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism, thus distracting attention away from Clinton's policy views, funding, and political history and directing it toward the online behavior of anonymous, random, isolated people on the internet claiming to be Sanders supporters."
Nathan Wellman asserted in U.S. Uncut in January 2016 that users of the term "are essentially erasing the contributions of women and people of color to the Bernie Sanders campaign to propagate their own narrative, rendering them as invisible people. This is one of the oldest forms of violence perpetrated by white people of privilege."
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- "The Quiet Death of the "White Bernie Bro" Attack". jacobinmag.com. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
- Grim, Ryan (2019-03-06). "Bernie Sanders Is Beating Kamala Harris 2-1 Among Black Democratic Primary Voters, New Poll Finds". The Intercept. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
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- Hess, Amanda (February 3, 2016). "Everyone Is Wrong About the Bernie Bros; How a necessary critique of leftist sexism deteriorated into a dumb flame war". Slate. New York City: The Slate Group. Retrieved May 15, 2016.>
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- Winchell, Jeff (2020-02-24). "This table has data only from tweeters who follow just one candidate. I'd rather try to scan their content and bios to figure out if people following multiple candidates really plan to vote for a specific one, but that interesting NLP work is for another day.pic.twitter.com/obDMVCKdvS". @CompSocialSci. Retrieved 2020-04-03.
- "The "Bernie Bro" myth persists because pundits don't understand how the internet works". Salon. 2020-02-09. Retrieved 2020-04-03.
- Solis, Marie (September 20, 2019). "Young Women Actually Make Up More of Bernie's Base Than Men Do".
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- Greenwald, Glenn (January 31, 2016). "The "Bernie Bros" Narrative: a Cheap Campaign Tactic Masquerading as Journalism and Social Activism". The Intercept. New York City: First Look Media. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
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