Hillary Clinton won big in New York on Tuesday, taking a 16-point lead statewide over opponent Bernie Sanders and receiving 63 percent of votes in New York City alone—but walking around the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn ahead of the primary, you wouldn’t think so. Throughout the city, public support for Sanders seems to far outweigh that for Clinton, with his campaign posters filling the windows of bars, cafes, and apartments—without a Clinton sign in sight. Lest this disparity be attributed to allegations of voter suppression, the phenomenon goes far beyond New York: Online, #feelthebern hashtags appear to drown out Clinton’s #ImWithHer rallying cry, and a larger number of vocal celebrities can be seen showing their support at Sanders rallies and online. With so many voters evidently backing Clinton on paper and in the polls, why is real-life public support for her is so muted?
Sady Doyle, a writer who has openly endorsed Clinton, said she receives many messages from people admitting they are “secretly” voting for the candidate due to fear of being harassed by Sanders defenders, and private pro-Clinton Facebook groups have been formed for the same reason.
The people who message me about ~*secretly*~ voting for Clinton are my favorite people. Because there are so many of them.— Sady Doyle (@sadydoyle) April 18, 2016
“When I hear from friends, or when people write to me from college campuses, that's the one thing I hear, over and over: ‘I feel like I can't speak up, because people will be so vicious about it,’” Doyle said.
These fears are not unwarranted. Vitriolic backlash from so-called ‘Bernie bros’ has been well-documented, whether they are calling up super delegates to harass them or doxxing reporters who write unfavorably about him. To be sure, the harassment comes largely from a very vocal faction and is not a reflection of all Sanders supporters, but the silencing effects have been profound. One member of a secret Clinton group said she has to be quiet about her Clinton support even among friends because the rhetoric has gotten so nasty. Another, who is in the secret group in part because he works at a media company whose audience leans heavily pro-Sanders, said even his more mild supporters are difficult to engage in political discussion.
“Bernie supporters are impossible,” he said. “If you show even the slightest support of Clinton, the conversation immediately becomes a one-sided and loaded with condescension.”
Even celebrities have felt the burn from Sanders supporters. Britney Spears posted photos of herself with Hillary Clinton, endorsing the candidate using the hashtag #ImWithHer, but quickly deleted the hashtag after an influx of negative comments. A sampling of such comments can be seen on pro-Hillary posts on comedian Amy Schumer’s Instagram account, which have been flooded with #feelthebern hashtags and comments like, “Stick to being funny not stupid,” “Won't be supporting you anymore. You were never funny any ways [sic],” and “HILLARY CLINTON SUCKS ASS.”
The fear of openly supporting Clinton may come with the territory of progressive politics: Young people on college campuses are rabidly pro-Sanders, no doubt in part due to his support of free college education. Much of the discourse (and shutting down of Clinton discussions) occurs on social media, which tends to include mostly young people—and young people largely support Sanders. Trendy, young, and largely-white neighborhoods in Brooklyn voted overwhelmingly for Sanders—the same areas where bars held fundraisers and dance parties for the candidate. Tess Betts, a 23-year-old who lives in Brooklyn, said she feels she stands out from her peers due to her support of Clinton.
“I kind of feel left out of some ‘revolution’ that everyone is feeling—but the logical choice is Hillary,” she said, adding that she will continue to subtly support Clinton until she gains the nomination, at which point she hopes the in-fighting will die down.
After Clinton’s big New York win, she has 1,758 delegates to Sanders’s 1,076 and an increasingly clear path to the nomination. Sanders is not going down without a fight, promising to spend more time trying to flip super delegates—and as his chances at a victory have gotten slimmer, the rhetoric has gotten uglier among his supporters and progressives in general.
“People are upset, they're grieving, and some of them are lashing out,” Doyle said. “I think Clinton supporters are getting pretty sick of it, too; the tone of Clinton supporters around me has gotten noticeably angrier in the past few weeks.”
It’s clear that until Sanders drops out, progressives will be divided, and that could take awhile. One person in a secret pro-Clinton group said she is avoiding posting about the candidate online until after she wins, at which point supporters can unite over something they all agree on: abject fear that Donald Trump could be the next leader of the free world.
“I've made a conscious decision in recent weeks to lay low until after she is declared the nominee,” she said. “I figure stay quiet, get the nomination, let them cool down for a while, let Trump/Cruz scare the hell out of everyone and then start pushing for her loudly again, when it really matters.”