- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- Sen. Bernie Sanders in a Tuesday op-ed said he makes “no apologies” for supporting the enfranchisement of all currently incarcerated people.
- “If we are serious about calling ourselves a democracy, we must firmly establish that the right to vote is an inalienable and universal principle that applies to all American citizens 18 years and older,” Sanders said.
- Sanders lacks the backing of most voters on this issue, as a recent INSIDER poll showed 75% of Americans do not support voting rights for all prisoners.
- But the decision could help Sanders carve out a lane in the crowded 2020 Democratic field.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders refuses to budge on the issue of voting rights for all current prisoners in the US despite the fact most Americans don’t agree with him. But this could be an extremely shrewd political move that benefits Sanders in the crowded 2020 Democratic primary.
Along the campaign trail, Sanders has repeatedly said he supports granting voting rights to all currently incarcerated people – including for “terrible people” like the Boston Marathon bomber.
“We have been engaged in an ongoing 243-year project to expand participation in our democracy,” the Vermont senator said. “If we are serious about calling ourselves a democracy, we must firmly establish that the right to vote is an inalienable and universal principle that applies to all American citizens 18 years and older. Period.”
Sanders also used the plan to take a jab at the legal woes of people associated with President Donald Trump, stating that “even if Trump’s former campaign manager and personal lawyer end up in jail, they should still be able to vote – regardless of who they cast their vote for.”
A recent INSIDER poll showed 75% of Americans do not support voting rights for all prisoners, though roughly one out of five would support enfranchising non-violent inmates.
But Sanders is seemingly undeterred by a lack of popular support and the criticism he’s faced. And while it may be not the most popular idea, a deeper look into INSIDER’s poll data shows that this could be a fairly savvy political strategy.
Indeed while the general adult population may have some misgivings, those respondents who identified as Democratic primary voters are more interested in the idea. When asked “Do you think people who are convicted of a crime should keep their right to vote while incarcerated?”
- 22% of Democratic primary voters said “I think all incarcerated people should keep their right to vote”
- 25% said “I think that incarcerated people convicted of a non-violent offense should keep their right to vote, but not those convicted of violent offenses”
- 32% said “I don’t think incarcerated people should keep their right to vote, but upon release they should have their right restored”
- 9% said “I think people convicted of violent felonies should lose their right to vote permanently”
- 6% said “I think people convicted of any felony should lose their right to vote permanently”
So for those keeping score, those respondents who were Democratic primary voters were 6 percentage points more likely to agree with Sanders and 5 percentage points more likely to support the move for non-violent offenders. A combined 47% of Democratic primary voters think at least some prisoners should have the ability to vote, roughly 12 points higher than the overall population.
Even if that’s still shy of a majority, that doesn’t matter in a primary: maintaining his position cements Sanders’ status as the left flank of the party, a lane which could be advantageous to control as the primary continues.
As long as Sanders is able to remain the de facto candidate preferred by the left wing of the party, he’ll have a constituency that will keep him if not at the top of the polls, then very much in the game.
While his policy view on incarcerated citizens voting is shared by only 22% of Democratic primary voters, anyone who can stay the top choice of 22% of Democratic primary voters has considerable sway in a crowded Democratic field that features 20 declared candidates.
SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. This survey had a total 1,144 respondents, a margin of error plus or minus 3.07 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.