The Bernie bro myth has no empirical basis

The myth of the so-called ‘Bernie bros’, that the supporters of Bernie Sanders seem to be particularly prone to making nasty misogynistic attacks on rival candidates and their supporters, seems to be one of those things that will never die. But what evidence is there for this idea? Part of the problem is that the criteria for being a Bernie bro is very vague and getting vaguer with time. Right now, it seems to consist of just two necessary and sufficient conditions: (a) that one must be a supporter of Sanders and (b) one has to have said something bad about other candidates and/or their supporters. Neither gender nor age nor ethnicity nor any other demographic feature seems to be required to be thus classified. This is indeed a wide net that has been cast and it should not be surprising that it should catch people in it. As Robinson Meyer, the person who coined the term later wrote, what we are witnessing is ‘category collapse’, where something that was intended to have very narrow usage has become so elastic as to cease to have any meaning since it could be applied to pretty much anything and anyone.

As is often the case when myths start getting undermined, believers in the myth shift the focus and go even more extreme. One commenter on this blog who seems to be particularly vexed by the issue of Bernie bros and has returned to it repeatedly has suggested that I too “engage in BernieBro-ish behavior” because of my “damn near worship of Bernie as a sinless man and, therefore, the Second Coming”.

This is category collapse with a vengeance. It is also a little odd. With apologies to the inimitable Mae West for modifying her immortal words, sinless has nothing to do with it, dearie. I have no idea whether Sanders is sinless or not and don’t really care. I respect and admire Sanders because he has been on the right side of issues pretty much all his life and fought vigorously for them, something that is definitely not true for almost all politicians. He has made a few bad votes, such as his opposition to some gun control laws some time ago, but he has acknowledged that those were wrong. He is also remarkable truthful. You would be hard pressed to find occasions where he has said things that were untrue about his history and past positions and statements, which is not the case with almost any other candidate including Joe Biden, who has been trying to rewrite his past positions on the Iraq war and on crime and Social Security and Medicare.

Furthermore, critics of Bernie bros also demand that Sanders rein in all these people though it is absurd in the days of the internet, when pretty much anyone can say anything, to hold him responsible for the actions of such people. What is odd is that this same expectation does not seem to apply to other candidates and their supporters. For example, top Sanders campaign officials Nina Turner and Briahna Joy Gray have been subjected to vicious racist attacks by supporters of other candidates but there are no allegations about these being the work of Biden bros or Warren bros or whatever.

On MSNBC, his victory in Nevada was compared to the Nazi invasion of France, one of the networks paid pundits referred to the Sanders national campaign press secretary as coming from the “Island of Misfit Black Girls” and host Chuck Todd compared Sanders’s twitter followers to Nazi “brown shirts.” Meanwhile, a surrogate for Buttigieg called on Sanders to “muzzle” his top African American campaign representative, while Mike Bloomberg’s campaign put out a statement accusing Sanders of being “Trump’s new bro” and focused overwhelmingly on attacking the comments of senior Black women on the Sanders campaign.

As another example, Hilary Rosen is a media personality who is a supporter of Joe Biden. In a TV exchange with Turner, when Turner brought up Martin Luther King’s comments made in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail expressing his disappointment with ‘white moderates’, Rosen made the astounding assertion that Turner had no standing to quote King! Rosen got immediate strong pushback from Turner for her whitesplaining of King to a black woman, and subsequently from others as well. Rosen later apologized but in her apology referred to Turner as an ‘angry black woman’ which made things worse. Sanders called on Biden to repudiate the comments by Rosen, who is not some anonymous person on the internet but a media personality with a high profile who is supporting him. So far as I am aware, Biden has yet to do so.

But we know that under the rules of this game, Sanders is responsible for everything his supporters say anywhere and must denounce each and every one every time, while other candidates need not do so. So it is Turner who is a toxic Bernie bro while Rosen is just some random person on TV and is not a Biden bro and thus he is not responsible for what she says.

But now a researcher has put the question of whether Sanders supporters are far more toxic than the supporters of other candidates to empirical test and finds that the belief does not hold up. Keith A. Spencer discusses the research.

The evidence that Sanders supporters are uniquely cruel online, compared to any other candidates’ supporters, is scant; much of the discourse around Bernie Bros seems to rely on skewed anecdotes that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Many Sanders supporters suspect that the stereotype is perpetuated in bad faith to help torpedo his candidacy.

Jeff Winchell, a computational social scientist and graduate student at Harvard University, crunched the numbers on tweet data and found that Sanders’ supporters online behave the same as everyone else. Winchell used what is called a sentiment analysis, a technique used both in the digital humanities and in e-commerce, to gauge emotional intent from social media data.

“Bernie followers act pretty much the same on Twitter as any other follower,” Winchell says of his results. “There is one key difference that Twitter users and media don’t seem to be aware of…. Bernie has a lot more Twitter followers than Twitter followers of other Democrat’s campaigns,” he added, noting that this may be partly what helps perpetuate the myth.”

“I believed that Bernie’s followers are more likely to like him because they are more likely to experience the very negative life circumstances that Bernie Sanders wants to fix. People in a negative situation are more likely to interact negatively with people, particularly those anonymous online people that they have no in-person relationship with. So I had anticipated that Bernie’s followers on average would have a much higher chance to be negative. This does not appear to be the case or at least not as much as the claims I read on Twitter, political media reports or on TV.”

But this post and this research will not persuade anyone who wants to cling to the Bernie bro myth. They will dismiss this post as just another screed from a Bernie bro who worships the sinless Sanders in expectation that he will herald the Second Coming.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    FWLIW, Jason Johnson, utterer of the “Island of Misfit Black Girls” slur, did get promptly dumped by MSNBC.

    But the larger points still stand.

  2. Holms says

    For the doubters, compare the support (or lack of) Sanders gave Clinton after he conceded to her in the primary election to the support (or lack of) Clinton has given Sanders in this election. In those few months, Sanders gave Clinton more help than Clinton has given Sanders in these three years. Compare also the rhetorical barbs thrown between the two, and you will see that the trend is heavily lopsided, with Sanders being by far the more dignified and tolerant of the two.

  3. Porivil Sorrens says

    It sure is funny that there’s so many people pearl clutching and getting the vapors over Bernie fans on twitter posting animal emojis, to the complete exclusion of the overwhelming amount of the neoliberals that support Biden and would gladly let poor people die of illnesses if it means saving on tax dollars.

    It’s almost like these are bad faith attacks by terminally online ghouls that think politics is nothing but a twitter argument writ large, and not a real thing with real consequences. If you weigh mean twitter posts over the lives of poor people and immigrants, you aren’t just stupid, but actively malevolent.

  4. Kreator says

    This is exactly like Gamergate: having no centralized authority to answer to and covering behind anonymity, any bad actor can be dismissed as “not one of us,” unimportant and dismissable, victims be damned. Plausible deniability at its best. Yes, I’m afraid I kinda fall under the people described by the last paragraph and it makes me sad that your fellow bloggers don’t call you out on it, and may even agree with you.

  5. consciousness razor says

    Kreator, do you care about the death, destruction and chaos we’d experience if Biden were elected? And that’s a big “if” — do you care about the risk of losing the election to Trump, which also means death, destruction and chaos?
    I mean, you didn’t bother to write a single word about any of that. So victims be damned?

  6. Porivil Sorrens says


    This is exactly like Gamergate: having no centralized authority to answer to and covering behind anonymity, any bad actor can be dismissed as “not one of us,” unimportant and dismissable, victims be damned.

    That you think this is something unique to Gamergate, and could not accurately describe literally every group in existence, shows much of a bad faith accusation this is.

    “I wanted to donate to the homeless, but I saw a homeless person be mean once. Why won’t the homeless community denounce them? Guess I’ll donate to payday loan companies instead.”

    Yes, I’m afraid I kinda fall under the people described by the last paragraph

    Hey, at least you’re honest about being a dishonest actor that values the “victims” of mean twitter posts from a handful of online teenagers over the actual victims of poverty and government oppression.

    I don’t respect it, but it’s nice to see once in a while.

  7. foamywolf says

    Over 60000 people die each year from lack of health care. Over 500000 families declare bankruptcy every year because of medical bills. For them “Bernie or bust” is quite literal.

    Perhaps some expressions of frustration can be warranted?

  8. Steve Cameron says

    @4 Kreator

    This is exactly like Gamergate: having no centralized authority to answer to and covering behind anonymity, any bad actor can be dismissed as “not one of us,” unimportant and dismissable, victims be damned. Plausible deniability at its best.

    When I first read this I thought you were talking about Biden’s and Warren’s supporters and MSNBC, which only goes to show. Also, do you think the “Bernie Bros” are basement dwelling juveniles doing it for the lulz? Who’s the one not treating people with respect here?

  9. deepak shetty says

    If I had to , I’d say this is a closer approximation to what I would term Bernie Bros . People who may support the right policies but lose sight of pragmatism if they dont get what they want.
    Note: as such I only take objection with people who either vote Republican or who sit out a vote. Other people do not share any blame for who we have as President (effectively those who wouldnt vote for Biden/trump but who do still cast their vote for someone else)

  10. consciousness razor says

    People who may support the right policies but lose sight of pragmatism if they dont get what they want.

    You make people who demand ways of escaping from poverty sound so selfish. Is it really just that “they don’t get what they want” or do you think that maybe there’s something more at stake right now?
    What kind of fucking “pragmatism” would it be, which unquestioningly submits to every “centrist” demand that we’ll get more inequality, more war, more inaction about climate change, etc.? What, practically speaking, has Joe Biden done to reassure us that he gives a rat’s fucking ass about the lower classes who are assumed to owe him their votes? Let’s get real practical for a minute. Maybe our collective budget just can’t handle that shit this year, so we should consider drastic cuts to his and the rest of the establishment’s sense of entitlement.

    Note: as such I only take objection with people who either vote Republican or who sit out a vote. Other people do not share any blame for who we have as President (effectively those who wouldnt vote for Biden/trump but who do still cast their vote for someone else)

    I’ve lost track of how many times it’s been said that we’re the ones to blame, rather than the idiot neoliberals who think their bullshit “return to normal” is anything other than the downward spiral that we’ve been experiencing for decades. So, I’m going to take objection to the idea that it will be our fault if the vote is between Baddie #1 and Baddie #2. They were the assholes who gave us both, so i blame them.

  11. jrkrideau says

    Wait a minute. Harvard? Why would anyone believe a study from that hotbed of godless communism?

  12. file thirteen says

    The term “Bernie bros” doesn’t need to have any factual basis. It’s just a slur that’s bandied about, primarily by those that hate him and those that look for any excuse to “trigger” others. If you wanted to descend to the level of those that use it, you might retaliate with terms like “Joe bros” and “Donnie bros” and try to make them gain traction. Alternatively, take a deep breath, resist being triggered, keep calm and carry on.

  13. deepak shetty says

    @consciousness razor
    So lets see -- you want Sanders, you campaign for Sanders, you try to convince your friends and family he is the right candidate, his policies are the best option forward. But for a myriad of reasons you dont succeed and your fellow Democrats , as a majority choose Biden who inspite of all his problems is no Trump. You can complain a lot about how the establishment failed Sanders (quelle surprise) instead of how your fellow Democrats failed you -- they just dont know better (sniff)
    The article is talking about people , who have concluded that if Sanders isnt the nominee they wont vote Biden
    So what next ? They either stay home or God Forbid vote for Trump to prove a point -- then those are the folks I would use the term Bernie Bros for. If you vote for anyone else, write in or otherwise , I dont. Once , democratically, your nominee has lost , yes pragmatism should win the day -- otherwise what else can be said?

    The rest of your post has no relation to anything that I may have said (or even implied)

  14. Sam N says

    @13, Call me a Bernie Bro, if you want, despite the fact that I have not disparaged Elizabeth Warren, contributed to her campaign, and volunteered for her, until she lost the first two states in the primary, at which point, I shifted my support to Bernie. I even voted for Hillary Clinton in the general in 2016. I will not vote for Biden, and yes, if Trump is re-elected it will cause substantial short term harm, more-so than Biden. But I have a party completely unwilling to represent me. As Consciousness Razor points out, we are in a downward spiral, with the coming generations less prosperous than our forebears, coinciding with policies that make life more difficult for the poor and funnel wealth to those who are already the best-off. I will not continue to contribute to the slow decline in favor of the rapid decline. You only help the slur become meaningless, just like that scary ‘socialism’.

  15. Sam N says

    I thought it was Consciousness Razor who left that comment, but I may be confusing posts or even threads. Apologies if it’s an inaccurate attribution.

  16. Porivil Sorrens says

    Here’s an idea -- rather than getting upset about Bernie supporters being rude on twitter or something, we get mad at the absolute idiots that base their voting decisions based on rude posts on twitter.

    If you care so little about your fellow humans that you would weigh civility over policy that would demonstrably save people’s lives, you are the terrible person, not the 23 year old posting a rat emoji towards some neoliberal ghoul online.

  17. consciousness razor says

    deepak shetty:
    Do you know about the sorts of things that I “want” politically? I want us to adopt the metric system, and I want us to stop using Daylight Savings Time.

    They would be good, but I would not say that those are things that we desperately “need,” which at minimum are basic things like food, housing, education, healthcare, security, etc.

    It’s not so hard to put up with somebody who’s opposed to items belonging in the first category — we could agree to disagree, although they are certainly wrong. The second category is another story though. Do you not recognize the difference? Or do you not believe that what is at stake belongs in the second category (maybe not for you but for many other people)?

  18. deepak shetty says

    @consciousness razor
    But you are spending your time arguing that I am either opposed to Sanders’ policies or that I dont understand the impact of not having some of his policies -- an incorrect assumption. While the nomination is still open , by all means push for Sanders over others as much as you can -- that wouldnt make you a Bernie Bro (in my opinion).
    But if he loses and then Biden is the nominee , then what ? No matter how much you dislike Biden or the other non Trump candidates how does either not voting or voting for Trump advance the causes you state you believe in and which are desperately needed.
    Since when is a blog comment supposed to be pedantically accurate ?
    @Sam N

    . I will not vote for Biden, and yes, if Trump is re-elected it will cause substantial short term harm, more-so than Biden.

    As long as you vote and its not Trump , I wouldnt call you a Bernie bro , even if you write in Sanders. I know other people have different definitions.

  19. Mano Singham says

    deepak shetty,

    I understand what you are saying and the point you are trying to make but you do realize that your definition of what makes a Bernie bro is nothing like what it started out with, don’t you?

    When one starts making one’s own definitions for terms, then the terms quickly lose all meaning.

    Saying that one thinks that voting for Trump is unforgivable is one thing. Labeling such a person a Bernie bro seems like a a strenuous effort to find a new way to justify making the label pejorative.

  20. consciousness razor says

    No matter how much you dislike Biden or the other non Trump candidates how does either not voting or voting for Trump advance the causes you state you believe in and which are desperately needed.

    Biden’s supposed to be the one leading a political campaign here. He’s is the one who needs to explain to working-class people how voting for him would advance any cause worth fighting for, other than that of insurance companies, banks, the military-industrial complex, and the whole array of neoliberal politicians, lobbyists, donors, think-tankers, pundits, etc., who want to hold onto their own power.

    Or, he can just keeping lying about more shit, as he does every day, about for example being a sponsor of the Endangered Species Act. Maybe in that case it’s not lying — it’s that his brain isn’t working so well anymore? Facts just don’t mean anything to people these days, so perhaps it was Nelson Mandela who bravely sponsored the ESA, even though bad dudes like Corn Pop wanted to endanger more species down by the swimming pool. Surely, Biden would’ve been on it, if he had found the time, but I guess he was too busy marching with civil rights protestors, as he has so “truthfully” claimed on several occasions.

    No way to know for sure, but does it matter? He’s not giving us a reason to think he’s capable of keeping this country from falling apart even more than it already has. The people leading him around, shielding him from criticism, lying about his record, etc., are so obviously lacking in integrity that I simply cannot imagine any way that I could be wrong about distrusting every last one of them too. So I can’t even find a way to convince myself that it’s not about Biden per se but his whole administration, since that will consist of a bunch of demented clowns who keep failing upwards just like Biden has.

    Have as much faith in those fuckers as you want, but I really don’t think you have to evangelize about it. We’re the ones getting shit upon here, and like I said before, we’re not the ones who are forcing either Biden or Trump onto this country. As long as you’re prepared to blame them when he loses in November, then I think we’re okay.

  21. A Lurker from Mexico says

    @deepak shetty
    Hoping that I don’t go into too much of a tangent. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that nobody in either side of the Democratic debacle actually gives half a shit about pragmatism.

    Clearly the Bernie or Bust (That’s the term you are looking for) people don’t regard the lack of pragmatism in sticking their middle finger to the Dems, you made your case, I don’t dispute it, nobody cares. They are the most honest actors in my view, because they actively say “fuck pragmatism” instead of pretending they care.

    On a similar vein, Biden voters who are aware of this liability don’t ever consider that “Hmm, if Bernie or Busters are promising to throw the election if my dude wins, maybe I should do a lesser of two evils and flip to Bernie”. They consistently get on a holier than thou tough guy persona and shoot back because fuck pragmatism.

    Obama and the democratic establishment coalesced behind Biden to give him a push through Super Tuesday and on. Despite knowing that the dude gets in random shouting matches with voters, can’t withstand a 1 hour debate standing up, and keeps forgetting peoples names, where he is and what he’s running for. They can’t protect Biden in the general but they’ll protect him in the primary because fuck pragmatism.

    The cavalcade of keyboard warriors demanding that Bernie or Busters “Stop being so childish”, “Stop your tantrum”, blah blah blah, they don’t care that this strategy didn’t work in 2016, they don’t care that it won’t work now. Shaming doesn’t only not work, it makes people dig deeper in their heels. Escalating the conflict makes it worse. But they do it anyway because fuck pragmatism.

    Every person I’ve seen argue for “pragmatism” has been full of shit so far. Nobody actually cares. People will pick fights and snark and mock their defeated opponents as if they won’t be needed in November. People cling to false narratives of electability in the face of mounting evidence of the contrary (quick note to point out that when people pledge NOT to vote for a candidate, that candidate is not electable, at least have the decency of not committing this mistake a third time in 2024). Pragmatism is a meaningless buzz word, and the people that cite it as a desirable value are the first to throw it in the trash.

  22. billseymour says

    You may call me a Bernie Bro if you wish to. I definitely support Sanders; and although I totally agree that four more years of Trump will be much worse in the short term than four more years of slower creeping feudalism and marginally less destructive wars, I also worry about long-term matters.

    I will neither vote for Trump nor stay home—I think that voting is a civic duty and downstream races are important; but abstaining on one or more particular contests is an option. At present, I’m undecided.

  23. deepak shetty says

    I believe the original usage of the term was around
    a. Smug supporters who believed that anyone who didnt support their candidate were fools,ignorant etc etc
    b. Who after the nomination , in which their candidate lost , continued to criticize the winning nominee , even though the opponent was worse in every single way barring one.
    c. Who also used sexist comments.(Id note that I never saw sexist comments on this blog/its comments so you’ll wouldnt qualify as Bernie Bros previously)

    With Clinton being replaced by Biden , the sexism no longer holds but you will see some ageism come into play.
    I dont see my personal definition far off from the above -- I only differ in that its ok to not like the winning nominee and its ok to vote for someone else. any term used to represent a group of diverse people usually diverges from its original usage (new atheist anyone ?). The Bernie or Bust people do seem to fit into the definition now , given that the sexism component no longer applies.

    To be clear though -- I dont hold Sanders or his campaign responsible for any of the above because neither he nor his policies promote or encourage for e.g. sexism. I dont know how many of his supporters fall into the above category or how many are Russian trolls -- but it should be noted that Warren also reported the same problem with his supporters.

    I still dont believe that people who support Sanders aren’t trying to find out why their outreach to African American voters didnt /isnt working -- preferring instead to blame the establishment for Sanders assumed loss.
    When would the establishment ever support someone like Sanders -- only when he changes his policies to support the rich and powerful, no ?

    @conciousness razor
    Yes I get that. But everything you said applies more to Trump, no ? so as long as you dont vote trump or Biden but do vote (and as progressive as you can, assuming you can) you dont have an argument from me.

    @A lurker from Mexico
    Im not part of any establishment and Im an anarchist at heart except I cant figure out a way to make it work. so any appeals for pragmatism from me are directed to the people not to the establishment. When you criticise the establishment you are preaching to the choir.

    So then we dont disagree on anything.

  24. consciousness razor says

    Yes I get that. But everything you said applies more to Trump, no ?

    No, not everything. Trump’s not getting the support Biden gets from the Democratic party. Republicans may feel alright about Biden, but not us. Ideally, though, neither party would have either as the nominee.

    The Dems need to realize that anybody can become a “swing voter” or “non-voter,” not only the type of ignorant/repugnant conservatives occupying the political “center” who always expect us to kiss their asses.

    so as long as you dont vote trump or Biden but do vote (and as progressive as you can, assuming you can) you dont have an argument from me

    I’ll certainly vote. There are lots of other races to worry about in my state … probably some important ballot measures too, although I don’t know what they’ll be yet.

    The question is whether you’re inclined to blame this on the neoliberals running the show and their shit politics, or whether you will blame ordinary voters like me and you who are the victims of it. There are good reasons to criticize Greens and Libertarians and so forth, and I’m still happy to do so. But even in 2016, I wasn’t attributing Clinton’s loss to people like that. Any respectable candidate should’ve been able to beat Trump with ease; a few voters in a few swing states are just a scapegoat that the neoliberals have invented to avoid admitting their own wretched mistakes.

    If Biden’s the nominee, people like me won’t be to blame for the fact that he’s just plain awful and is an extremely risky choice. That’s the point some people still don’t seem to get, because they feel like obsessing about “bros” and other bullshit like that.

  25. billseymour says

    consciousness razor @25

    I’ll certainly vote. There are lots of other races to worry about in my state …


    Missouri’s auditor, the only state-wide elected official who’s a Democrat, will be running for governor. She’s highly respected and has a good chance of winning over a Republican who was appointed after our previous governor resigned in disgrace.

    There’s also a pretty good chance that Missouri’s 2nd congressional district will have a strong Democratic candidate to run against my U.S. representative, Ann Wagner. (The TV ad that she ran in 2018 was all about how she loved her son who’s in the military. That struck me as a pretty low bar.)

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