Bernie Sanders-South Bronx, New York: Analysis


Vermont Senator and potential Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in South Bronx, NY. Photo Courtesy Flickr/Michael Vadon

At a March 31 campaign rally in South Bronx, NY, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stood in a sea of waving blue signs proclaiming “A FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN” and addressed a crowd of lively supporters.  Branding himself as an anti-establishment Robin Hood figure, Sanders decried the country’s wealth disparity, frequently using the word “unacceptable” to rouse the crowd against Wall Street greed.

Sanders personalized the beginning of his address with a narrative of his early years, proclaiming, “I am very proud that I was born here in New York City, that my wife was born in Brooklyn, New York. My father came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland without a nickel in his pocket.” With the combination of Sanders’ father’s immigration story and his own pride in the self-titled “State of Opportunity,” Sanders appealed to the heritage of New York born-and-breds as well as the 34% of Bronx County that is foreign-born.

Showing that he had clearly researched his audience, Sanders spoke strategically about issues faced by the South Bronx community. Below are four major assertions made by Sanders during the rally:

#1: Sanders cited the nation as having “the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth” and “more people in jail than any other country on earth.”

These national issues are relatable in a county that has 31.5% of its population living in poverty and has spent over two decades lowering crime rates. That being said, the senator’s claims regarding childhood poverty are rhetorically deceptive, as it is unclear how “major country” is defined in any concrete manner.

His statement might lead listeners to believe that the U.S. rate is the highest of all countries in poverty rates, when a 2012 report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranks the United States 27th. Of the 35 countries UNICEF calls “economically advanced,” the U.S. ranks second highest, with a childhood poverty rate of 23.1%, following Romania’s 25.5 percent.

As for Sanders’ claim about Americans jail counts, his statement is factually true but is strategically phrased to skew audience perspective. The World Prison Brief (WPB) lists the United States as number one in total prison population, with over 2.2 million individuals incarcerated. However, because the U.S. is one of the largest nations in the world, pure headcount does not offer as much insight as rate of incarceration. Looking at jail population proportionally, Sanders’ statement can be seen as manipulating the numbers. In terms of prison population per 100,000 people, the U.S. rate of 698 takes second place, behind the Seychelles rate of 799.

#2: Speaking to a 43.5% African-American county, Sanders touched on law enforcement prejudice, referencing rates of arrest. In the specific context of marijuana legality and use, Sanders commented that “where this becomes a racial issue is that it turns out that the black community and the white community smoke marijuana at about the same rates, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested than whites.”

In terms of his claim about arrests, Sanders seems to be approximately accurate, with a Human Rights Watch report pointing to a 2007 drug arrest ratio of 3.6 African-American individuals for every one white individual. Sanders’ assertions regarding rates of marijuana usage also hold up, with an American Civil Liberties Union study listing 14% of African-Americans and 12% of Whites reporting marijuana usage in 2010.

While Sanders’ claims hold up statistically, his presentation of marijuana usage may be overly simplified. Because recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in many places, it is likely that a significant proportion of users may not admit to consuming the drug, creating a gap between actual demography and reporting demography.

#3: Later in his address, Bernie talked about his involvement in a positive process of change through Obamacare, saying, “I am a member of the committee that wrote the Affordable Care Act…we provided insurance to 17 million people who didn’t have it.”

Indeed, a 2015 report by the Department of Health and Human Services claims that the Affordable Care Act granted coverage to 17.6 million individuals who previously had no insurance. But the senator may have exaggerated his role in the legislation. Sanders was not as much of an all-in Obamacare proponent as he painted himself to be for his South Bronx listeners. PolitiFact reports that “despite making contributions to the final legislation, Sanders was, for most of the process, an outsider pushing for a more aggressive single-payer system rather than an insider negotiating and crafting the final design of the bill.”

#4: Wrapping up his speech, Sanders urged the audience to participate in New York’s April 19 primary, declaring, “If there is a large voter turnout, we will win. And if we win here in New York, we are going to make it to the White House.”

Polls, however, indicate that Sanders’ confidence in a primary win is unfounded, with FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of poll aggregations projecting a 2% chance of a New York victory for the Vermont senator. According to a Fox News poll from April 4-7, 53% of New York Democrats plan to vote for Clinton in the upcoming primary.

As for the national stage, a Reuters/Ipsos poll from April 2-6 indicates that Clinton and Sanders are neck-and-neck for the Democratic Nomination, with Clinton polling at 49% and Sander just below at 48 percent. Thus, while Sanders overstates his likelihood to win in New York, his strong poll numbers indicate that he is still in the running for the democratic nomination.

Specifically, the democratic nominee needs to win 2,383 delegates to continue toward the White House. As of April 10, the New York Times indicates that Clinton has won 1,305 while Sanders claims 1,086. The gap between superdelegate counts is more dramatic, with Clinton’s 469 dwarfing Sanders’ 31.

While Sanders may have oversimplified some more complex national issues in his South Bronx rally speech, his overall statistical citations were accurate and grounded in evidence. With 20 primaries still remaining, Sanders could still best Clinton, but the democratic nomination will be anything but a handout.


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