FLORENCE, South Carolina — People working for Bernie Sanders and spreading his message to voters who know little about him have an ask: Do five minutes of research. On your phone. Right now.
Inside the campaign, the undecided black vote is broken down, informally, into two groups: young voters who are thought to be more open toward Sanders, and voters, many of them older, who are staunch defenders of Hillary Clinton.
“You approach them completely differently,” a campaign official doing black outreach but who was not authorized to speak on behalf of the campaign, told BuzzFeed News.
Typically, the older voter has a deep affinity for, and familiarity with, Clinton. To those voters, the campaign official said, talking about Sanders’s platform is usually “a dead end.” It usually leads to a confrontation, a surefire way to turn the voter off completely.
In fact, canvassers and volunteers talking to black voters are told to be complimentary of Clinton and the work she's done over the years for the Democratic Party as a former first lady, senator and secretary of state. “The best strategy is to accept the fact that they're voting for Hillary and to not tell them they are wrong for doing so,” the official, who said he's taught close to 50 people the conversion strategy.
In a confrontation, they'll never get to do the five minutes of research on Sanders that has become lore inside the campaign for its ability to hook black voters on his track record of civil rights — and the common campaign talking point about making the economy work for everyone, not just select few millionaires and billionaires. (The campaign is generally just using Google here; they don’t have a default page or video they’re pointing voters to.)
“The key is to tell the volunteers we engage is telling them don't get into these divisive arguments. We want them to say, ‘Hey, look, I respect your choice, but take a look at Sen. Sanders. And I guarantee you after five minutes you'll be feeling the Bern.”
The strategy has been championed by the campaign’s director of black outreach, Marcus Ferrell, and his deputy, Roy Tatum.
“Bernie is not behind because he's a bad person or he's made policy decisions over the course of his career,” the campaign official and a loyalist of the on-the-spot tactic said, reflecting the uphill battle Sanders faces on Saturday few think can be overcome here in South Carolina where Clinton is quite popular. On Super Tuesday, there is more hope, but also a reality: Time is running out.
Ferrell said younger voters are naturally attracted to Sanders because they believe in a $15 minimum wage, agree with Sanders on what changes need to be made in the criminal justice system, and agree that tuition at public colleges and universities should be free.
“It's that simple,” he told BuzzFeed News. “That message in and of itself is bringing people on our side and we see it in the events we’re doing on the campuses of HBCUs and in the amount of positive engagement we see with our candidate on a daily basis.”
“You do only need five minutes,” of research, Ferrell said.
Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Darren Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.