- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- Sen. Bernie Sanders was “central” to Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, according to a new study.
- The study suggests the Russians looked as Sanders as a tool to drive a wedge in the Democratic party more than was previously known.
- Of the Russian tweets the researchers analyzed, roughly 9,000 used the word “Bernie,” which were “liked” 59,281 times and retweeted 61,804 times.
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Russia’s effort to convince supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders to vote for President Donald Trump over former Secretary Hillary Clinton was more expansive than previously known, according to a new study.
Researchers at Clemson University, at the request of The Washington Post, examined English-language tweets that came from Russia and found thousands that were designed to urge Sanders supporters to back Trump.
Of the Russian tweets the researchers analyzed, roughly 9,000 used the word “Bernie,” which were “liked” 59,281 times and retweeted 61,804 times.
The tweets came from accounts masquerading as conservative Americans, with profiles that said things like, “Southern. Conservative Pro God. Anti Racism” and tweeted things like, “#BlackMenForBernie Leader Switches to Trump! I will Never Vote for Hillary, Welcome aboard the Trump Train.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference had already revealed that Kremlin-linked trolls were ordered to write social media posts not only in opposition to Clinton but in support of Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump. This study offers a picture of how extensive this effort was.
“There is no question that Sanders was central to their strategy. He was clearly used as a mechanism to decrease voter turnout for Hillary Clinton,” Darren Linvill, associate professor of communications and one of the researchers who worked on the study, told The Post.
Linvill said the tweets analyzed as part of the study “give us a much clearer understanding of the tactics they were using. It was certainly a higher volume than people thought.”
Sanders was “just a tool” to the Russians, Linvill added, and “a wedge to drive into the Democratic Party.”
The Vermont senator has denounced the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and he actively campaigned for Clinton after he lost the Democratic nomination. But many Clinton supporters continue to feel Sanders didn’t drop out early enough and ultimately contributed to her loss.
It’s hard to say how much of an impact these Russian trolls ultimately had on Sanders supporters in terms of who they voted for in the general. About 12% of Sanders supporters voted for Trump on Election Day, according to The Post, which is far less than the 24% of Clinton supporters who ended up voting for GOP Sen. John McCain over former President Barack Obama in 2008 – her rival in the Democratic primary that year.
Sanders’ 2020 campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from INSIDER.