In the war for endorsements in the Democratic presidential primary, there is a clear trend.

Every major union or progressive organization that let its members have a vote endorsed Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, all of Hillary Clinton’s major group endorsements come from organizations where the leaders decide. And several of those endorsements were accompanied by criticisms from members about the lack of a democratic process.

It’s perhaps the clearest example yet of Clinton’s powerful appeal to the Democratic Party’s elite, even as support for Sanders explodes among the rank and file.

How Organizations Endorsed:

Organization Who They Endorsed Their Endorsement Process
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Hillary Clinton Executive council vote following polling of membership
Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Hillary Clinton Executive board vote informed by membership poll
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Hillary Clinton Executive board vote after collecting member feedback
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Hillary Clinton Executive council vote after non-binding survey of membership in summer 2015
Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence Hillary Clinton Did not respond to requests about how decision was made
Human Rights Campaign Hillary Clinton Board of directors vote
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Hillary Clinton Executive board vote
League of Conservation Voters Hillary Clinton Board of directors vote based on recommendation from political committee
NARAL Pro-Choice America Hillary Clinton PAC committee, staff, and president decision
National Education Association (NEA) Hillary Clinton Executive board and PAC council vote
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Hillary Clinton Executive board vote
United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) Hillary Clinton Executive board and president’s collective decision after focus groups and polling with members
American Postal Workers Union Bernie Sanders Executive board vote
Communications Workers of America (CWA) Bernie Sanders Three-month process involving meetings, discussion, culminating in an online vote
Democracy for America Bernie Sanders Open online vote
MoveOn Bernie Sanders Open online vote
National Nurses United Bernie Sanders Executive council vote after internal poll showed overwhelming support for Sanders
Working Families Party Bernie Sanders Open online vote followed by national advisory board action


For example, Clinton got an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign this week. That decision was made not by a vote of HRC’s membership list but instead by a 32-member executive board that includes Mike Berman, the president of a lobbying firm that works for Pfizer, Comcast, and the health insurance lobby. Northrup Grumman is among its list of major corporate sponsors.

The Sanders campaign blasted the group as “establishment” and said that Sanders has a much stronger record on LGBT equality than Clinton. Outspoken gay activist Michaelangelo Signorile wrote that HRC had clearly traded its early endorsement for “access to the White House” for its leaders.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees endorsed Clinton, but “it was an absolute top-down process,” said Katie Nelson of AFSCME Local Council 28 in Washington state. “If they wanted to claim this was supported by the membership, they should have had a membership vote.”

“For either candidate to get real grassroots support from NEA members, an endorsement ought to be the result of an extended dialogue with members,” said Anthony Cody, an education blogger who was a member of the National Education Association for two decades. “Hillary Clinton has engaged in a few phone calls with NEA leaders, but the membership has been left out. “

At the American Federation of Teachers, where the executive council voted to endorse Clinton, membership polling was done in the summer of 2015 — when many people in the country did not know who Bernie Sanders even was.

“To rush a nomination like that before anyone else in labor — before the AFL-CIO — was unnecessary,” said Jim Miller of AFT Local 1931. “They pretty much ran an inside game with that nomination process. It wasn’t a rank-and-file game by any stretch of the imagination.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers didn’t take a public vote. “I don’t think they reached out to membership and asked their membership who they were willing to support,” complained UFCW Local 791 member Richard Poole. The UFCW’s board and its president then offered a surprising endorsement to Clinton. UFCW’s chief nemesis is Wal-Mart, a corporation on whose board Clinton sat for six years.

The one major labor union that did allow for a vote was the Communications Workers of America. CWA followed a three-month process that included meetings with members, telephone town halls, and an online polling voting process.

“We conducted an online membership poll from mid-September to early December,” said CWA spokesperson Candice Johnson in a statement to The Intercept. “Tens of thousands of members voted in the poll, with Sanders getting a decisive majority.” Johnson noted that CWA did not endorse in 2008 because they followed the same process and the three leading Democratic candidates all received around the same proportion of votes.

“CWA had a really good model for how to do this … certainly better than what [SEIU] did,” said Ed Hunt, who is in SEIU Local 503 in Oregon and objects to his union’s endorsement process, which was based on non-binding membership polling and town halls followed by an executive board vote. “For me an ideal process would have been a process where we talk about the issues and the candidates’ stance on the issues followed by a vote.”

While all four major organizations that held membership votes endorsed Sanders, two that did not hold open membership votes also endorsed him: the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and National Nurses United.

Sanders was endorsed by MoveOn with 78 percent of voters choosing him; in the Democracy for America vote, he won nearly 88 percent; and 87 percent of Working Families Party voters chose Sanders.

Many of the groups that did not hold an outright membership vote were not entirely transparent in disclosing how they endorsed candidates. Several cited membership surveys and focus groups but did not disclose how these other processes were weighted against the decisions of executive boards.


Top photo: Signs for Sanders and Clinton cover a lawn before the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston on Jan. 17.