ITHACA, NY – In Tompkins, Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in the democratic primary with 63 percent of the vote, surprising literally no one. What I found a little surprising is that he didn’t obliterate her.

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Earlier this week, Jeff Stein, founder and former editor of The Ithaca Voice returned to his one-time home to do a report on Ithaca, or as he called it in his Vox piece, “Bernieland.

It’s all shades of things we’ve heard before: studies show it’s among the most liberal cities in the country, donor records suggest the city’s overwhelming support for Sanders.

Meanwhile there’s a degree of hostility toward Hillary Clinton and her supporters. For example, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick had to defend himself after he announced his support for Clinton, and when Hillary’s daughter Chelsea came to Ithaca to campaign, there were at least three separate protest groups, including two that interrupted her talk.

While Ithaca obviously isn’t representative of Tompkins’ overall populace, it is the political, cultural and economic heart of the county. Upstate New York is full of Republicans, but it would stand to reason that Tompkins Democrats would lean toward Sanders.

Great expectations

If all the hype was real, you’d expect Sanders’ margin of victory in Tompkins to be bigger than anywhere else in the state. In reality? Not even close. The fact is, Sanders performed similarly across a number of upstate counties.

The northeastern corner of New York in particular was Bernie country: in Clinton and Essex Counties he won 73-27. Franklin County he won 70-30. Perhaps Vermont and Canada are rubbing off on them?

A number of other counties across the state were right around Tompkins 63 percent, including Hamilton, Niagara, Ulster and Washington. Tompkins wasn’t even the hardest Berning county in the region — Schuyler was.

The results not living up to the expectations may be in part because Ithaca isn’t as in love with Bernie as it appears to be. As you’ll read below, Ithaca didn’t even have the highest support for Sanders among Tompkins municipalities.

A bubble in a bubble

“I live in Ithaca, and everyone I know is voting for Bernie,” Susan Eginton, a local Sanders supporter, told Stein. “So it may be that I’m in an Ithaca bubble.”

The Ithaca bubble is one thing, but the actual results seem to indicate a smaller, more liberal, more progressive bubble within that bubble. Did the echo chamber of Sanders praise and Clinton criticism obscure the reality that Sanders isn’t the ubiquitous choice?

Sanders fans in Ithaca who were expecting a bigger result may be disappointed, but there is a silver lining. Sanders won almost all of Upstate New York. This is one of those few occasions where Ithaca wasn’t the crazy outlier.

Stein suggests in his article: “As Sanders’s campaign gained in both momentum and victories, longtime progressives [in Ithaca] say they feel a growing confidence that perhaps Ithaca’s far-left tradition isn’t outside the mainstream after all.”

If that’s true, then maybe this is a bittersweet revelation for Ithaca liberals. For better or for worse, maybe Ithaca isn’t doesn’t always stand out as the progressive bastion it once was — but maybe that’s because the rest of the country is meeting it halfway.

Who’s feeling it?

Just for fun, I looked at the results for each voting district in Tompkins County to see where Sanders surged and where support for him flagged. Here’s the list, sorted by what percentage of the vote Sanders won:

  1. Enfield: 73
  2. Caroline: 70
  3. Danby: 66
  4. Newfield: 66
  5. Ithaca (City): 65
  6. Ulysses: 63
  7. Groton: 62
  8. Dryden: 60
  9. Ithaca (Town): 57
  10. Lansing: 54

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.