Russian accounts targeted Sanders voters to try to boost Trump after 2016 primaries: report

Thousands of Russian Twitter accounts turned their misinformation focus to supporters of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced MORE (I-Vt.) in 2016 after he lost the Democratic Primary to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE.

A study by Clemson University researchers reported by The Washington Post found that thousands of tweets from Russian-owned accounts masquerading as conservative accounts supporting President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE began targeting Sanders's supporters shortly after the primary concluded.

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“#BlackMenForBernie Leader Switches to Trump! I will Never Vote for Hillary, Welcome aboard the Trump Train,” read one tweet sent by a Russian account pretending to be a "Southern., Conservative Pro God, Anti Racism" Twitter user from Texas.

“Conscious Bernie Sanders supporters already moving towards the best candidate Trump! #Feel the Bern #Vote Trump 2016,” read another account known as "Red Louisiana News" that was actually operated by Russians.

It's not clear how successful or effective the efforts were.

About 12 percent of Sanders voters said they ended up voting for Trump over Clinton in the general election, according to the Post. That was smaller than the 24 percent of Clinton supporters who said they voted for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVeterans group to hand out USS John McCain T-shirts for July 4 on the National Mall Will we ever have another veteran as president? Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE (R-Ariz.) in his 2008 bid for the White House against the eventual winner, President Obama.

Still, the number of Sanders voters who supported Trump in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — states considered key to Trump's victory — was higher than Trump's margin of victory in those states.

“I think there is no question that Sanders was central to their strategy,” Darren Linvill, one of the two Clemson researchers behind the study, told the Post. “He was clearly used as a mechanism to decrease voter turnout for Hillary Clinton.” 

A spokesman for Clinton said that it was imperative that Democrats work together in 2020 to stop Russian disinformation efforts aiding the president and to defeat Trump.

It's important for “everyone else, especially Democratic candidates, to work together and support each other to defend against these threats," Nick Merrill told the Post.

The Hill has reached out to the Sanders campaign for comment.