Ever since he jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders has been met with media pundits and ‘party insiders’ patronisingly claiming that his run was not serious. They would say things like “he’s unelectable” or “he’s a socialist” as if the former were true and the latter somehow disqualifies him for the job. Not only is Bernie Sanders capable of winning in comparatively left-wing Vermont, it appears that he can win in other states against guardian of establishment politics and crony capitalism Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, and he can win well.
It has been conventional wisdom that because Hillary Clinton is arguably the most qualified candidate to ever run for the Presidency, nothing will stand in her way. Indeed this has been justified to people on the grounds that Obama defeated Clinton because of his oratory skills and the fact that his election would be historic. However surely electing a female president would be more historic than electing an African-American president, as women are the majority of the United States’ population yet have never been the chief resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I believe that the media, having looked at the Democratic field, has engaged in groupthink and this mindset has only started to unravel in the last few weeks.
In the modern era there are two things that are very important when it comes to winning elections: grassroots campaigns and a presence online. Grassroots campaigns have always been important because nothing is more encouraging for potential voters than seeing an enthused and energised campaign in their community arguing for change in America. The second aspect, a presence online, is not even mentioned because it would be the television and newspaper media acknowledging that internet news and blogging sites have a sizeable amount of influence.
In relation to online news and social media, Bernie Sanders is also very prevalent. During the GOP debate in December, Sanders gained the most Twitter followers; Sanders also has a very active YouTube presence. Again Clinton has a similarly strong campaign online but my point is not criticising the Clinton campaign. My point is that how can Sanders be unelectable if the campaign infrastructure of both candidates is largely similar?
Bernie Sanders also has a very active and energised grassroots movement; Clinton also has a strong grassroots team but the enthusiasm for the Sanders campaign is much superior to that of Clinton. Indeed on Tuesday the progressive grassroots campaign group MoveOn.org balloted their members to see who they should support in the Democratic primary; the organisation endorsed Sanders because 79% of the members that voted supported Sanders.
Right then, media criticism over. I’d now like to talk about polls that are of uncomfortable reading for those who have bought into the anti-Sanders narrative. In relation to early primary states, another Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday showed that Sanders leads Clinton in Iowa by five points. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the margin of error of the poll is 4.4%, thus making Sanders’ lead not in the category of a ‘statistical tie’. Secondly, the poll’s breakdown by gender is an advantage for the Sanders campaign. Of those surveyed 56% were women, and 44% were men. This is significant as Sanders is backed by men, according to this same poll, by a ratio of 2 to 1, which would mean that this lead could be greater if the proportion of men that vote in the Iowa caucus was higher than 44%.
In the other early state, New Hampshire, the trends are also good for the Sanders campaign. A poll that also came out on Tuesday from Monmouth University showed that the Vermont Senator has a 14% lead over Clinton (53%-39%). Not only is this incredible, as in November Clinton led 48% to 45%, but the voters themselves are beginning to decide. In November only 35% of voters had “decided” however this latest poll showed that 52% were “decided”. These facts mean that Clinton will have to make up 14% on Sanders with 17% fewer voters in the “undecided” category.
On 22nd December Quinnipiac University release findings that showed that in General Election match-ups Sanders beats GOP frontrunner Donald Trump (51%-38%) by a wider margin than Clinton (47%-40%). This is not an isolated poll. An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll showed that in a general election match-up in Iowa: Sanders beats Trump (51%-38); he beats Cruz (47%-42%); and ties with Rubio (44%-44%). In the same match-ups Clinton: beats Trump by a smaller margin (48%-40%); loses to Cruz (47%-43%); and loses to Rubio (47%-42%). Iowa will prove to be a significant state, both in the primaries and in the general election, and this fact will remain irrespective of who the nominees are. If you are a Democrat who is backing Clinton because it would prevent Trump becoming president, you are backing the wrong candidate.
The final thing I want to touch upon is the issues themselves. Due to the rise of Sanders’ popularity and name recognition, the fact that most Americans agree with Sanders’ policies is becoming more well-known, but it nevertheless is worth repeating. According to a report released in the New York Times in June 2015 progressive policies are widely supported: 71% favour raising the minimum wage; 80% support paid family leave; and 85% support paid sick leave. Indeed a Gallup poll from November 2015 showed that 51% of Americans supported a ‘Medicare-for-all’ single-payer healthcare system run by the federal government. On a number of other progressive issues, the American people agree more with Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton. This is why she should be scared of a repeat of 2008.
Sanders has a good chance of winning in Iowa and New Hampshire. The next Democratic debate is in the next few days and the Vermont Senator has always been relatively good during these debates. If this gives a boost to the Sanders campaign, he will be much more likely to beat Clinton and winning these two states will build momentum going into later states. Obama won Iowa but lost New Hampshire to Clinton by 2.5%; the momentum from this, despite losing in New Hampshire, was enough to give Obama more media attention.
Given that polling suggests the American people support a lot of Bernie Sanders’ policies, greater media attention following a victory in an early primary would only snowball his support. Sanders’ toughest fight is in the primary, and should be defeat Clinton I believe that he will defeat whichever Republican is thrown at him.