For years Bernie Sanders has tried to fight off the socialist label while pushing for socialist inspired reforms. In 1976, he had said, “I myself don’t use the word socialism.” However in recent years, he has embraced the label, “democratic socialist.” Time and time again, Bernie Sanders has defended his democratic socialist views, even making income inequality one of his primary planks in the 2016 presidential campaign. To many fans back in his home state of Vermont, Bernie Sanders is a socialist hero.
What distinguishes Bernie Sanders from Hillary Clinton is his willingness to ask, and answer, questions that no other presidential candidate would normally ask.
• Why are we the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee a national health care program?
• Why is the middle class of America vanishing?
• Is it moral for every major company to have disparaging income inequality between the top level executives and the average worker?
Questions like these scare most other presidential hopefuls because either way they answer the question, they will alienate voters from one side or the other. However in the 2016 presidential election, Bernie Sanders has gained a lot of popularity for breaking from the norm and asking these questions.
Much has yet to be seen about Mr. Sanders’ plan, but he has already established himself as the “off-the-wall” politician with a democratic socialist slant.
So with whom does Bernie’s message resonate?
Bernie’s politics became very popular among the fairly liberal state of Vermont. But Bernie’s influence stretches beyond the liberal base. As NPR found out, Mr. Sanders’ biggest fans come from the most conservative parts of Vermont.
He is also immensely popular among millennials; in polls among 18 to 24 year old, he is often only a point or two behind Hilary Clinton. On Twitter and Instagram, hashtags like #feelthebern and #babesforbernie are often trending and on Facebook, Bernie has already amassed half a million more followers than Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush.
However, according to John Hudak from FixGov blog, Bernie is lacking momentum among the elderly and minorities. Of course Bernie Sanders’ socialist views are harder to push among the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, who generally view socialism negatively. In fact, Pew Research Center has revealed that 60% of the Gen X generation view socialism negatively, compared to only 43% among millennials.
So does Bernie Sanders stand a chance?
There is fundamental shift happening across America, and for better or worse, it is towards a more favorable view of socialism. Indeed, a similar poll conducted by Pew Research twenty months prior, revealed that 49% of millennials had negative views of socialism, versus 43% who had favorable views. This sudden decrease could be a sign of deeper tensions across America.
Although not many conservatives can agree with Bernie Sanders on moral issues, a lot of conservatives from his home state of Vermont are backing him because of his views on economic issues. While they may not agree on abortion, for example, they can agree, along with 71% of America, with giving students access to debt-free college education.
Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist views may not have been popular in the 1970s or ‘80s, but in today’s shifting world he has struck the right nerve. And unlike the other eccentric and goofy presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, whose polar views leave the country divided, Bernie’s messages of income equality, education reform, and tax reforms just might resonate with people on both sides of the fence.
Although, Bernie Sanders has seen a large rise in popularity over the past couple of months, he is still trailing Hilary Clinton by double digits in almost every single poll. In an attempt to secure more of the Democratic base, Mrs. Clinton has started addressing some of the issues that are fundamental to Mr. Sanders’ campaign. For example, Bernie Sanders’ socialist rhetoric focuses on income inequality, which Hilary has only recently started making a focus of her campaign. By doing so, Hilary Clinton hopes to secure the would-be Bernie Sanders’ voters while maintaining her own platform that is fundamentally different from Bernie’s.
Consequently, Bernie Sanders is far ahead of the other major Democratic players. Joe Biden, for example, is pulling less than half of Bernie Sanders’ points in national polls, according to Real Clear Politics. Not to mention while Bernie’s popularity has been steadily rising ever since he has announced his campaign, Hilary Clinton’s rankings in the polls have been steadily decreasing.
A lot of this poll movement has been directly affected by media. While Hilary is constantly plagued by controversies, whether about her email servers or the Clinton Foundation, her top opponent, Bernie Sanders, is quickly becoming a crowd favorite, especially among the millennials.
In fact, many political analysts are quickly seeing another upside of Bernie Sanders’ socialist policies: more voter turnout among the young adults. Young voters need to be more engaged in politics, with the 2014 midterm elections being the lowest voter turnout among 18 to 24 year olds ever. With Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, analysts are seeing a higher engagement of youths than with other presidential candidates; hopefully this will translate into a higher turnout come election day.
So what’s to come?
With the election still a long time away, a lot can change in Democratic presidential candidate field. Hilary Clinton remains a strong favorite among Americans across the board. However, Bernie Sanders’ socialist messages are quickly gaining traction and are starting to wear down on the Clinton’s well-structured political machine. If Hilary Clinton is to have any chance of retaining her lead, she would need to recover from her media controversies and focus on campaign issues.
Of course, many Democrats are left wondering which candidate would be able to go toe to toe with a Republican and win. Hilary has the money and popularity, but many Americans are fearful of a political dynasty. After all, does America need another Clinton vs. Bush? Why, when they could have a Democratic Socialist vs Libertarian. Bernie Sanders might become a perfect Democratic socialist candidate. With years of political experience, he has support from both sides of the fence. The question still remains if Bernie Sanders’ socialist views will alienate voters.
Will Bernie Sanders be able to find middle ground and muster enough support from the people on the fence? Only time will tell.