New Juniatian - Spring 2017

Examining the Support Behind Bernie Sanders

By Brendan Foster

Although many in the Democratic Party doubted the electability of a self-declared democratic socialist, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is experiencing enormous popularity alongside several socialist organizations.

In fact, not only is Sanders experiencing massive popularity, he is the most popular politician in America: a poll by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies (CAPS) found that 57% of registered voters have a favorable view of him, while only 32% have a negative view. In addition, according to Al-Jazeera, many socialist organizations have reported a huge increase in membership, especially since Donald Trump’s election. The Socialist Party USA reported a spike in membership. Trotskyist party The Socialist Alternative reported a 30% growth in membership, but the biggest increase came from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), who reported that their numbers doubled to over 16,000 members since May 2016. For progressive and even socialist candidates, the future is looking extremely bright.

According to Politics Professor Dennis Plane, candidates like Bernie Sanders do have a chance of winning in the future, but in order to replicate and surpass his success, candidates will have to rely on personality as well as policy.

“[Bernie Sanders’] message is an enduring one, but it needs the right messenger,” Plane said.

Sanders’ appeal partly came from his political style. He is unpolished, atypical and portrays himself as an agent of change and an outsider, which appealed to those who considered establishment Democrats like Hillary Clinton to be part of the problem. Candidates such as Elizabeth Warren could possibly fill that role, and according to freshman and Sanders supporter Isabella Bennett, she would be willing to vote for someone who did.

Bennett, who describes herself as “very left”, said she supported Sanders for many of his more socialist policies: tuition-free college, universal healthcare, police reform and others. In addition, “Having someone a little more to the left would have been nice,” she said.

She also believes progressive candidates could build on Sanders’ support, especially as the more liberal Millennial generation moves to replace older generations and becomes involved in politics.

“We want something different,” Bennett said.

Despite their potential, progressive candidates face many obstacles. According to Plane, the worldwide trend right now is to turn inwards. Far-right candidates and policies that ride anti-immigrant sentiment are taking hold in Europe and the United States, a prime example being the election of Donald Trump. Even if this were not the case, the game would still be stacked against them.

“It’s not going to happen on its own; there’s too much entrenched power of money and corporate interests and all these other things,” Plane said.

Bennett also believes that the label of “socialist” is a little scary and off-putting to some voters, but framing it in a different way might make it less so.

All in all, a progressive revolution cannot happen without lots of work to recruit and organize.

“You can’t just wait for the next savior to come, you have to go out and recruit him,” Plane said.

Written by Brendan Foster

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