It seems that Bernie Sanders, though for many years serving as independent, might be a tougher nut to crack for Hillary Clinton in Democratic primaries as it was expected. Even Hillary’s camp admits that primaries can go for into late April, May. Why is that so in your opinion, why is Sanders relatively popular? Is it more about the appeal of him and his policies, or more about Hillary “nonappeal”? Or is this a combination of both? Read few comments.
Paul Brace, Professor, Department of Political Science, Rice University
I think it a combination of both. Sanders has been an amiable outsider all his political career. He has been pretty consistent on the issues. His status as an outsider and his positions are appealing to those seeking change.
Hillary suffers a bit from being almost the opposite. Despite being a pioneering woman politician, she is viewed as an insider. She has a pretty long record in public life with some pragmatic inconsistencies. She campaigns as an extension of Obama which is popular among many on the left, but signifies no dramatic change for those hungering for radical rethinking about finance, education, welfare, etc.
Sanders has been consistently left, quite left by US standards (where socialist is considered a bad word). I think conditions for some in the US have left them seeking a new approach—which in this case, is Bernie’s old approach. His pointing to the injustices in money and power in the face of record or near record economic inequality fits well with the alienation experienced by a sector of our society, particularly those that have not been lifted by the economic recovery. To simplify, they feel left out and want their interests represented. Bernie seems to be an attractive option because his issues reach out to them. The crowds have been late and enthusiastic.
In a more inclusive recovery, these voters might not be so motivated. Still, wages have remained stagnant in some sectors for years, the minimum wage is not enough to live on, and healthcare and college education remain prohibitively expensive.
Kevin Mattson, Professor of Contemporary History, Ohio University
I think it’s both things happening at once — the presumptuous nature of HRC’s campaign (an I-deserve-this-attitude) and the further left base of the Democratic Party are catching up now. I don’t think it has anything to do with any charismatic element in Sanders’s persona (there really is none there, the way there was with Obama).
I’ve always been surprised that the Sanders campaign doesn’t remember and remind Dems of the disastrous 2008 campaign that HRC ran — full of baseless attacks on Obama and where she posed as the pro-gun candidate, let us not forget. But Sanders has run such a kind campaign against HRC and it doesn’t seem in his blood to go further on the attack.
I think Sanders’s policies are getting the support, not the person. I think you have to understand that the base of the Democratic Party is much more liberal than other portions of the party. I think in many ways, Sanders is a reaction against HRC’s husband’s policies that were crafted in guise of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) that was VERY centrist and reacting against the left-tilt of the Democrats from McGovern onwards (check out Ken Baer’s book on the DLC for a source). I actually think that there are a number of clusters within the Dem Party that were discontented by Clinton’s centrist presidency and didn’t like how that centrism continued apace into Obama’s presidency. If you replay the last debate, HRC points out that one liberal cluster argued hard for a “public option” and those people now believe that the Affordable Care Act is suffering due to its weakness, not by anything like overreach (her point in the debate was to say that you couldn’t get a more liberal health care policy through when you had the chance — so why try again now?). Those are the people — and some might (few probably) — have memories of HRC’s own complicity in weaker health care reform back during Clinton’s presidency.
Also from a historian’s standpoint, the line between liberalism/progressivism and democratic socialism is not as solid as some believe (of course, mostly conservatives use that as a taunting jab).
David Hopkins, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Boston College
Sanders’s appeal is primarily based on the desire of ideological liberals in the Democratic Party to have a more liberal party, especially on issues such as health care and financial regulation. In addition, he is appealing to young voters who view him as idealistic and uncompromising. While it is true that Hillary Clinton does not inspire universal enthusiasm among Democrats, she is broadly liked within the party and remains the strong favorite to win the Democratic nomination because she remains more popular then Sanders among racial minorities, working-class voters, and Democrats who are not liberals.
Sanders is the only major American politician who identifies himself as a democratic socialist. I suspect that his supporters are impressed by someone who is so clearly devoted to a left-wing ideology, unlike other elected Democrats, and who emphasizes the need for government to systematically combat economic inequality. However, most Democratic voters are not socialists, so his appeal may be limited within the party.
John Sitton, Former Chair and Professor of Political Science, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
I believe it is indeed a combination of the appeal of Sanders’ policy ideas and of doubts about Hillary Clinton.
The essential background for the reception of Bernie Sanders is that typical Americans have hardly benefited from economic growth of recent years. Sanders says, correctly, that 99 percent of pre-tax income growth has gone to the top 1 percent. According to the federal agency the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 85 percent of workers earn less than before the 2008 crisis. In addition, adequate health insurance is still unfordable for many Americans and, again according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only two thirds of private sector workers have any retirement benefits. Continuing economic insecurity is the basis of the appeal of Bernie Sanders to Democrats, as well as the rejection of establishment candidates in the Republican field.
Finally, for many Democrats Hillary Clinton is simply more of the same: interventionist foreign policy and a profound belief that what is good for Wall Street is what is good for the country. Her ties to Wall Street are much too close and her manipulation of the Democratic debate schedule to actually minimize exposure for her opponents demonstrate that Hillary Clinton is politics as usual.
She will get a big boost in South Carolina. Anything else is hard to predict. These are certainly interesting times when three of the top four candidates in the two parties (Sanders, Trump, and Cruz) are so far from the mainstream.
Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution
Sanders is putting up a major fight with Hillary Clinton. He is running strong in Iowa and New Hampshire and may pull off upsets in each place. Clinton is expected to do better when the process heads into South Carolina, Florida, and the Southern states. Sanders’ brand of liberalism won’t play well there plus he is not getting much in the way of African-American support. That group comprises more than half of the South Carolina primary and is big in the other Southern states as well.
Sanders is popular because his message resonates with the progressive base. Voters like his attacks on Wall Street and the fact that he stands up to powerful financial interests. His message appeals to those who are upset with the status quo and feel big money has taken over politics.
Matt Grossmann, Director, Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, Associate Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University
Hillary Clinton is still in a strong position to win the Democratic nomination. She starts with a large lead in delegates (from party and elected official endorsements), has a national operation, is more electable, and has more support from minority voters.
But there are many party voters who would rather have a new candidate and some who prefer a more liberal candidate. The lack of strong alternative candidate (Biden and Warren decided not to run) created an opening for Sanders to consolidate his base of young educated white liberals and gain some support from 2008 Obama voters who did not prefer Clinton.
A message of working on behalf of the middle class against the rich and powerful always works well among Democrats, but Sanders is executing it well.
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