The rise of Bernie Sanders – Is Hillary Clinton feeling the Bern?

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The rise of Bernie Sanders – Is Hillary Clinton feeling the Bern?

Bernie Sanders popularity is surging since his announcement that he was running for the presidency. His campaign has been dismissed by many as an inevitable failure. Despite this dismissal his policy positions are supported by the majority of the population and he is drawing large crowds. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is still treating Mr Sanders as a joke but come polling day will it be Mr Sanders who has the last laugh? No matter how much money you have or how well your campaign is organised, politics is not predictable. If the Clinton campaign continues on its current strategy it will be Mrs Clinton who will become a political joke as 2008 repeats itself and a political outsider steals the Democratic nomination from the expected victor. Can this usurper prevent Mrs Clinton’s coronation? Unlikely. But in politics nothing can be ruled out and with current trends in Mr Sanders favour it would be foolish to rule him out just yet.

The rise of Bernie Sanders was inevitable if one looks at his positions in relation to public opinion. On inequality, Mr Sanders argues that more must be done to reduce the gap between rich and poor. The Pew Research Centre discovered that 60% of Americans believed that the economic system unfairly favours the wealthy. [1] On Business Mr Sanders has been a tough critic of Wall Street. This is not an extreme position but a popular one with 73% percent of Americans in favour of tougher rules for Wall Street financial companies. [2] Additionally, Mr Sanders believes that increased tax is vital to rebalancing American society. With a low tax mind-set embedded in American society one would be forgiven for thinking that on this issue Mr Sanders would be viewed as a left wing ‘extremist.’ This is not the case. 68% of Americans favour raising taxes on people earning more than $1 million per year. [3] Money in politics is a big issue in the US and Mr Sanders has been a vocal opponent of the influence of big business in politics. This is a popular stance with 84% of Americans believing that money has too much influence in politics and 85% wanting a complete overhaul of the current campaign finance system. [4] These are just some of the many popular positions Mr Sanders holds. With this level of support for his policies it is no wonder that we are starting to see this translate into visible support at rallies.

The rise of Bernie Sanders can be seen most clearly in the two battleground states which are vital to victory in the Democrat Primary – New Hampshire and Iowa.

In New Hampshire voters prefer Mrs Clinton (41%) to Mr Sanders (31%). But when it comes to vital primary voters, those who would consider themselves to be ‘liberal’ rate both Mrs Clinton and Mr Sanders equal on 31%. [5] Whilst giving Clinton a significant lead overall and painting a picture of a level playing field amongst ‘liberal’ voters the poll also revealed that many Democrats were not happy with various issues related to Mrs Clinton. “Half said that her use of a private email server and deletion of emails would hurt her; nearly half said the same of donations to the Clinton Foundation, and 46% said her handling of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, as secretary of state would also do damage.” [6]

In Iowa the situation is little better for Mrs Clinton with the New York Times warning that she “might want to watch her back.” [7] Mr Sanders is gaining ground in the state and has emerged as Clintons leading rival. A poll revealed that amongst the likely Democratic caucusgoers Mrs. Clinton was leading Mr. Sanders by a margin of 52% to 33%. Whilst this remains a commanding lead, it is much narrower than a previous poll which showed her with 60% support and to Mr. Sanders 15%. [8] Peter A. Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s poll, commented that “Secretary Hillary Clinton should not be biting her fingernails over her situation in the Iowa caucus, but her lead is slipping and Senator Bernie Sanders is making progress against her.” [9] This is not reassuring for Mrs. Clinton and is instead a reflection of the emergence of Mr. Sanders as an increasingly credible threat to her candidacy.

The Democrat primaries are still a long way off and we should not get overly excited by the increasing momentum behind the Sanders campaign. If politics teaches one thing it is that nothing is ever predictable. Despite winning a significant section of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire and drawing crowds of 10,000 to a recent Wisconsin rally, the Clinton campaign is ambivalent to the rise of Mr Sanders. [10] At Clinton HQ it’s as if they’ve never heard of him. “No one’s hair is on fire about him,” explained Maria Cardona, a national Democratic strategist close to the Clinton camp who worked for Hillary’s 2008 campaign.”  Chris Lehane, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s campaigns who is now helping Hillary raise money explained that “Everyone…knows there’s a 30-to-40 percent vote that’s the ‘anybody but the frontrunner’ share.” [11] These remarks by those in the Clinton camp and the lack of panic at Clinton HQ highlight how little the Clinton campaign has learnt from its defeat in 2008. By writing off Sanders, Clinton it is making the same mistake – underestimating the opposition. In 2008 Barack Obama was looked down on as an inexperienced new Senator yet by the time Obama had been recognised as a real threat it was too late and he swept to victory. Mr Sanders may not have the cash and the name recognition that Mrs Clinton does but he has a connection with voters.

In a political system where money is central and the one with the most money usually wins, it is unlikely that Mr Sanders will defeat Mrs Clinton due to the Clinton campaign’s formidable fundraising. The Sanders campaigns financial shortfall gives the impression that Mr Sanders is going to be the Democratic equivalent of Ron Paul who had a popular Libertarian message and packed stadiums but was confined to the fringe of US politics. This is not just the slander of Mr Sander’s opponents but a real possibility as whilst increasing winning over democratic voters Mr Sanders remains low in opinion polls at a national level. Despite this, his message is in line with the majority of American’s and it will be them rather than pollsters and talking heads who will decide on the Democrat Party’s nomination. With support increasing the question on everybody’s lips is will 2008 repeat itself? Currently the Clinton campaign is laughing off the Sanders threat but 2008 provides a reassuring historical precedent for the Sanders campaign. As Mr Sander’s message is in line with the American people can he repeat the victory of Barack Obama and defeat the formidable Clinton election machine? Only time will tell whether he achieves this, but with the Clinton campaign perusing the same failed strategy that it did in 2008, by writing off the opposition, it may be Mr Sanders who ends up having the last laugh.

Written by Nathaniel Robinson