As the 2016 general election approaches, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has seen unexpected support throughout the United States since announcing his candidacy in April.
For much of this year, it seemed obvious that former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would receive the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, considering she led Sanders 62% to 12% in national polls taken on May 1. However, Sanders’ popularity has grown. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken in late September showed Clinton with 42%, Sanders with 35% and 17% for Vice President Joe Biden, who has not officially declared his candidacy.
Despite being a longtime independent, Sanders decided to run for the Democratic nomination. He is unique in being the only candidate in the current field to support a full single-payer national healthcare system. He also desires to alleviate existing student loans and make public universities free for all Americans, another issue on which he stands out. His largest focus is on income inequality, which he hopes to address through tax reform, a $15 minimum wage, Wall Street regulation, and new infrastructure to create jobs.
Conservatives and liberals alike have criticized Sanders for these positions, which are considered further left than the mainstream Democratic Party, and for Sanders’s self-described support of “democratic socialism.”
While it is true that only 47% of Americans say they would vote for a socialist, Sanders sees vast national support on his major policy points. According to the Harvard University Institute of Politics, 72% of Americans think that income inequality is a problem, and 79% think that student debt is a problem.
More and more people are beginning to take note of the Sanders candidacy. Malibu High junior Ali Rezvan said, “I think Bernie Sanders is the most appealing candidate out of all of them. His ideas on reducing the gap between wages, as well as increasing the overall minimum wage sounds very appealing, as well as his views on the NSA.”
Sanders also receives praise for his consistent long-term voting record. He voted against the USA Patriot Act, which authorized NSA spying, and the Iraq War, both of which received Clinton’s support at the time. He has also supported gay rights since the 1970s, while Clinton did not officially express support for same-sex marriage until 2013.
While Sanders still trails Clinton in national polls, his results in key battleground states show a closer race. In polling for the Iowa Democratic Caucus, Sanders overtook Clinton on Sep. 10 and now leads 43% to 33%. Sanders is widely popular with younger voters, as an Aug. 29 poll revealed that among Iowan voters under 45 years of age, Sanders leads Clinton 50% to 27%.
The most recent poll from YouGov and CBS News shows that in New Hampshire, Sanders leads Clinton 52% to 30%. Additionally, a whopping 78% of New Hampshire voters have a “favorable” view of Sanders. Sanders is within the margin of error for polling in Oregon and Utah, and he also leads Clinton in his home state of Vermont, 65% to 14%. The NBC/WSJ poll showed Sanders defeating Republican front-runner Donald Trump 52% to 36% in a hypothetical general election.
The majority of support for Sanders comes from grassroots movements, helped in part by social media. As part of his crusade against income inequality, Sanders refuses to accept donations from billionaires and special-interests groups and limits the amount of money anyone can donate to $2,700. This stands in contrast to other candidates such as Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, both of whom have embraced Super PAC support and expressed desires to raise up to $100 million by the end of 2015.
By mid-July, Sanders had raised $15.2 million from grassroots support alone, an amount higher than Bush’s total and second only to Clinton. He also raised $1.2 million in the two days following a vicious attack by a pro-Clinton Super PAC on Sep. 14. This unprecedented performance is accompanied by massive turnouts at rallies. Over the summer, Sanders drew overflow crowds of 11,000 people in Phoenix, 15,000 in Seattle, 24,000 in Boston, 27,500 in Los Angeles, and 28,000 in Portland.
Despite the massive grassroots fundraising, unprecedented overflow crowds, and growing poll numbers, some still remain critical of the legitimacy of the Sanders campaign. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog declared on Aug. 11 that the Bernie Sanders surge was “over.” However, at the end of August, Sanders was still gaining on Clinton in polls, and had roughly the same support President Obama had at the same time in 2007.
Rezvan said, “Bernie does have a chance, and he is inching closer to Hillary Clinton. Social websites such as Reddit are also hugely in favor of him, meaning he has a following. His popularity has definitely gone up recently.”
It is far too early to predict the 2016 nominees. The supposedly more calm and predictable Democratic field stands in sharp contrast to the 15 Republican candidates. But with the unprecedented rise of Sanders, the question of the Democratic nomination becomes more uncertain. Speaking to a vocal and enthusiastic crowd in Los Angeles, Sanders said, “When we stand together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. Let’s go!”