As Trump continues to dominate both parties for media attention, and Hillary Clinton remains a favorite to win with Wall Street, Bernie Sanders is suddenly surging again among those who actually matter: voters. But more important than his rise in the polls is how he’s doing it.
A string of polls over the past two weeks show that the once-independent Vermont senator is tied or in the lead in the two early primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire, and all of a sudden, in striking distance of Hillary Clinton nationally. With very little fanfare, he has been leading in New Hampshire for months, with some recent ones putting his lead in the double digits.
But Iowa seemed distinctly in Clinton’s corner for the last quarter of 2015 until this week, just a month away from the primary. A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday night showed Sanders vaulted into the lead, with a slew of others show him pulling in close to a tie.
Digging deeper into the numbers shows even more good news for Sanders: nationally, he is beating Clinton by 2-1 with voters younger than 45, and by 20 points with female voters younger than 35. In New Hampshire there is not one demographic group in which Clinton is beating Sanders. He’s also made recent gains among African Americans and Hispanics – both demographics long considered Clinton strongholds.
But perhaps more important than the news of Sanders’s gain is how it happened: by patiently hammering on his message of drawing attention to economic inequality, raising taxes on the rich, dramatically expanding Medicare and Social Security, making public universities free of charge and criminal justice reform.
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He has, to great criticism by beltway pundits, avoided the rest of the candidates’ descent into constant fear-mongering about terrorism and hyping the “threat” from Isis. Instead he has mocked both the media and other candidates for doing so, as BuzzFeed reported last month:
"As a nation and as a people, we have got to understand that our country faces a myriad of very serious problems… if you turn on the TV, what they now say is, ‘Well we’ve got one problem, it’s Isis,” Sanders said, launching into a sarcastic impression of the “they” on television this week.
Clinton, meanwhile, has sounded more like the Republican candidates with her conventional forever war posture, her defense of the disastrous Libya intervention and her calls for an escalation of the war in Syria. Apparently she’s not concerned that she’s running for the nomination from a party who rejected her in 2008 partly because of her support for the Iraq war.
Sanders disappointingly isn’t running as an anti-war candidate, either, and it’s a shame he’s not more aggressive in rejecting the militarism that has infected the country since 9/11: he’s indicated his support for the CIA’s drone program, continued war in Afghanistan and has been largely silent on the fact that the war against Isis is by, almost all accounts, illegal since Congress hasn’t authorized it as the Constitution requires.
But he has proven false the idea that candidates have to drop everything to treat Isis as an existential threat to America’s existence requiring 24/7 hand wringing, rather than what they really are: a comparatively small problem in the day-to-day lives of Americans that we only exacerbate by doing the terrorists’ PR work for them and upending our rights to supposedly “defeat” them.