Do not adjust your television set: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., could very well be the next president of the United States of America.
According to a poll conducted by Morning Consult the day after the New Hampshire primary, the self-described democratic socialist leads the pack of candidates among Democratic primary voters nationwide, with 29 percent of potential voters saying they’d vote for him if their state’s caucus or primary were held today.
Former vice president Joe Biden, once in the lead, now trails a full 10 points behind Sanders, with billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former McKinsey consultant-cum-South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively.
In the same poll, 29 percent of Democrats thought Sanders and Biden were likely to beat Trump, a precipitous 12-point drop for Biden from the organization’s post-Iowa poll and a six-point increase for Sanders. (Bloomberg rose seven points to 25 percent, possibly on the strength of his massive ad buys).
The change in the two men's prospects is even more pronounced among black voters, who have been some of Biden’s strongest supporters; their perception of Biden as the most electable candidate fell 10 points to 21 percent, while Sanders rose nine points to 32 percent. That is especially bad for Biden considering that he’s centered much of his pitch around being the safest bet against Trump — a consideration many Democratic voters, particularly people of color, rank highly in their thinking.
But as Biden’s case for his superior electability collapses, it makes sense that voters would take a second look at Sanders, who, in addition to polling well against Trump, aligns more closely with the Democratic Party base — particularly, according to some polls, black and Hispanic voters — on key policy issues like immigration and "Medicare for All."
Are voters right to believe in Bernie? While polls can only tell us so much at this juncture, the latest one from Quinnipiac University surveying all registered voters shows him doing well in a head-to-head against Trump, beating him 51-43 percent; in the same poll, Biden bests Trump 50-43 and Bloomberg does so 51-42. Sanders, however, polls the best against Trump with independents — which makes sense, as he’s the longest-serving independent member of Congress in U.S. history.
And, he beat a Republican incumbent when he ran for the House in 1990, and won his 2006 Senate race by flipping a seat that had been occupied by Republicans for 144 years. Whether he could do the same at the national level when Americans' votes have to be filtered through the insanity of the electoral college and all sorts of voter suppression is unclear, but at the very least, Sanders’ detractors have little evidence that he’s "not electable" in places that tend to prefer more conservative representation.
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Even Donald Trump has seemed impressed: In an apparent recorded conversation released by Lev Parnas’ legal team, the president said that he believes Hillary Clinton would’ve been “tougher” to beat in 2016 had she chosen Sanders as her running mate: “He's the only one I didn't want her to pick.”
Sanders’ supporters believe his decades-long record of fighting for social and economic justice and criticizing the corrupt political establishment will turn out people in the general election who don’t habitually vote — a group that skews young, poor and non-white.
And, while non-voters skew slightly more conservative than voting Democrats on social issues, they not only support single-payer healthcare at higher rates, but 51 percent also want “a Democrat who will fundamentally change America.” Does that sound like anyone you know?
To his energetic and activated base, Sanders is that rare candidate who combines bold, progressive ideas with an actual path to electoral victory. (No offense, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.) We've listened for decades as party leaders have said that they would love to fight for things like single-payer healthcare, tuition-free public college and criminal justice reform, if only those things weren’t political suicide. It took Sanders' insurgent 2016 candidacy to drag the party and the conversation to the left, and now he’s back with an even more ambitious program.
The social forces that propelled Sanders to the national stage in 2016 after years as an obscure voice for progress seemed to surprise even him — and even more so than last time, he’s running to win, not just to start a conversation.
Of course, his candidacy would never have taken off the way it did in 2016 or again in 2020 if grassroots movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter hadn't empowered regular, working class people to talk about our political-economic system's failure to deliver on their promises for all but a lucky few. And, more recently, the nationwide wave of teachers’ strikes both fed into, and was fed by, the movement behind Sanders.
As he’s fond of reminding people, Sanders understands that real change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. So 2020 is not just about electing Bernie Sanders; it's about shifting the balance of power away from the "millionaires and billionaires" and toward the people who do the lion's share of the work on which our society runs. And, win or lose, that fight — which involves many interlocking problems — will continue.
With the slogan “Not me. Us,” Sanders acknowledges he’s part of something larger than himself: A movement for social justice and economic democracy to counter the threat of right-wing authoritarianism. So don't think about it as voting for him; think about it as voting for all of us.