Whether you believe Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is an “electable” presidential candidate, the populist agenda Sanders has placed at the center of his campaign is absolutely an electable agenda.
Once considered the longest of long-shot candidates, Sanders — the only “self-described socialist,” and longest serving independent member of Congress — has surged close to front-runner status in the Democratic race. He’s now the top choice of 30 percent of Iowa Democrats likely to vote in caucuses next year; that’s just seven points behind Hillary Clinton, who was beating Sanders 57 percent to 16 percent in late May. In New Hampshire, where he was 39 points behind in March, Sanders now has a seven-point lead over Clinton.
All of this has made the Democratic establishment nervous that Sanders could prove a serious challenge to Clinton, once the presumptive nominee. Some Democrats are worried that Sanders’ “electability” challenges could cost them the White House. (Granted, just the possibility of having to get used to saying “President Trump” could make anybody nervous.) According to a CBS News poll in early August, just 5 percent of Democratic primary voters thought Sanders was the most electable Democratic candidate, compared to 78 percent for Hillary Clinton.
So how did this happen? How did an unapologetic liberal with a campaign that relies on small donors even come close to threatening a candidate with the kind of money and name recognition that Hillary Clinton brings to the race? Not even Sanders’ socialist leanings necessarily hurt his candidacy. A Gallup survey reported in June showed that 47 percent of Americans — nearly half — would vote for a socialist candidate.
Sanders himself answered that question in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday: “I think people are responding to our message.”
It’s not just a message that galvanizes the left. As Thom Hartmann points out, Sanders’ message appeals to a surprising number of Republicans, like the voters from the most conservative part of Vermont, who have kept Sanders in Congress for almost 20 years. Sanders garners conservative support for the same reasons his candidacy has energized the left. “While Americans disagree on social issues like gay marriage and abortion,” Hartmann writes, “they’re actually pretty unified on the bread and butter economic issues that Bernie has made the core of his campaign.”
More and more Americans agree with Sanders on the issues, and not just those on the left. A recent Progressive Change Institute poll of likely 2016 voters, and the Populist Majority website show that:
● 53 percent support the government paying students’ tuition for community college.
● 71 percent support debt-free college at all public universities.
● 78 percent believe the government should limit greenhouse emissions from businesses.
● 61 percent believe that in today’s economy, just a few people at the top have the chance to get ahead.
● 57 percent say the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
● 65 percent believe income inequality is a problem that needs to be addressed now.
Money in Politics
● 84 percent think money has too much influence in elections today.
● 81 percent would support getting rid of secret money in our political system by requiring full disclosure and transparency of all political money.
● 75 percent would support preventing the wealthy and big corporations from spending unlimited amounts of money on elections.
Social Security and Medicare
● 59 percent support the government offering a health care plan similar to Medicare to compete with the private market.
● 71 percent support giving all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurers.
● 62 percent of voters in Senate battleground states support increasing Social Security benefits.
● 62 percent say the rich pay too little in taxes.
● 68 percent are in favor of increasing taxes on those making more than $1 million a year.
● 74 percent support ending tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs overseas.
● 75 percent support fair trade standards that protect workers, the environment, and jobs.
● 55 percent oppose giving the president exclusive authority to negotiate trade deals that would only allow Congress to vote yes or no, but not change.
Wages and Workers
● 59 percent support a minimum guaranteed income.
● 84 percent support making sure working women earn equal pay, and opening up opportunities to women at all levels.
● 66 percent support making jobs pay enough to live on by defending the right of workers to bargain for better wages and benefits, and increasing the national minimum wage.
● 66 percent support breaking up big banks that are “too big to fail.”
● 55 percent support a financial transactions tax.
These are just some of the issues on which a growing number of Americans agree with Bernie Sanders.
Pundits and commentators love to put Sanders and Trump in the same category: Candidates Who Make Their Party Establishment Nervous. The difference is that Trump’s appeal is to the basest of the GOP base. Sanders’ populist message crosses partisan lines, and appeals to Americans who know that the economic and political system has been rigged against them. They want an economy of equal opportunity and shared prosperity, where good jobs with fair wages are available to anyone who wants one. More and more of them are demanding that their elected leaders act on it, and that their candidates support it.