Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a rally in New York City to show that his campaign is still viable. This rally had an attendance in the tens of thousands and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) formally endorsed Sanders prior to the event. This endorsement came just at the tail end of a health scare, in which Sanders suffered a heart attack. This health scare, as well as the sheer number of candidates still in the race, have led some to question Sanders’ chances at winning the primary, let alone a general election. Despite this skepticism, his campaign has not faltered. The campaign has, arguably, the most progressive platform of all Democratic candidates, as it includes policies from complete student debt cancellation to a Federal jobs program. I believe strongly that Sanders’ campaign best represents the growing progressive movement and the American Left. With this in mind, let us try to answer the following question: Can he still win? Despite some roadblocks, Sanders has polled well in early states, as well as battleground states in the general election, has the most invested supporter base, and has the policies that are needed to challenge and defeat Trump. This analysis of his electoral chances will reveal the path forward for his campaign and will tell us more about the future of the presidential race.
First, on the issue of health, it is worth noting that many of the expressed health concerns are due to Sanders’ age. This disregards the fact, however, that Joe Biden, the current leader in many polls, is only two years younger than Sanders. In addition, Sanders is extremely active for his age and competed in a full-length baseball tournament just last month. Does this mean that he is incapable of becoming sick? Of course not, but I argue that his physical condition is more than suitable for maintaining the position of president. He regularly travels to multiple cities or states in one day and has conducted as many as three rallies within just a few short hours of one another.
Sanders has demonstrated that he is one of the most electable candidates in the race. In poll after poll, Sanders has been shown to beat Trump the most often, and by one of the highest percentages. In battleground states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, Sanders has strong support, and his policies on trade, unions, and the minimum wage have galvanized excitement in those must-win areas. He performs exceptionally well with Independent voters, registered voters who are not affiliated with either major political party. These voters now make up a substantial part of the electorate, with Gallup recently finding that nearly half of all registered voters self-identify as Independent. As such, support from Independent voters will be crucial for winning not just the primary, but also the general election. When observed in comparison to the other campaigns in the race, it is clear that Sanders’ is designed to run on people power. He has more volunteers than any other campaign (over one million), and regularly has the largest turnout at rallies and other speaking events. Obviously, the general election is only worth talking about if he can get past the Democratic primary race. As for the likelihood of winning the nomination, Sanders is regularly in the top two contenders in Iowa, according to aggregate data from RealClearPolitics and polls in the top two places in New Hampshire. The most interesting polling, however, comes from South Carolina, where Sanders performed relatively poorly in 2016. While he is not in first place, he often comes within striking distance, which is significantly more than he could say in the last election. This is a good sign for the upcoming primaries, especially considering we are still around four months out. On the issue of electability, Sanders is pulling more than his weight.
Sanders’ base is also significantly more invested than supporters of other campaigns. Recent polls showed that over 51 percent of Sanders supporters said that they were only excited about their candidate. Having a passionate base is crucial for several reasons. First, it ensures that voters will make sure that they turn out to the polls for their candidate on election day. Second, it increases the likelihood that supporters will encourage their friends and family to also go vote for that candidate. Finally, the level of volunteer and supporter engagement and investment with a campaign can go a long way in swaying undecided voters as to who the “people’s candidate” really is.Sanders’ campaign is designed to go beyond that of a typical, individual-based presidential campaign. It is meant to represent a movement, one that will persist beyond election day and last long after he is in office. He is the candidate that relies the least on high dollar donors and also is the only candidate willing to bear the label of Democratic Socialist. If Sanders wins, progressive movements will experience a groundswell in not just support from their base, but also from the state itself. A truly progressive administration is necessary if we want to enact the changes that we need for a more fair and just society, from Medicare for All to immigration reform to campaign finance reform and environmental justice. The question still remains: Will he win the nomination? While the answer is still undecided, it is clear that there is a path forward, and it is clear, bold, and progressive.