Should Democrats Nominate Bernie Sanders?

Much like in 2016, Democratic voters are being presented with a choice between a traditional liberal and a democratic socialist. Voters chose the status quo last cycle, but should the Democrats give Sanders a try this time around? Staff Writer Owen Sherry and Guest Writer Sammy Shrestha discuss the merits of nominating Sanders.
James DailManaging Editor


At the beginning of the 2020 Democratic primary, many new candidates entered the fray, and many progressives were hopeful that a new left-wing candidate would emerge and bring fresh ideas after being energized by Bernie’s run in 2016. To be clear, a progressive’s ideal candidate is not a 78-year-old straight white man, as they appreciate representation in positions of power, and electing women and marginalized groups is very important to them. Many were hopeful about Elizabeth Warren, or even Pete Buttigieg, emerging as a progressive alternative to Sanders. However, as the race continued, Sanders emerged as the only true and consistent progressive in the field. From Warren’s softening on the urgency of Medicare for All [1], to Pete’s more aggressive push towards the moderate lane, every candidate other than Bernie softened on their progressive policy positions significantly. And now, with only Bernie and Biden remaining, it is more obvious than ever that Bernie is the only progressive politician in the race.

Bernie Sanders has held elective office since 1981, and throughout this entire period, he has been a consistent advocate of civil rights and progressive policies. He has a long record of making the right decisions, such as voting against the Iraq war and voting against the Defense of Marriage Act [2]. During his time as an elected official, he has been anti-war, fought hard to control big banks, and has been effective in winning policy battles, earning him the nickname of “the Amendment King” [3]. During the 2020  race, Bernie has maintained his consistency, as he continues to fight for a just healthcare system, economic equity, and climate justice. 

But one might wonder why  Democratic voters should care about progressive policies such as Medicare for All. The Progressive policies that Sanders advances present a more equitable vision for America, and they also provide economic security for all Americans. For example, Medicare for All, by eliminating private insurance companies, would save United States tax-payers more than $450 billion each year, according to a recent Yale study [4]. However, this is not even the most appealing part of the policy, as the same study also estimates that it would prevent 68,000 unnecessary deaths each year. Bernie’s policies strive to make the world a better place as quickly as possible. A politician like Joe Biden does not represent this necessary change. He has consistently been behind the curve on policy, as he voted for both the Iraq War and the Defense of Marriage Act [5], helped write a controversial crime bill in 1994 [6], and has an unsettling history of inappropriately touching women [7]. We need true progressive policies and leaders to lead us away from the era of Trump. Joe Biden does not represent that change, but Bernie Sanders certainly does.

Perhaps people understand and  appreciate Bernie’s strong progressive history on policy. However, many have expressed concern that advocating for such left-wing policies is silly, as they think it is unrealistic that any of them will get passed. However, we must recognize how important it is to pull our nation’s politics to the left. Trump’s rise has clearly demonstrated a rhetorical and social shift  within the Republican Party, as he has abandoned all established political norms. The new right has established that it will do everything it can to distort our politics and fight for Trump’s agenda. Therefore, we must start by arguing for positions which are truly on the left, and then we can compromise towards the middle if need be. If we water down our positions from the start, we lose ground for no reason. And these are concessions we cannot afford, especially when considering issues as serious as medical care for all and the future of our planet.

"Bernie’s policies strive to make the world a better place as quickly as possible."

Potentially the biggest question facing Bernie’s campaign is his electibility. In answer, Sanders can absolutely defeat Trump. In fact, he is in the best position to do so. According to the Real Clear Politics average of general elections polls pitting Bernie against Trump, Bernie has a 4.9 percentage point advantage. Furthermore, Sanders has won 18 out of the last 19 polls conducted, as of March 6th, 2020 [8]. This compares favorably with other candidates in the race, as only Biden polls better, with a half point difference between him and Bernie, a marginal difference. But polls don’t tell the whole story. Bernie can also make the best argument to the American people about why he should replace our current president. Trump won in large part because many voters were disillusioned with Washington politics as usual and wanted a brighter economic future for themselves and their families [9]. Bernie offers a multitude of solutions to these problems. First of all, Bernie has been representing an anti-establishment brand of politics for his entire career. In addition, when Medicare for All is enacted, American families will have more financial stability, and by implementing the Green New Deal, millions of new jobs will be created while we reduce our carbon footprint [10]. In order to defeat Donald Trump, the Democratic Party must offer voters a bold new alternative, not simply a return to Washington politics as normal. Finally, Sanders has a base of incredibly passionate voters who will get out and campaign for him vigorously. No other candidate has this firepower, and Democrats need all the advantages they can get to defeat Trump.

Bernie is building a broad coalition of voters; he is appealing to voters from a variety of geographical, racial, and educational backgrounds. And he isn’t just winning over progressives either. In fact, in Nevada, Sanders won 23% of self-identified Moderates/Conservatives, just behind Joe Biden with 25%, whose whole appeal is to moderate voters [11]. Indeed, the American people are starting to come around to Bernie. Bernie Sanders is now in a two man race for the Democratic nomination. He polls well against Trump, has constructed a wide-ranging voter base, and has a strong, progressive platform. Vote for Bernie!

Sammy ShresthaGuest Writer


As Sanders himself tweeted on Feb 21, “ ...I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us [12].” While Joe Biden’s remarkable comeback has blunted Bernie Sanders’s momentum, a broader discussion of the national viability of Sanders-style progressive politics is still relevant, especially as Joe Biden may not run for re-election. Continuing the trend set by figures such as Jeremy Corbyn and Trump, insurgent outsiders who’ve hijacked their parties, Sanders and his acolytes now seek to shape the Democratic Party in their image. However, just as Corbyn appealed to millenial urbanites and made incredible promises like free broadband, only to go on and lose Labour’s Red Wall in late 2019, a Sanders ticket would be disastrous for the Democratic Party. Rather than framing the election on Trump’s record and character, the country would be forced to make a drastic choice between two extremes, neither of which reflect the American electorate. 

On policy grounds, Sanders’s 2016 primary defeat has already shifted the party left. The public option, once considered a pipe dream during the Obamacare fight, is now the policy of moderate Democrats. However, Sanders’s platform and radical past, while attractive in its simplistic solutions and raw authenticity, would alienate key populations in battleground states. Sanders advocates for the complete banning of fracking and the private health-care and insurance industries, both significant sources of employment in Pennsylvania [13]. 

Sanders has associated himself with and praised left-wing authoritarian regimes and movements, especially in South America. While Sanders’ rivals in the primary have begun to litigate and bring attention to these comments, their attacks have not been effective in a party more positive about socialism than capitalism [14]. Democratic lawmakers in Florida, a state with many refugees who fled Cuba, Venezuela and other regimes with a violent leftist history, have already distanced themselves from Sanders [15]. Attack ads, no matter their disingenuousness, showing Sanders’ trip to a Sandinista rally in Nicaragua or comments praising the state of Cuban education and healthcare would doom him in Florida. Even without such a campaign so far, Real Clear Politics’ polling averages find that Sanders only holds a narrow lead of 0.3% against Trump whereas Joe Biden leads by 1.4%. In states as purple as Florida or Pennsylvania, the impact of these topics in a Sanders-Trump race could be enormous.

Another prominent aspect to Sanders is his emphasis on the turnout theory of electoral politics, the idea that more extreme candidates can drive turnout to compensate for losing the middle ground. However, the only nationwide election since 2016 provides powerful evidence to the contrary. Were you only to read left-wing pundits on Twitter, the 2018 Midterms would seem to be the story of “the Squad,” insurgent young women of color making history and taking decrepit party elites to task. But another set of freshmen congresspeople without millions in laptop sticker sales and Twitter followers serve as better instruction for how Democrats have succeeded in the post-2016 era. Progressives like Reps. Cortez, Pressley, Talib, and Omar represent deep blue districts out of step with the country. Moderate Democrats who actually flipped seats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who won a seat carried by Trump in 2016 and held by Republicans for seven election cycles, should be models that Democrats look to, not “the Squad.” According to a study conducted by Alan Abramowitz at the UVA Center for Politics, 2018 candidates that supported Medicare for All performed 2.2% worse in the polls than non-supporters, even controlling for the makeup of districts [16]. Rather than learning from moderates like Spanberger, who won by talking about rebuilding Obamacare, a Sanders ticket in 2020 or beyond would nationalize the out of touch politics of the far left that failed to deliver against Republicans in 2018.

"Rather than framing the election on Trump’s record and character, the country would be forced to make a drastic choice between two extremes, neither of which reflect the American electorate."

More broadly, a large portion of political scientists believe that more extreme candidates have net negative effects on turnout because of the power of negative partisanship. For example, a study by Hall and Thompson analyzing House of Representatives elections from 2006-14 found that extremist candidates increased turnout in the opposition by 10% while only galvanizing an additional 3.5% of their own party’s vote [17]. Sanders proponents might point to Hillary Clinton’s narrow loss to Trump as this theory being obsolete. However, voters actually perceived Clinton as the more extreme choice ideologically [18].  Currently, general election polling seems to challenge the conventional view as laid out here. Sanders appears to perform at least as well against Trump as the moderates [19]. However, Broockman and Kalla found that Sanders would need to increase youth turnout by 11 percentage points (a 30% increase from 2016) in order to actually reach parity with moderate candidates. Such an extreme scenario is not impossible, but would be absolutely necessary to Sanders to have any sort of chance whatsoever. According to their dataset of 40,000 survey responses, the recent findings of national polls only hold if voters accurately report whether they will vote and if the electorate represents the general population, both of which are hardly certain [20]. While overall turnout among the Democratic electorate surged in the recent Super Tuesday primaries, youth support significantly lagged behind other age brackets, and actually decreased in some states relative to 2016 primary turnout [21]. Such a poor result does not bode well for Sanders accomplishing the targets set by Broockman and Kalla in the general election. Overall, a Sanders candidacy would disproportionately inspire turnout among GOP voters, probably fail to compensate by turning out new voters and place members of Congress in swing districts at risk.  Four years of Sanders would obviously still be far more desirable than a second Trump term, but a Sanders administration would be paralyzed legislatively and would ultimately lead to more disillusionment with American politics. Given Sanders’s harmful effects on races in tight seats such as those that won the Democrats the House in 2018, combined with the Democrats’ already unlikely chance of retaking the Senate, his administration would struggle to pass even watered down versions of his platform. A notoriously unproductive senator --Sanders has only been a primary sponsor of seven bills, two of which renamed post-offices-- he does not have a history of organizing the passage of major legislation, especially in comparison to the rest of the Democratic primary field. The party has yet to completely rally around Sanders’s ideas as well; only 14 Democratic senators have co-sponsored Sanders’s Medicare for All legislation [21]. Sanders supporters sometimes argue that Medicare for All is just an opening gambit that will strengthen the Democratic Party’s negotiating power. However, McConnell would have no inherent need to even debate these proposals, as evidenced by the piles of bills on his desk during this very primary. Such a bitterly partisan and quixotic legislative battle would only further divide the country and lead to little meaningful change.  Ultimately, Sanders and his acolytes have meaningfully affected the debate around issues such as healthcare, climate change and wealth inequality. That said, the purpose of parties is to organize and obtain political power. Irrespective of the merits or demerits of Sanders’s policies or views, the purpose of the primary process is to select the strongest candidate to represent the party in the general. If Democrats want transformative change to the healthcare, tax, and immigration systems or any other important issue, they need a candidate who can lead the party to defeat Trump, win majorities in the legislature, and appoint new judges. While one obviously hopes for his success in the now unlikely event of his nomination, Bernie Sanders is not the best candidate to take up this task.
Owen SherryStaff Writer

Sources and Notes


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