Namir Khaliq, Political Editor
Last week we looked at how political outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson are leading the pack in the GOP Presidential Primary field while establishment Senators and Governors are struggling to keep up. On the other side of the isle, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, has overtaken former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in numerous polls.
Labeling yourself as any kind of Socialist, even a Democratic Socialist which is a prominent political alliance in many European countries, would have been considered political suicide just a few years ago. But now Americans are looking for someone who is not afraid to stand out and challenge the standard political system.
Bernie Sanders, a Senator from Vermont, has been drawing crowds in the tens of thousands to his campaign events, which is fitting as he describes himself as the candidate of the masses, and his angry rhetoric against Wall Street billionaires and corrupt banking practices proves it. But why are Americans suddenly so willing to embrace a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist when “socialism” has been a dirty word in American politics for decades?
It is because the 74 year old Senator is a beacon for the political counterculture so many of today’s youth are looking for. Bernie Sanders is popular among the kids because he is someone very different from anything their parents ever saw, and for kids different often means better. That is why so many 18-25 year olds have flocked to his events: what he says is revolutionary, and Americans are always looking for a revolution – we were founded by one. But young voters are the least likely voters, so Senator Sanders will have to convert his message into one that voters of all ages can swallow.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Republican Presidential candidate has slipped three spots in the polls down to fifth as he grapples with his moderate voting record and the somewhat frowned upon legacies of his brother and father.
While Hillary Clinton’s last name itself does not cause her too many problems, having been in the political limelight for over two decades has subjected her to strict scrutiny, which has resulted in multiple scandals and a steep drop in favorability polls, creating a void in the Democratic field that Sanders has quickly been able to fill.
In last Tuesday’s first Democratic debate, both Clinton and Sanders promoted themselves as progressives and champions of the middle class. The two frontrunners distinguished themselves on many policy platforms such as gun control and foreign policy, but avoided taking personal jabs at each other, a sharp contrast from what we saw in the Republican debate.
The divide between the establishment and the unorthodox, however, was exemplified by how individuals responded to the candidates’ performance in the debate. Washington insiders and political pundits nearly unanimously declared Hillary Clinton as the winner.
But focus groups, social media trends, and search data all pointed to the idea that the general public felt Bernie Sanders was the better performer. Sanders gained the most twitter followers, was searched the most on Google, and won nearly every online poll.
This gulf between how establishment pundits and politicians see Sanders and how the normal American voters see him clearly illustrates the establishment/anti-establishment battle that is being waged in this Presidential election.