Don’t get me wrong, Bernie Sanders adds a special kind of spice to the 2016 presidential election. If nothing else he proves that personal background is no impediment to gaining a cult-like following. The words “cult-like” are not an exaggeration.
But if one were to take a closer look at his campaign, beyond the impressive scope of donors, beyond the articulate, to say nothing of impassioned and unwavering rhetoric, some severe structural issues become increasingly apparent.
One needs to look no further than pictures of Sander’s most recent rally in Springfield. Depicted in the headlining picture taken by WNPR, Sander’s key constituency becomes clear. In fact, a similar picture could easily have been taken at any one of the last events held by Republicans.
The tragedy of Sanders happens to be the same problem many pundits declare exists for the Republican Party demographics. In the WNPR picture, one cannot help but notice the sea of white, male faces. This is a problem, more so for a Democrat, and especially for one who is trying to win a primary contest.
It is well known that President Obama came out of nowhere to win the 2008 nomination over Hillary Clinton by winning over African-American and Hispanic voters in more conservative states. It is, at least now, unclear as to how exactly Bernie Sanders can replicate this success while relying on perhaps the weakest link in the Democratic Party’s chain: white men.
This group of voters has, more than any other, simply deserted the party en masse. In 2012, for example, Obama won a mere 39 percent of the white vote, but even this number is inflated because of the gender gap. The Democratic Party is also far more conservative than many in its base would like to admit. A massive Pew Research Poll taken in 2014 that interviewed some 10,000 respondents broke people down in what could be called political typologies. The base of the Democratic Party, also called “Solid Liberals” in the poll, consist of only about 15 percent of the general public.
Many, especially here at Vassar College, might assume the Democratic Party to be entirely secular. This is inaccurate. Many might also assume that the vast majority of the Democratic Party supports more progressive social and economic policies. This is also inaccurate. For example, while Solid Liberals believe wholeheartedly (80 percent) that racial discrimination is the main reason many black people cannot get ahead, the opposite view was held by the Faith and Family Left (31 percent), and Next Gen. Left (19 percent). A staggering 91 percent of the Faith and Family Left believe that a belief in God is necessary for one to be considered moral, contrasting strongly with the hyper secular Next Gen. Left (seven percent) and Solid Liberals (11 percent).
Now this does not mean that Bernie Sanders, with the right messaging and balancing of issues, cannot win the nomination. However, as his recent debate performance suggested, a suggestion that was compounded by legitimate polling (not online polls) done afterwards, Bernie can appeal to Solid Liberals and that is about it. He shows little interest in expanding his coalition, while at the same time affirming sentiments that are anathema to certain minority groups (anti-gun control and xenophobic proclivities among them).
Sure, one could argue that he might win the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. But this is to be expected in these almost all-white states. What happens when Bernie gets to South Carolina, Nevada or Texas, where African-Americans (particularly women), and Hispanic-Americans dominate the process? The clock is ticking on the Bern machine, and his supporters might have to come to terms with the reality that they are the minority not just in the country, but within their own party.