The key to the Sanders campaign is motivating people to participate in greater numbers and more actively than they have ever done before.
Part A. Winning the nomination
Essentially, Bernie Sanders wins by recognizing the potential for the conventional wisdom of presidential elections to be changed by creating a new campaign model based on popular participation. Some have called it the “Alinsky model” on a national scale; that “power is derived from two main sources — money and people. ‘Have-Nots’ must build power from flesh and blood.”
For example, conventional wisdom is that the 2016 presidential campaign will cost a couple of billion for each major party candidate, most of which must necessarily come from the very rich. The .04% of the population who make maximum contributions provide the bulk of campaign funds for both parties. Considerably less than 1% contribute as much as $200 to any presidential political campaign.
What if Sanders were able to persuade just 1% of the electorate to give $200?
But what if Sanders were able to persuade just 1% of the electorate to give $200? That would garner half a billion dollars. In addition, Sanders counters dollars with people. His opponents will have more money, but Bernie will have many more volunteers and his supporters will have greater enthusiasm about his candidacy and higher levels of participation. While his opponents will buy more TV time for canned commercials, Sanders will hold more rallies with 20,000 people.
The key to the Sanders campaign is motivating people to participate in greater numbers and more actively than they have ever done previously. That means getting people to give money who in the past would have thought that such contributions were inconsequential. But as part of a movement, they are willing to do so, and thus empowered.
At this point, Sanders has received over 2.3 million individual contributions that have averaged less than $40 each, already a record in terms of the total number of individual contributions. Almost no one has “maxed out” to Sanders. His is a campaign explicitly and proudly financed by small contributions from the middle classes, not billionaires.
Sanders must inspire an expansion of the electorate to win.
Sanders must inspire an expansion of the electorate to win. He must arouse people who have lapsed into apathy over a succession of lesser-of-two-evils choices. Given that the U.S. has a lower level of participation in elections than any other developed country, reaching out the 100 million or so who don’t vote is the obvious approach for a candidate who wants a “political revolution.”
In 2012, only 55% of the potential electorate voted in the presidential election. 88% of the growth in the electorate since then has been unmarried women, non-whites, and people under 30 years old. The largest portion regard themselves as independents with no party affiliation. It has now been widely recognized that Sander’ strongest support in the early primaries will come from young people who describe themselves as independents. This group is classically under-represented in polls.
Sanders campaign trusts people to recognize their interests and to rise up to defend them. His answer to Citizens United is to counter its effects with mass popular mobilization, which, if successful, would literally constitute a political revolution. In order to win, his campaign must be unconventional. Cable news, operating within conventional conceptual frameworks, will scoff and be unable to foresee the implications of his deviations from their norms.
The youth vote is the most volatile factor of any Democratic Party winning coalition.
The youth vote is the most volatile factor of any Democratic Party winning coalition. Will younger voters turn out as they did in 2008 or will they disappear as in 2014? Sanders leads all polls among this constituency and the youth of his audiences has been widely noted. As the age group least likely to vote, it is here that Sanders must focus his greatest efforts in promoting participation to an unanticipated level.
It is a given that Sanders must make major inroads among non-white voters in order to defeat Clinton. Conventional wisdom is that Clinton enjoys overwhelming support among them. Sanders must show this assumption to be false; that non-whites will be as likely as anyone else to recognize their interests expressed in the policy positions of the Sanders campaign.
The expectations here for Clinton are high. Given her reputed insurmountable lead among minorities, Sanders only needs to exceed expectations among blacks in South Carolina and Latinos in Nevada in order to “win.”
There are two basic models on which to run political campaigns.
There are two basic models on which to run political campaigns. The traditional one employs the strategy of staking out relatively hard policy positions in the primaries to attract activists and later moving to the center during the general election. This strategy is based on the assumption that the electorate is like a bell curve, with the most undecided voters grouped in the center.
The second model is based on the idea that there actually is no significant center, that U.S. electoral politics involves partisan camps with few neutrals. Hence, the objective is to better mobilize your faction with firmly right or left policy positions. Republicans have employed this latter strategy with wide success. Bernie Sanders also follows a strategy that concentrates on base mobilization.
Sanders will continue to stake out territory to Clinton’s left with policies that he believes have wide popular support, such as single-payer health care, paid parental leave, free college tuition and $15 an hour minimum wage. He will not change in the general election if he wins the nomination. His reputation rests on his consistency, in contrast to Clinton.
The Clinton campaign is following the more traditional model. While Sanders has pushed her left during the primaries, it is universally assumed that she’ll ooze back toward centrist positions for the general election.
Hillary Clinton is a charter member of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council.
Hillary Clinton is a charter member of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council. They are the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party, the “Third Way” which is dedicated to winning elections by being “centrist,” i.e. corporate lackeys dedicated to moving the party to the right, the model pioneered by Bill Clinton. If Hillary Clinton loses, it will be largely because her strategy follows this arcane model.
But she has little choice, given that she lacks charisma and supports capitalist-class friendly politics. Her deficiencies will manifest on a bitter cold night in Iowa in early February, where only the truly inspired will show up for caucuses. Follow that with an anticipated win for Sanders in New Hampshire and better than expected performances in South Carolina and Nevada and the Sanders momentum will snowball.
During this process, one is advised to keep in mind the growing unreliability of polls and the growing irrelevancy of the TV cable news. They will both tell you Clinton is going to win. Don’t believe them. Polls have been historically based on landline phones and caller anonymity, both having now nearly vanished. As a consequence, pollster’s ability to find a representative sample of the electorate-to-be is next to impossible. Because of this faulty methodology, all the Clinton constituencies are likely to be over-counted and all the Sanders constituencies under-counted.
Cable news epitomizes corporate media, so of course, they promote candidates favored by their corporate owners. While remaining ever cognizant of this mega-corporate ownership, note the heavy advertising on cable news for products to relieve the various infirmities of old age.
The influence of cable news is in decline, especially among the young.
The influence of cable news is in decline, especially among the young. It’s audience is dying off. Fox leads the pack with 1.8 million viewers, a whopping 1.3% of the predicted 2016 presidential electorate. The real action is online, where Sanders wins by every measure.
The big story out of Iowa will be that Sanders did better than expected. That will again be the story in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond as the momentum of exceeding expectations feeds on itself. The mainstream media will express shock and surprise. The establishment pundits will be amazed and the pollsters will scurry to recalculate their demographics.
The truth that cannot be obscured is that the more people hear about Sanders, the more they like him. And the more they hear about Clinton, it’s the reverse.
Part B. Winning the presidency
Political number crunchers say that any Democrat will likely beat any Republican in the general election in 2016. Democrats start with roughly 220 sure electoral votes, while the Republicans have about 180. Ten to 12 swing states will account for the remainder of about 140 or so. 270 (half of 538 plus one) is required to win. The Democrats will need to win only 50 of these swing state electors to win the presidency while Republicans will need to win 90.
Clinton is more susceptible to scandal
mongering than Sanders.
One thing that could upset this Democratic advantage would be a major scandal, an October surprise. With opponents like Trump or Cruz, one would be wise to expect this to occur. It is indisputable that Clinton is more susceptible to such scandal mongering than Sanders.
For what they’re worth, the polls, even now, show Sanders running as strong or stronger against any Republican than Clinton, despite the fact he has far less name recognition. Sanders has the policies to hold together the Obama coalition and to attract working class white males, a constituency that Clinton powerfully motivates into the arms of Republicans.
If Clinton is nominated, there will, in my opinion, be a revolt on the left in favor of the Green Party’s Dr. Jill Stein. Stein got 469,500 votes in 2012. If Sanders earns the Democratic Party’s nomination, she’ll do worse in 2016. But if Clinton gets the nomination, Stein will get over 3 million votes, as a message to the Democratic Party about ignoring its progressive base. Meanwhile, the Republicans, obviously believing that there is no center, will come together in support of a neo-fascist.
The question is, which Democratic candidate would be able to build a winning coalition based on progressive policy instead of fear of Republican rule?
Read more articles by David P. Hamilton on The Rag Blog.
[David P. Hamilton, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin in history and government, was an activist in 1960s-’70s Austin and was a contributor to the original Rag. David and wife Sally spend part of every year in France.]