For many members of the Urban community, the 2020 presidential primaries will be the first time they are eligible to vote and decide for themselves which candidate best represents their interests and values. However, in this election cycle, the choice of Democratic nominee goes beyond the individual candidates and concerns the future of the Democratic Party. With a wide array of Democratic candidates on the ballot, Senator Bernie Sanders stands as the front runner, promising the best future for the party.
For the past 12 weeks, I have volunteered at the Bernie 2020 campaign headquarters in San Francisco. There, I have witnessed firsthand the excitement and energy surrounding Senator Sanders’ presidential campaign. In a clean, bright loft space in the San Francisco Mission District, I have joined diligent volunteers, many of whom come after work to phonebank and canvass. According to a Huffington Post article, I am part of an army of thousands of campaign volunteers that has only grown since the Senator’s first presidential election bid in 2016.
In 2016, the Democratic Party largely relied on a strategy of telling voters not to vote in accordance with their values but for the candidate who was believed to hold the strategic advantage. In this election cycle, several democratic presidential candidates, like Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg, act as an extension of this 2016 strategy, positioning themselves as most appealing to an ever-elusive, moderate voter. This approach urges Democrats to vote for the candidate who can win, not the candidate who stands for the best policies. Embodying this middle-of-the-road strategy is Klobuchar’s campaign slogan “Let’s get to work” which is both inoffensive and uninspiring. Is there really a group of swing-voters who want a watered-down Democratic candidate?
Rachel Bitecofer, Assistant Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, became well known for accurately predicting the 2018 midterm election results. She explained that, contrary to long-time political theory, there are no real moderate swing-voters. Bitecofer argues it is a “mistaken belief that Democrats won in 2018 by gaining Republican support (aka winning back Trump voters).” Bitecofer feels this false assumption, “fuels an illusory search for an ill-defined middle ground that could actually demobilize the Democratic leaners and voters who actually drove last year’s blue wave.”
Senator Sanders offers a new type of Democratic candidate: one who fights for what he truly believes in rather than attempting to appeal to a politically expedient message. As Elsie Lipson ‘20, who will be a first-time voter in the 2020 presidential primaries, explained, “if you look at his track record, he’s been supporting the same issues his entire life. I think Bernie is the only candidate who is genuine, and truly believes in what he stands for. He doesn’t do anything for political clout. It’s all about his core values.”
The Republican Party has been able to rally support over cultural concerns while simultaneously pursuing an economic platform that ultimately disadvantages the bottom 99% of the country. Despite the fact that Republican economic policies historically advantage big-business and America’s wealthiest citizens, in the 2016 election, 62.5% of white, working-class voters voted for President Donald Trump, according to The Center for American Progress.
Republicans have largely won the support of working Americans by proffering a cultural agenda that aligns with the values of middle America. Adopting a strategy that has worked for Republicans, Sanders is embracing a consistent set of values, focusing the debate on what’s actually going to support working Americans. On July 30th, at the second Democratic debate, Sanders said, “I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas.”
As Moe Shooer, a retired San Francisco MUNI driver of 18 years and current volunteer with the Bernie campaign, simply put, “He’s direct. He has integrity. He’s been doing this for 40 years and his message has not changed. He’s upfront about his values so when you vote for Bernie, you really know what you’re getting.”
Though Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump offer radically different road maps for how to support working-class Americans, they both start by recognizing what most Americans feel: the country is not working for them. Sanders’ message that our economic policies serve the interest of the wealthy and have failed the rest of us is not unlike Trump’s rallying cry that our country is broken, but together we can “Make America Great Again.”
In an article published on July 1, 2019 by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy, Bitecofer wrote, “with liberals in the Democratic Party and conservatives in the Republican Party, turnout of each party’s loyal constituencies has become more important in terms of deciding which party will prevail on Election Day.” Besides President Trump, Sanders is the only candidate who captures the anger of working-class Americans and youth who view the current political and economic system as stacked against them. Following Bitecofer’s analysis that the 2020 election will be decided by which candidate’s base turns out the most voters, Senator Bernie Sanders is the best hope for the Democratic party, particularly given his ability to galvanize young voters.
Sanders received more votes from young New Hampshire voters, ages 18 to 29, than the rest of the Democratic candidates combined. In Iowa, he won nearly half of caucus-goers under 30 and in the Nevada primary, he received 66 percent of voters under 30. A major source of Sanders’ appeal for young voters is his aggressive environmental policies. As Adi Jolish 21’ said, “climate change really demands the kind of systemic overhaul Bernie is talking about because scientists tell us that business as usual and maintaining status quo will ultimately end up killing us.”
A vote for Sanders is a vote for a Democratic party that stands up for the 99% and doesn’t change its policies to please an elusive swing voter. A vote for Sanders is a vote to return to authenticity and integrity, values that America has been lacking these last four years.