Is Bernie Sanders now a threat to Trump?

Sam Wood

In response to Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory at the Nevada primaries, Dr Rubrick Biegon, Lecturer in International Relations and leading US Politics expert at the School of Politics and International Relations, said:

‘By winning the Nevada caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders consolidates his position as the early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency.

‘Sanders’ success thus far is driven primarily by enthused young voters. In contrast to his Democratic rivals, his support is based on lower-income working-class voters than the highly-educated professional voters that have increasingly turned toward the Democratic Party in recent elections. Polls also suggest that strong support from Latino voters is key to Sanders’ wider appeal.

‘The 78 year old Sanders was the runner-up to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. A self-styled democratic socialist and long-time independent Congressman, he is widely seen as representing the left-populist wing of the Democratic Party, particularly on economic issues.

‘Sanders is basing his campaign on ambitious proposals like Medicare for All, a single-payer national health care plan similar to the National Health Service, and the Green New Deal, a massive spending plan aimed at addressing climate change and economic inequality. According to some elements of the Democratic Party’s establishment, these policies put Sanders outside of the mainstream.

‘With many more states waiting to weigh-in on the nomination process, the Democratic primaries may yet yield a “moderate”, centrist nominee.

‘Moreover, it is far too early to know if Sanders would be the favourite to win the general election in November. Historically, most presidents win a second term, and Donald Trump will be running strong as an incumbent with the full backing of the Republican Party.

‘Despite a relatively strong economy, Trump remains unpopular. Although the impeachment proceedings coincided with a marginal upturn in approval ratings, Trump has never posted approval ratings above 50%. Disapproval of Trump runs high compared with previous presidents. However, the highly polarized nature of American politics means that Trump will enjoy overwhelming support from Republican voters come November. If Sanders is the nominee, he will need to garner equally strong support from Democrat voters. The outcome will likely be determined by partisan turnout as much as so-called ‘swing’ voters; ensuring a tough campaign for both.

‘At times, Sanders’ reputed populism has drawn comparisons to Trump. In the 2016 cycle, both Sanders and Trump challenged the traditional bipartisan consensus in favour of free trade. More recently, Trump, who advocated for Brexit, stated that he wants to pursue a bilateral trade agreement with Johnson’s government. In contrast, given the breadth of Sanders’ domestic policy plans, a US-UK trade deal would not be a priority for a Sanders administration.’

Dr Rubrick Biegon is a Lecturer at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, specialising in United States politics and relations to global politics and economies.

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