Bernie Sanders is sinking fast.
With virtually universal name recognition after a 2016 presidential run, and a strong start to the 2020 campaign, Sanders dropped four percentage points this month in a CNN poll, and fell from 19 percent to 13 percent in a poll from Quinnipiac University.
Sanders is running an unapologetic campaign essentially duplicating his 2016 strategy, and judging by the numbers, it’s failing with six months before the first primary.
Sanders has made some changes in his second national campaign — including playing up his backstory and paying more attention to race — but his focus seems to be on reinforcing a base of voters that is shrinking by the day. This is a campaign that needs to fix itself, or face collapse.
But unlike the many other candidates running for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders has already succeeded in his campaign. Even if Sanders loses, he wins.
Think back to the Democratic party of 2016. Hillary Clinton said that Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan “will never, ever come to pass." Every successful modern presidential campaign until then had sucked money from big-dollar donors. The party flinched at the mere mention of socialism.
But because of Sanders, the Democratic party of today is nearly unrecognizable.
Gone are the days of publicly-flaunted big money and a private healthcare option. The candidates of 2020, because of the campaign Sanders ran in 2016, represent a far more liberal ideal for what the United States should be.
Just look at the requirements to qualify for the debates this year.
The first set of debates, in Miami, required candidates to collect more than 65,000 individual donations, and the third debate’s bar sits at 130,000 unique donors. While polling is also a qualification for the debates, the use of individual donations to measure a candidate’s support — more specifically, grassroots support — is new.
In 2016, Sanders raised more than $77 million from donations of $200 or less and outspent Clinton on advertising by more than 50 percent. In some months, the Sanders campaign outraised Clinton, despite the majority of Clinton’s donations being the maximum $2,700 contribution. Sanders proved that running on individual, small-sum donations is a viable way to run a campaign.
Today, he’s had a profound impact. Of the 25 Democratic candidates running for president this cycle, only Jay Inslee has said yes to corporate PAC donations. Every candidate who has given an opinion has vowed to overturn Citizens United, a position that Sanders popularized in 2016.
Of course, it’s not limited to just money.
Sanders revolutionized the way the Democratic party talks about healthcare, and 16 of the 2020 candidates now support a single-payer healthcare system. Beyond just ideas, his policies have gained real traction in the legislative branch.
It extends to the acceptance of American socialism. If a candidate openly embraced the label of ‘socialist’ just five years ago, their political inertia would evaporate. That much is no longer true, with many House members self-ascribing the label of socialist, or at least ‘Democratic-Socialist.’
In every corner of the Democratic party, the impact that Sanders continues to have is clear.
While his primary numbers keep dropping, at a bare minimum, Sanders has achieved his most essential goal: Pushing the United States towards a more liberal democracy. He must believe that he would be the best at seeing out the execution of that goal, and that’s why he is running for President. But at a primary level, he has ensured that, regardless of who the next Democratic nominee for President is, they will share his policies and grassroots support.
In that sense, his sinking poll numbers don’t matter. He could lose the primary and still win.
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