Although the United States presidential election is over a year away, campaigning has well and truly begun, and the conventional wisdom says that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination at a breeze. Her instant name recognition, years of experience as both a Senator and Secretary of State in the Obama administration, and a powerful fundraising machine that has raised over $45 million since April, positions her handsomely as the front runner to take her party’s nomination into the general election next year.
This is, however, an all too familiar situation for Clinton. She was the frontrunner in the 2008 election, but Barack Obama’s popular message, enthusiastic and emotional speeches, and his prior opposition to the Iraq War (Clinton had voted in favour of war) all paved the way to his eventual historic election triumph.
Fast forward to 2015, and yet again Hillary Clinton is the unquestionable front-runner, but noises are beginning to be heard from the progressive wing of the party, in the form of Bernie Sanders.
As a 73-year-old white, male Senator from Vermont, who has been in the United States congress for almost twenty five years, Bernie Sanders does not exactly seem like the face of change, with the “YES WE CAN!” appeal used by Barack Obama so successfully in 2008, but his principled positions and genuine message focused on reducing inequality establish him as a candidate that regular Americans can truely believe in.
A self-described ‘democratic-socialist’, Sanders has announced a number of progressive policies that he would look to implement as President, including:
- Abolishment of undergraduate tuition fees at all public universities, to be paid for by a tax on financial transactions on Wall Street.
- Introduction of a ‘free at the point of use’ health care system for all Americans, similar to that of the NHS in the UK.
- The break up of the biggest banks, to keep the economy secure and prevent the possibility of another bailout funded by the taxpayer, saying; “If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.”
Sanders’ support has been increasing rapidly since he announced his bid for the presidency. Poll numbers in the ever-important state of Iowa – the first state to vote in the presidential primaries – are up to 30%, from under 5% at the end of January. He is also attracting bigger crowds than any other presidential candidate, with an estimated 7,500 people at his latest event in Portland, Maine. Asked why his message has become so popular, and why so many people are turning out, he said the answer was simple:
“The American people understand that establishment politics and establishment economics are not working for the middle class.”
If Sanders is right, this could be troublesome for Hillary Clinton, who is seen as the establishment choice for the Democratic nomination. Her long held ties with big business and Wall Street, as well as her past support of American interventionist foreign policy and global trade deals place her as a stark contrast to Bernie Sanders and his anti-establishment message.
Clinton is still the heavy favourite, but she cannot allow any complacency if she is to avoid a repeat of 2008.