Recent months have made it clear that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the presidential election, regardless of what Democratic lawmakers and media elites argue. Sanders is the only candidate with a movement behind him, and it shows.
- National polling
In national polls for the Democratic presidential primary, Biden’s lead has fallen to 3% on the RealClearPolitics average, and in three polls, CNN , Reuters/Ipsos and NBC News/Wall St. Journal, Sanders is leading by 3, 1 and 1 points, respectively. An Iowa and/or New Hampshire victory, not to mention ones in Nevada or South Carolina, will only further propel him in national polling. A sweep, even more so.
- Early state polling
Morning Consult’s tracker has Sanders only 3 points behind Biden in the early primary states, primarily due to South Carolina.
However, Iowa votes first, and RealClearPolitics has Sanders up by an average of 3.5%. But the last three polls have Sanders winning Iowa by 7, 7, and 7 points.
Sanders is performing even better in New Hampshire polling, winning by an average of 9 points, with the latest poll going up to show a 15 point blowout.
A victory in Iowa and/or New Hampshire will more or less give Sanders the momentum to break out of the statistical tie he is in with Biden in Nevada. One poll had Biden up by 2 points, another had Sanders up by 1 point.
Joe Biden is currently up in South Carolina by 5 points to Sanders. The outcome of the early states, where in Iowa, Biden has only a moderate chance of winning, and in New Hampshire, where he has virtually no chance of winning at all – would determine Biden’s fate in South Carolina. If Sanders wins two or more of the three states voting before SC, Biden’s firewall could very well crumble.
3. Super Tuesday states and beyond
Even not counting the changes that will occur in the race due to the results of the first four states and some candidates possibly dropping out, Sanders looks well positioned for Super Tuesday states and beyond. Biden would still be expected to win the deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Tennessee), while there are states Sanders is already doing well in.
Sanders is leading the largest primary state, California, by 6 and 14 points in the last two polls. In the second largest primary state, Texas, Sanders is within 2 points of Biden’s lead, one that can very well be overturned.
Sanders is leading in Utah at 27%, according to the last poll, and is the only candidate with more than 15% support (and hence, is entitled to all the delegates). Expect a blowout in Vermont.
Further ahead, Sanders is already leading in other states such as Wisconsin, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon - and is within striking distance in states like Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Minnesota. He is also expected to do well in Kentucky, Maine, Alaska and Hawaii, given the 2016 results. Throughout the country, Sanders is surging in the polls.
- Sanders dominates among Independent voters
Polling finds that Sanders is the preferred choice of independent voters - 31% to Biden’s 16% and Warren’s 14%. Independents really matter in states with open primaries such as Colorado, New Hampshire, California and rust belt states - also, of course, in the general election.
- Young voters love Bernie
Young people support Bernie Sanders by a huge margin over other candidates – one poll shows him being the top choice of 39% of voters under 45. Another poll shows him at 32% among voters between 18-29 years of age. Morning Consult pegs Sanders’ support at 48% among 18-22 year olds, and at 41% among 23-38 year olds
- Sanders has the largest and most diverse base
More women donated to the Sanders campaign than to any other campaign, and make up half his base, with young women supporting him even more so than young men.
Working class voters form the core of Sanders’ base, retail workers (Walmart, Target), warehouse workers (Amazon), fast food workers (Starbucks, McDonalds), union workers, postal and communications workers, nurses and teachers.
Polling has also found that LGBTQ+ community supports Sanders – by a lot – 34% to Warren’s 19% and Biden’s 18%.
Biden’s lead among seniors is being eroded as Sanders has been publicizing the former Vice-President’s long record of support for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, reports The Intercept.
Sanders is the the most popular candidate for Latinx voters, getting the support of 34%, as against Biden’s 22%, according to Morning Consult.
In 2019, Sanders was the top candidate by far among young African American voters (leads by 12 points at 42%), but Biden usually led the average overall, given his astounding lead with African American seniors. In 2020, that gap among senior support is narrowing steadily.
Sanders is also the most popular choice for Muslim voters, with 39% of them picking him over Biden at 27% and Bloomberg/Warren at 9%.
More active duty military voters have donated to the Sanders campaign by far, than to any other campaign, including Trump’s.
- A gigantic volunteer army
Sanders has over a million volunteers signed up officially, with large canvassing, phonebank and textbanking armies. This is the largest volunteer base in American history. They have made nearly 11 million calls since January alone, surpassing the initial goal of 5 million. Their Iowa volunteers have knocked on over 500,000 doors.
- Fundraising and donors
Sanders has raised far more than his Democratic rivals – breaking records in terms of fundraising totals and donors – all without a Super PAC, lobbyist or big donor funding – raising over $96 million, $16 million more than his closest rival. He has over 5 million donations and over 1.3 million donors, averaging $18 per donation. He is left with the most cash on hand, to spend on a robust campaign organization as advertising. He has the highest number of donations and money from nearly each state in the country.
- The largest rallies
Sanders has consistently turned out the biggest rallies of the election season, whether it is in New York, California, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Iowa. Crowd enthusiasm is a good indicator of voter turnout, especially among the young, and it would be Sanders’ asset throughout the primary.
- Powerful surrogates
Bernie Sanders has by far the most powerful surrogates – and it was clearly on display while Sanders was holed up in Washington DC for the impeachment trial. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Nina Turner, Michael Moore, Ilhan Omar, Killer Mike, Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal and Dr. Cornel West – each one of them rock star public speakers - have all made Sanders rallies the most exciting political events in Iowa, while driving home the Sanders agenda to voters.
Warren has Ayanna Presley and Julian Castro, while Biden has John Kerry on the trail – but none of them were exceptionally effective in terms of crowd enthusiasm.
- Popularity/approval ratings
Sanders came Rank 1 among senators when it came to being liked by one’s own constituents. Beyond one’s own constituents, he is also the most popular senator across the country in a national poll.
- Organizational endorsements
Unions, progressive groups, youth groups and environmental groups have begun to enthusiastically back Sanders. These are groups that do work just to direct the vote of their members, but also actively campaign for their candidate on the ground, and in terms of manpower, are the most important endorsements to have.
- Trust on issues
Poll after poll shows that Bernie Sanders is the most trusted candidate on trade, the environment/climate change, on the economy and jobs, and on healthcare. The only metrics in which Biden wins is “candidate to take on Trump”, and in some cases foreign policy by a narrow margin, which is ironic given that Sanders beats Trump in head-to-head matchups just as much as Biden does.
Bernie Sanders is one of the few candidates whose standing in the polls took no damage during the primary debates, regardless of the constant attacks by moderators and other candidates. Biden got confronted over his support for segregationists, his record on criminal justice, his votes on Iraq, and will face further questions on social security. Warren’s flip flops on healthcare during the debates cost her badly. Buttigieg faced questions on his record on race as mayor and as a McKinsey consultant, as did Kamala Harris on her career as a public prosecutor.
Bernie keeps rising in the polls, in every state, unlike most candidates who are either stagnating or going downwards (in an extreme case, he gained 12 points in a Florida poll). Every month, he gets hundreds of thousands of new donors and volunteers. Each month, Bernie Sanders is the most googled candidate. He has the largest social media outreach, a podcast, videos, memes, notes news all over YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, far outstripping any US politician other than Obama and Trump – and his internet followers are only rising.
The author is a PhD researcher in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.