One of the stories I find most interesting about the 2016 presidential race is Bernie Sanders’ head-on engagement with his self-described identity as a democratic socialist. Most rational observers would have predicted Bernie would distance himself from the label as he launched and then ramped up his presidential campaign last spring. But like nearly everything else about Bernie’s campaign, he defied expectations and did exactly the opposite, leaning in to the label, and even going so far as to give a high-profile speech devoted to defining what he means by the label.
Here’s the fascinating thing: across a huge swath of Bernie’s positions, his views align with the majority of Americans. In other words, while most Americans don’t identify as democratic socialists (as Bernie does), and while the label itself might sound radical, most Americans actually agree with Bernie on a wide range of issues.
- According to a 2014 Pew poll, Americans agree in huge numbers with Bernie that inequality – the gap between rich and poor – has grown. And a comparably huge percentage think the government should do “a lot” or “some” to reduce the gap.
- Sixty-three percent of Americans believe “money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people,” another of Bernie Sanders’ central political views.
- Americans are generally aligned with Bernie’s views on paying for college. More Americans agree with Bernie (46%) that tuition should be free at public colleges and universities than disagree (41%). And a huge majority (62%) believes “no family and no student should have to borrow to pay tuition at a public college or university.”
- Americans strongly support raising the minimum wage. A 2014 Quinnipiac poll found that 71% support increasing it to $10.10 per hour, while a Hart Research poll earlier in 2015 found a comparable level of support for more significant increases.
- In a recent AP/GfK poll, another huge majority – two-thirds – “favor requiring all employers to give time off to employees after the birth of a child.” This is consistent with Bernie’s outspoken support for passing the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act.
- A large majority of Americans (more than 60%) believe that some corporations and wealthy people don’t pay their faire share in taxes.
This is obviously a snapshot, and the story is much more complex and nuanced, but I think one of Bernie’s most important insights is that more Americans than not genuinely believe much of what he believes. This is an insight that has carried him over the years from low single digits in his early statewide races in Vermont to reelection in the U.S. Senate with more than 70% of the vote. The extent to which he can communicate this to enough voters (and overcome the power of the party establishment) to win the primary and then the general election remains to be seen (although he has so far shredded every prediction about his ability to draw crowds, raise money, and earn support among voters). But if his policy and political views sound radical I think it’s largely because there is a sizable gap between how far rightward electoral politics has shifted (and the way the media reports on American politics) and the things that Americans actually believe.
(Big h/t to Fusion for pulling a bunch of these links together.)