It’s happening all over again. Six months ago, Hillary Clinton was crushing Bernie Sanders according to head-to-head nationwide polls. Three months ago her 60-point lead was cut to 40. At the start of January, a PEW poll suggested that Clinton still held a 20% lead over Sanders. Now, new polling shows that Clinton only holds a 13 point national lead.
In a Democratic race that started out as a no-brainer, Clinton has once again found herself up against an opponent underestimated by both her camp and the media. One year ago, Bernie Sanders was a virtually unknown figure; his radical progressive ideology largely blocked or ignored in Congress. 12 months on, Bernie’s message of equal pay, a national health service accessible to all, and comprehensive campaign finance reform to ‘get money out of politics’ is resonating with large swathes of the American nation. For all her financial backing and household name recognition, Hillary Clinton effectively tied with Sanders in Iowa and, as predicted, lost New Hampshire. Although the polls had indicated that Bernie would win New Hampshire easily, the scale of his victory was much more profound than originally supposed. Sanders, on both occasions, outperformed the polls.
So, what has changed so dramatically over the last year?
The foremost factor is that the American people are angry, and are not afraid to say so. They are sick of the establishment media and the same old politicians in Washington. As Sanders has consistently addressed in his campaign, they are particularly enraged about lobbying firms such as the Koch brothers and Goldman Sachs pouring money into the political system in return for long-term financial gain. Politicians are essentially being ‘bought’. US citizens know they are being misrepresented by their state officials and, as such, this anger has manifested in the surprising emergence of two none-mainstream outsiders from either side of the isle: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Although both candidates differ vastly, neither are ‘bought’. Both say what they think, and both have pointed out the influence that large corporations have over the American government. It is this unabashed desire to campaign for a fairer political system that has driven voters to Bernie.
Secondly, due to the anti-establishment sentiment brewing among the populace, politicians associated with Washington are becoming less popular with voters. Hillary Clinton is suffering directly from this trend. Despite serving the public for the best part of four decades, and supporting popular, progressive reforms to improve women’s rights and expand child healthcare programmes, Clinton has lost the sincerity that once made her so attractive to the public. Clinton’s views have vacillated over the past few decades (even between 2008 and now) – something that has been challenged continually during this campaign. People want to know exactly what motivates her desire to become President. And, evidence of insincere beliefs makes voters question whether she will keep her promises while in office.
Moreover, Clinton is suffering from her relationship with Wall Street. Over the last several debates, Sanders and the moderators have consistently questioned and spotlighted her association with large campaign donors. A lot of debate has centred on the speaking fees she has received from investment companies. Indeed, in 2013 Clinton made $10 million in speaking fees alone. Of course, Hillary refutes the suggestion that speaking fees have had any influence on her campaign. However, her principles appear rather flimsy when compared to Sanders, who refuses to take money from super-pacs or large corporations. Clinton is obviously aware that Sanders’ message is resonating with many voters and is attempting to replicate his passionate attitude by formulating new strategies to tackle tax-evading corporations. However, many voters question why she has only recently developed this approach.
Hillary Clinton was caught flat-footed by the momentum of the Sanders’ campaign and was left unprepared to counter his policies. Bernie’s popularity and sheer conviction has highlighted Clinton’s deficiencies. However, an effective tie and a substantial primary loss does not spell the end for Clinton. She is still the favourite, still expected to win and recently won in Nevada by a relatively comfortable margin. The key talking point that has arisen out of the last month is the issue of electability. Sanders has gone from a ‘zero-chance’ to a viable, highly electable candidate – beating all the Republican candidates in head-to-head polls nationwide. Consequently, Clinton has lost her aura of inevitability. Having supposedly been unbeatable, the first two results in Iowa and New Hampshire stripped the sheen from Hillary’s campaign. We should not be surprised if Clinton emerges as the ultimate winner. However, she is most certainly feeling the Bern.