The Democratic candidate owes his rise in popularity to the strength of his public relations.
The mayor of the Plateau-Mont-Royal arrondissement, Luc Ferrandez, announced on Sunday that he was not going to seek re-election in 2017. His argument is mainly about the image he projects: “I want someone whose reputation does not precede him and who does not scare off the people of Montreal to replace me,” he declared to Le Devoir on Jan. 25. In other words, he has lost the public relations battle.
This declaration is a good representation of the wall the contemporary left often hits and the difficulty progressive leaders face in surviving the image war. Through their refusal to use public relations, or simply their bad understanding of the advantages that the use of these tools can bring, our choices on the left are often forced to remain in the shadows.
Yet, a recent political character proves the opposite. The Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who now seems to have a good chance of winning the New Hampshire primary, has mainly built his image in the last year through the strength of his public relations. Last May, a YouGov poll asked Americans their opinions on socialism and capitalism. Democratic respondents were divided on the topic then, with 43 percent giving a positive evaluation of each ideology. In October, after the beginning of the Sanders campaign, the same poll was taken and this time, the numbers had changed: 49 percent of respondents had a positive view of socialism and only 37 percent favored capitalism.
This rise of the Vermont senator (thanks to his public relations) is due in great part to the support he has sought among youth. The Facebook page “The People for Bernie Sanders 2016” is updated 15 times per day on average with very free status updates and photos of the politician’s agenda or further information on the advantages of socialism. To this, we should add the official Bernie Sanders page, which is updated with nearly the same frequency, as well as Twitter and other social media accounts. During the snowstorm that just hit the U.S., a series of memes (funny photos) was even published celebrating snow removal, which was described as “socialist work” on the page.
Since many Americans under 30 get their information on social networks, the use of these media by the senator’s public relations team is ingenious. Who would have believed that the use of the word “socialist” would have gone over so well during a race for the White House? Another more recent poll, published in December 2015, said that those aged between 18 and 29 now favor Sanders by 58 percent, as opposed to 35 percent who are for Hillary Clinton.
Rather Social Democratic
In the end, Sanders is probably much less of a Socialist and less radical than his reputation suggests. During his speech on democratic socialism this fall, more of a rather Keynesian Social Democrat emerged.* His arguments were about a better redistribution of wealth, increasing taxes on the big banks, but also about the establishment of a better social safety net and a more representative democratic system.
But beyond the question of knowing where Bernie Sanders really stands, it is, I repeat, his use of public relations to seek out young people under 30 that our left should keep in mind and even study. If Luc Ferrandez had used the same strategies, he might not have had to withdraw from the mayoral race. Couldn’t Quebec’s political parties, like Project Montreal or United Quebec, also aspire to a political revolution through the support of those under 30? The empirical example is right before our eyes.
*Editor's Note: According to Investopedia.com, Keynesian economics is "an economic theory of total spending in the economy and its effects on output and inflation. Keynesian economics was developed by the British economist John Maynard Keynes during the 1930s in an attempt to understand the Great Depression."