The long presidential campaign in the United States began with an unexpected result in the Democratic Party primaries: the landslide victory of Bernie Sanders — a little-known senator, 74 years old, who defines himself as a socialist — in New Hampshire over Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and former secretary of state, who was profiled as the favorite to succeed Obama.
According to surveys, the quantitative explanation of Sanders' triumph is the growing participation of young voters among those whose preference for Sanders is extremely high — more than 80 percent of those under 30 voted for him, while Clinton is the preferred candidate by 69 percent of those over 65.
The dissatisfaction of young people in the United States with the candidates and traditional politics — seen as part of the establishment — is a reflection of the frustration and desperation with which they look to their future. Many of them are unemployed or barely have temporary work contracts; those who manage to go to college take on high debts to pay for their enrollment, and now do not have sufficient incomes to pay for it; and all of them see the experience of their parents, who have not improved their living conditions in the last 30 years, while they have seen the obscene prosperity of an extremely tiny privileged minority.
The perception that the traditional political system is corrupt through and through and that it just serves the interests of the minority is generalized in almost all of the Western world, and therefore, movements like Podemos or Ciudadanos in Spain, or [similar movements in] Syria and Greece have taken such force, and that is why the English Labor Party elected left-wing Jeremy Corbyn to Parliament.
Returning to Sanders, there are two questions that need to be analyzed: How socialist and revolutionary are his proposals? And, what chance does he have of becoming president?
Economically, what Sanders is proposing sounds revolutionary in the U.S., and he is being stigmatized as a socialist, but in Europe, these would be considered timid liberal reforms: universal health coverage, free public university, increasing the minimum wage, and higher taxes on the more wealthy.
His political proposals seem more radical, in particular reforming the financing of campaigns to free the candidates from the control of multimillionaires, Wall Street and large corporations. However, they are reforms that just intend to realize Lincoln's idea of a "government of the people by the people for the people."*
Although his ideas may be very sound and attractive for young people, the truth is that Sanders has a low probability of becoming president of the U.S. First, because he is going to face all the power of the country’s owners, who will not skimp on resources in a hard campaign to discredit and crush him, since they are panicked about seeing their privileges cut and need a government they can influence in order to continue keeping them.
Second, because American society is still very conservative; it is not just that a fringe lunacy still rejects the theory of evolution, denies global warming and is going to vote for Trump, but also that the American media thinks that access to universal health care is communism.
Chances are that Democrats will opt for Hillary Clinton, a less radical progressive, as their candidate and that Republicans will also choose someone less radical and reactionary than Trump or Cruz. What would be stunning, and would be unpredictable in its results, would be an electoral campaign between Sanders and Trump.
*Editor’s Note: This is a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863.