The results of delegate voting at the Republican National Convention were announced on July 19 officially nominating Donald Trump as the party’s presidential candidate against Democrat Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House. After several long months of pregame calisthenics during the primaries, the drama of the general election has only just begun, but the plot has already proven to be quite the nail-biter. Who will claim the final victory? Who will dig deep and pull ahead down the final stretch?
In the opinion of this author, the individual commanding the greatest sway over the votes garnered by each candidate in the general election will be one who has already lost; to wit, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders. Sanders recently made it official in declaring his support for Clinton to represent the Democratic Party in the race for the presidency. After many rounds of negotiations, Clinton in the end promised to incorporate into her own campaign platform Sanders’ propositions on education, health care, and the minimum wage, among other issues. The two camps have yet to close the gap on other matters such as foreign policy and extensive reforms pertaining to political contributions, however.
The Chinese media have largely focused on the Republicans’ offering in Trump, perpetually dogged by controversy as he is, and so have neglected the “political revolution” that Sanders has begun among young Americans and the impact that it will have on U.S. society and the future political direction of the country. Having gone from being a relatively unknown figure to having standing room only at his rallies, Sanders’ unflagging perseverance over the past several decades has encouraged a generation of young Americans to challenge the power of the mainstream political elite and re-establish a more decentralized democratic system. It is well worth noting that Sanders’ rise has drawn in a massive number of young and newly-minted voters, and that these neophytes’ loyalty to the “political revolution” that Sanders stands for far exceeds any attachment to the Democratic Party.
If we look only at core views, there is none who matches Trump more closely than Sanders. In each of his speeches during the primaries, Sanders decried the Democratic establishment of which Clinton is emblematic, as well as the Wall Street financiers that symbolize the top percent of the population controlling the vast majority of society’s wealth and resources. Promising to take “big money out of politics,” Sanders torpedoed the youth’s trust of political elites, and in its place instilled a sense of political thirst and enthusiasm within them. So when Sanders stands together with the establishment, announcing that he is prepared to do his utmost to ensure that Clinton becomes the next president of the United States, the resultant strong emotional disconnect is a bitter pill to swallow for many of his supporters, so much so that there are those among them who vow that they will “never vote for Hillary.”
Under these circumstances, Clinton’s ability to easily woo over the 13 million votes cast for Sanders during the Democratic primaries remains a dubious prospect. And although Clinton and her team have said that they have a game plan, events as they unfold will not necessarily be as favorable as they might expect.
As donkey and elephant find themselves matched hoof for hoof, this runoff from the Democratic reserves will probably be considerably more than what current poll results suggest. Sample sizes for popular polls are typically minuscule, with the newest U.S. general election poll samples hovering at around 1,000 or 2,000 people who are surveyed. Bias in sampling methods and the political leanings of survey designers can make for relatively large inaccuracies as well.
The truth of the matter is that a portion of young Democratic voters who supported Sanders will likely vote independent, while another segment will choose Trump in a fit of despair. Yet another portion will perhaps not vote at all, or will still write Sanders’ name on the ballot.
More than three months remain before the general election in November, and whether or not Clinton makes good on her promise to take guidance from Sanders’ political views for her general election campaign is a factor that will also be decisive in winning back Sanders supporters’ trust in the political elite, as well as their votes. Trump, for his part, is not sitting idle, but has extended the olive branch to disappointed and disaffected Sanders supporters, claiming that it is he who will continue the fight against the establishment and usher in change. As Sanders retires from the field, the contest between Clinton and Trump will, like that between “leavers” and “remainers,” be simplified into a binary choice: “keep the status quo,” or “change the status quo.” And should young voters “feeling the Bern” keep the embers of their disgruntlement and anger well stoked going into the general election, it’s a pound to a penny that they will be casting their votes for change.
The author currently works at an international institution within the United States.
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