Does Bernie Sanders Have a Chance of Winning the 2016 Election?

The Socialist From Vermont and His Longshot Campaign

Bernie Sanders
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign for president in 2016 was once considered a long-shot but gained serious momentum early in the Democratic Party primaries. Sanders only narrowly lost the 2016 Iowa caucuses but overwhelmingly carried New Hampshire in its first-in-the-nation primary.

The lawmaker from Vermont, who describes himself as an independent socialist and is known for his wild unkempt shock of white hair, is taking on former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a prodigious fundraiser whose political skills and access to the party establishment made her the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Sanders drew much of his support from young voters, particularly those under 30 whose idealism and energy helped propel Barack Obama into the White House in 2008. Sanders also won over a significant portion of women voters early in the Democratic primaries, capitalizing on mistrust of the Clinton brand and the scandals that had plagued the former president and fist lady.

Campaign Themes

Sanders is appealing to many young, idealistic Democrats and independents because of his consistent advocacy for the working class and his harsh criticism of Wall Street and the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States. Sanders has been perhaps the most vocal advocate in Congress for fixing inequality.

“Our nation cannot survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little," Sanders has said.

That message resonated among progresses in the Democratic Party, a success  Sanders predicted when he announced his campaign.

“I've run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country," he told The Associated Press.

Sanders has also been a strong critic of money’s corrupting influence on politics, saying: “As a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, we now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates.

Let’s not kid ourselves. That is the reality right now.”

Nonetheless, Sanders equaled Clinton in fundraising early in the Democratic primaries.

Related Story: Why the Democrats Are Holding Their 2016 Convention in Philadelphia

So does Bernie Sanders really have a chance at becoming president, or even the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2016?

Here are some questions and answers about Sanders and his role in the election.

How Do I Know His Name?

Sanders rose to national prominence following the financial meltdown of the late 2000s and the federal government’s response to it, when the Americans were suffered from the worst recession since the Great Depression, an economic downturn known as the Great Recession.

In 2010, amid the recession, Sanders took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to protest Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans in a speech that became a social media sensation. Sanders filibustered for an impressive eight and a half hours. It wasn't among the longest filibusters ever, but the senator made his point. 

What Are His Chances?

Sanders has a very loyal group of supporters, mostly independent voters. That much is clear. But his support was initially believed to be concentrated in his home state of Vermont.

Sanders told The Washington Post that he has the organization to be victorious, and that became clear during the early primaries.

"In order for someone like me to be a viable candidate, you need to have a big grass-roots following. A large, large number of people who can knock on doors. That's what I've been doing for a long time. It's worked pretty well for me so far," Sander said.

But his 2016 presidential campaign was his first-even national campaign, putting him at a disadvantage to the much more experienced Hillary Clinton. When Sanders launched his campaign, public opinion polls showed his candidacy would be inconsequential.

But he quickly began drawing massive crowds across the United States, then raising lots of money. Clinton and the press started paying close attention when Sanders virtually tied Clinton in Iowa but won 84 percent of the vote from Democrats ages 17 to 29.

They were floored when Sanders carried New Hampshire in a landslide, winning 60 percent of the vote to Clinton's 38 percent.

Role in the Democratic Primary

So why did Sanders decide to run when it appeared the odds were enormous? Initially, challengers mount unlikely campaigns so they can influence the discussions their party and voters will have about the direction of their party and, potentially, the presidency.

Sanders initially thought he could force Clinton and the party to be a little more progressive, or liberal. “His presence in the race ensures that Hillary Clinton will be pressed continually and consistently from the left — and now potentially from across the debate stage,” Rick Klein of ABC News reported.

What Does the Democratic Party Think of Sanders?

The Democratic National Committee publicly welcomed Sanders to the primary content, saying: “Having a wide range of progressive views in this race is good for the dialogue of our party and for our country. And Bernie Sanders is a progressive champion ... Throughout his career, he's been a fierce advocate for working families and has a strong record of supporting equal pay for women, working to raise the minimum wage, taking action on climate change, and fighting for an economy that works for the middle class. We couldn't be more excited to hear him to say he's in.”

Privately, though, the party was cringing. Political parties try to avoid messy, protracted primary battles because they cost money and often inflict damage on the eventual nominee, leaving them beaten up as they head into the general election.

Hasn’t Sanders Run for President Before?

No, he has not. But many of his supporters tried to recruit him to run against President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Sanders declined, saying at the time: "I am very content to be where I am, but I am flattered by that kind of response," he said of his supporters.