Bernie Sanders Bio

The Political and Personal Life of Vermont's Independent Socialist

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

Bernie Sanders is one of only two candidates for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and drew large crowds in the run-up to the party primaries because of his passionate speeches about income inequality in the corrupting influence of money in the American political system. 

But because of his identification as a socialist, Sanders was considered unlikely to win and not seen as a credible candidates in the general election. He polled well behind presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Here are some key facts about Bernie Sanders.


Sanders is a graduate of Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York. He earned a bachelor of science degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1964.

Professional Career

The official government biography for Sanders lists his previous nonpolitical occupations as carpenter and journalist.

A 2015 profile of Sanders by Politico reporter Michael Kruse quoted a political ally as saying his work as a carpenter was rudimentary and not good enough to support his family. It also detailed Sanders' freelance work for the Vermont Freeman, a small alternative newspaper in Burlington called the Vanguard Press and a magazine called Vermont Life.

Non of his freelance work paid much, though.

Political Career and Timeline

Sanders was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 and took office on Jan. 3, 2007. He was re-elected in 2012. Prior to serving in the upper chamber of Congress he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, after several unsuccessful attempts at winning election to higher office.

Here's a summary of Sanders' political career:

  • 1972: Unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate as an independent
  • 1972: Unsuccessfully ran for governor of Vermont as an independent
  • 1974: Unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate as an independent
  • 1976: Unsuccessfully ran for governor of Vermont as an independent
  • 1981: Won election to mayor of Burlington, Vermont, by 10 votes
  • 1986: Unsuccessfully ran for governor of Vermont as an independent
  • 1988: Unsuccessfully ran for Congress as an independent
  • 1989: Left office as mayor of Burlington, Vermont
  • 1990: Won election to the U.S. House of Representatives
  • 2006: Won election to the U.S. Senate for the first time
  • 2007: Left the U.S. House of Representatives after eight two-year terms
  • 2012: Won re-election to the U.S. Senate
  • 2015: Launched a campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination

Personal Life

Sanders was born on Sept. 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York. He is once divorced and is remarried. He has one child, a son named Levi. 

Key Issues

Sanders is most passionate about income inequality in the United States. But he is also outspoken about racial justice, women's rights, climate change, and reforming how Wall Street works and getting big money out of American politics. But he has identified the disruption of the American middle class as the issue of our time.

"The American people must make a fundamental decision. Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy? These are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country."

On Socialism

Sanders is not shy about his identification as a socialist. “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 has said.

Net Worth

Next to the likes of Donald Trump, who claimed he was worth $10 billion, and millionaires Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, Sanders was poor. His net worth in 2013 was estimated at $330,000 by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. His 2014 tax returns showed he and his wife earned $205,000 that year, including his $174,000 salary as a U.S. senator.