Supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are already calling on him to run for president in 2020.
The Vermont politician has yet to confirm or deny his second bid for the presidency but multiple news outlets have hinted at the possibility.
Regardless of his rumored political aspirations for the next presidential election, the impact Sanders had on the 2016 campaign trail and Democratic Party politics is lasting.
“Democratic candidates do want to capture something that Sanders captured,” said David Hopkins, associate professor of political science at Boston College, “They want enthusiastic supporters, they want to bring in younger supports, they want lots of small dollar donations.”
In order to obtain the kind of support Sanders’ garnered, Hopkins said he believes democratic candidates will work to follow the path forged by the senator in 2016.
Sanders’ campaign during the presidential election thrust his view of democratic socialism into mainstream American politics on a nationwide scale. He promoted universal healthcare, affordable college tuition and a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.
He financed his campaign on small donor contributions to maintain his signature stance against the “1 percent” and, by June of 2016, Sanders raised $229.1 million independent of PACS and Super PACS compared to Hillary Clinton’s $238.2 million, according to a New York Times article.
Elected to the Senate in 2006, Sanders is the longest-standing independent in U.S. congressional history. He caucuses with the Democratic Party, which provides him with committee assignments. Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist.
But is there a place for any kind of socialism in the politics of a largely capitalist nation? David Karpf, associate professor at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, suggested that the tide may be changing in terms of support of democratic socialism in American politics.
This was evident in Virginia’s election in November 2017 when Lee Carter, who ran openly as a socialist on the Democrat ticket, ousted Republican House Delegate and majority whip Jackson Miller, Karpf said.
According to John Tryneski, co-chair for the Electoral Working Group — a division of the Chicago branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, the organization’s membership base grew from roughly 2,000 national members to over 30,000 national members following the 2016 election.
Candidates championing progressive values have aligned themselves with prominent democratic socialists such as Sanders. This was apparent at a rally last month for Jesús “Chuy” García (D), who is running for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) congressional seat in Illinois’ 4th District. Sanders gave the headlining speech and endorsed Garcia but remained mum on a run for the presidency. His candidacy galvanized millennial voters in the 2016 primaries.
According to Steve Brown, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Illinois, the goal is to energize every vote regardless of the person’s age and to make sure the candidates are using every platform available to them to get their message across, up and down the ballot.
“From the party’s perspective the goal is to make democratic candidates as welcoming as possible. The goal is to get as many people to vote as we can,” said Brown when asked if the party felt Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid inspired a shift in the way Democrats campaign.
Despite the overwhelming response in support for Sanders from millennials in the primaries leading up to the presidential election, voters aged 18-29 had the lowest turnout at the polls of any age group in 2016. Regardless, their age group was the only one to see an increase in voter turnout since 2012, according to the United States Census Bureau.
This could mean a shift of power, according to Seth McKee, associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University. He said he believes special elections since the 2016 election provide evidence of a constituency that will remain energized through the 2018 midterms.
The special election in Pennsylvania earlier this week reinforced McKee’s position that the upcoming midterms could be a “course correction.” Conservative Democrat Conor Lamb narrowly won the available congressional seat over Republican Rick Saccone in a district that President Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016.