In 2016, Paula and David Grapes voted for Donald Trump. But this year the married couple hope that Senator Bernie Sanders becomes the next leader of the United States. “He’s the last honest politician,” said Paula Grapes, 54. In March, she and an estimated 15,000 others gathered at a Chicago rally in Grant Park, wearing shirts and pins with Sanders’ name and image and holding blue and white “Bernie” signs.
The shift from a Republican to a Democrat, particularly from Trump to Sanders, may seem radical; however, Nick Kachiroubas, an election expert and professor at DePaul University’s School of Public Service, said it’s not as odd as it may appear because many Trump voters wanted (and continue to want) an atypical politician. “They still want somebody who’s an outsider, somebody who’s different, who doesn’t think like what they would consider to be the political mainstream,” Kachiroubas said. “And although Bernie’s policies are 100% different, he provides them another alternative that’s similar in style.”
The Grapes chose Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 in part because they dislike “old school” politicians, and they still do. Yet, substance matters just as much to them when it comes to Sanders.
Having lived in London and Australia, they see health insurance as a human right — believing universal coverage helps everyone and lets people avoid taking a less desirable job for health insurance benefits. Paula Grapes, whose husband was president of W. W. Patterson Company, primarily a marine hardware business, said Sanders’ plan will benefit employees the most in terms of wages. “[Companies] could be giving you wages, higher wages, if they didn’t have to pay these godly amounts [to] private insurance,” she said. “They make no money off of it. It’s a huge profit for hospitals and doctors. It’s pathetic. It’s really pathetic.”
With Joe Biden sweeping Arizona, Florida and Illinois and leading by 303 delegates, Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic nomination continues to decrease. But the senator from Vermont, who has come a long way since winning by a mere 10 votes to become mayor of Burlington in 1981, has given little indication of quitting, telling Seth Meyers last week that he will continue his campaign to “raise public consciousness” about issues that matter to his supporters.
Since announcing he was running for president again, Sanders has promoted universal health care, tuition-free college, the elimination of college debt and a federal minimum wage of $15 among other issues. Young people’s enthusiasm for these policies and support of Sanders has been well documented (51% hold a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view in a recent poll), but they aren’t the only ones who believe in the senator’s revolution. Sanders message has resonated with a far more diverse group of people than most realize, reaching individuals across all backgrounds and demographics. If Biden does win the Democratic nomination, he will have to work hard to convince these unlikely Sanders supporters to vote for him.
Many of the Vermont senator’s supporters don’t want the status quo. “Bernie Sanders is a very compelling candidate for those who want fundamental change in the system as opposed to reform of the system,” said Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University who predicted eight of the last nine presidential elections.
Unlike most baby boomers, Edward Bouchard, 78, wants revolution over reformation. In the summer of 1966, he took a job as a project house worker at the Warren Avenue Congregational Church in Chicago, which Martin Luther King Jr. used as headquarters for his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That summer, as a recent college graduate, he marched with King for civil rights. Influenced by the movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, his political ideology became liberal.
Bouchard, born in 1941 like Sanders, feels a kinship with the 78-year-old senator because they shared pivotal moments in history and fought for the same causes. Self-identifying as middle class, he finds the current healthcare system taxing on his finances. “Even with Medicare, it’s problematic. I can’t get all the health care I need without paying more money than I have. It’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s criminal,” he said.