Bernie Sanders is the new frontrunner in the race to become the Democratic nominee, after a substantial win with the Nevada caucus. Who is the man who declares himself a “democratic socialist” seeking to become the next president of the United States? Here is all you need to know about Bernie Sanders and his road to the White House.

“That is a movement that is not only going to win in Nevada, it is going to sweep this country.” Senator Bernie Sanders is already thinking ahead after his recent election victory in the Nevada caucus. He won Nevada surprisingly clearly with 46.8%, leaving the second-placed Joe Biden (20.4%) far behind. Pete Buttigieg came in at 13.9%, and Elizabeth Warren 4th at 9.8%.

Bernie Sanders is making history with this result: he is the first candidate from either party to win all three early states in a competitive primary. After 26.5% in the first Iowa caucus in early February and 25.6% in the New Hampshire primaries, Sanders won almost half the votes in the recent Nevada caucus. Now he wants to go all the way and kick Donald Trump out of the White House: “Together, we accomplished what people said was impossible and won Nevada. And we’re not done yet.”

Bernie Sanders wins Nevada caucus: All about the new Democratic frontrunner
Bernie Sanders is the new Democratic frontrunner / picture credit: Gage Skidmore

Who is Bernie Sanders?

78-year-old Sanders is applying as Democratic nominee for the second time. In 2016, he lost the primary election to Hillary Clinton, who was eventually defeated by Donald Trump in the presidential election. Although Sanders is running in the race for the second time, he remains to some extent an outsider: he calls himself a democratic socialist and it was only last year that he re-joined the Democratic Party he hopes to lead in the fall presidential election.

Born in New York, Sanders became interested in politics at an early age. The atrocities of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler played an important role in this. Sanders once said about Hitler:

„He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

Sanders was not only interested in politics, but an active participant, although he lost his very first election. In High School, he ran for student body president finishing last out of three candidates.

Where did Sanders´ political career start?

Sanders was on his own early on. By the age of 20, he had already lost both his parents. At 23, he completed his studies in political science at the university of Chicago. He once said he was a “mediocre“ student because he found the classroom boring. He learned “infinitely more on the streets and in the community“ and by reading the works of Marx, Engels and Trotzky.

During his student days, he joined the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America and become an activist of the Civil Rights Movement. Together with several colleagues, Sanders protested the segregated campus housing policy at his university. They started an occupation and camped outside the university president’s office for thirteen days. The students, led by Sanders, demanded justice and equality for all students. Eventually, after further protests, the university of Chicago ended its racial segregation.

Bernie Sanders has been fighting inequality since the beginning of his political engagement.

Sanders gained his first important political function in 1981. He was elected Mayor of Burlington – largest city in Vermont – as an independent candidate. Sanders was subsequently confirmed in office three times. He last achieved national publicity when he moved into the House of Representatives in 1991. Since 2007, Sanders has been member of the US Senate – and he receives great support. In 2012, he was re-elected as senator with 71% of the vote and in 2018 with 67% of the vote.

Who are Sanders´ most important enemies?

Of course, Sanders is in competition with his Democratic rivals. But his real enemies are quite different. Bernie Sanders´ politics is for the many, not the few. He fights for real democracy instead of an American society ruled by a small group of huge corporations and super-wealthy individuals. However, these people have little interest in real democracy – it would reduce their profits and their power.

Most of the mass media willingly supports the status quo. They tend to report on high society rumours rather than on extreme inequality, even in a country where three individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of citizens. The Washington Post, for example, already attracted attention in the 2016 election campaign with negative reports about Bernie Sanders. In the current campaign, they commented on a Democratic debate arguing “that Mr. Sanders’s agenda would scare many Americans“ and that “some Democratic candidates are offering a more positive future“. What they didn’t elaborate was to whom this “more positive future” belongs – perhaps to the newspaper’s owner Jeff Bezos, ranked as the richest man in the world.

Another enemy of Bernie Sanders must be the health-care industry which fears a curb in profits through Sanders’ plan to establish a single-player national health insurance program for every American (“Medicare for All”). In 2018, an insurance industry front group formed to combat Medicare for All. This group, called Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, ran television and social media ads against Sanders’ healthcare reform during the recent Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. Democratic candidate Sanders answered the industry-financed ad with an ad of his own underlining that “it is the pharmaceutical industry that controls the United States Congress”.

What is Sanders´ campaign about?

What usually comes to your mind when you think about a political campaign? It’s perhaps something like speeches, television ads, promoting ideas and issues – any form of conversation between a candidate and voters. Bernie Sanders aims to break that wheel. Instead of continuously telling people his ideas, he asks people to tell him about their problems in “real life”. He builds his entire presidential campaign around an invitation to speak. And Bernie Sanders is going to listen.

Last year he asked his followers on Twitter about their most absurd medical bill. 50,000 people responded within a week. The intention of him asking people to talk about their anxieties is to make them feel less alone. Whether you live paycheck to paycheck, whether you struggle to afford heating in the winter, whether you can’t afford medicine you would actually need – Bernie Sanders´ campaign illustrates that there are millions of people with similar challenges. The campaign tries to convey: You deserve better. It’s not your personal failure, it’s the failure of a system we want to change.

This method of listening and trying to establish a sense of solidarity among the Americans makes Sanders´ presidential campaign unique. His campaign slogan makes this explicit: Not me. Us.

A perfect example of Sanders listening to people´s problems is the way he has dealt with Amazon’s working conditions. Amazon has raised the company’s minimum wage in the USA to 15 dollars in 2018 following sustained pressure from Sanders. More than 250,000 employees and more than 100,000 seasonal staff members benefited from that wage raise.

What are Sanders´ signature issues?

Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist. Per definition, democratic socialists want workers to control the means of production and do not support capitalism. Following their ideology, socialism should be achieved democratically.

Entering the race to the presidential election, Sanders promotes a handful of main issues:

  • Medicare for All: A national, single-payer, health insurance for every American.
  • Green New Deal: Transformation of the energy system to 100 percent renewable energy, creation of 20 million jobs to solve the climate crisis and re-joining the Paris Agreement.
  • College for All: Tuition and debt-free public colleges, universities, HBCUs, Minority Serving Institutions and trade-schools to all.
  • Workplace Democracy: Denying federal contracts to companies that pay poverty wages, outsource jobs overseas, engage in union busting, deny good benefits or pay CEOs outrageous compensation packages.
  • Housing for All: Ending the housing crisis by investing 2.5 trillion dollars to build nearly 10 million permanently affordable housing units.

After the Nevada caucus: What´s next for Bernie Sanders?

The road to the White House is still a long one. The Democratic nominee will be formally selected in mid-July when the Democrats hold their National Convention in Wisconsin. However, the decision will have been made earlier. The next decisive date is Super Tuesday on March 3. A total of 14 states will hold primary elections on that day. The last caucus takes place on June 6, in the Virgin Islands of the United States.

Till then, Sanders will remain to some extent an outsider. While some of his Democratic competitors receive donations in the millions or are wealthy themselves, more than half of Sanders’ donations are less than 200 dollars.

Bernie Sanders has been fighting for social equality all his life. Now the whole world is listening to the senator who seeks to become the next president of the United States.

picture credit: Michelle Prevost / Gage Skidmore