With primary election season less than a month away, both Democrats and Republicans remain uncertain over who will become their eventual nominee. But one thing is clear: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have sent shockwaves across the country with their widespread popularity. So how are these candidates, often considered renegades by members of their own party, attracting support from all walks of life?
Not since the appearance of then-senator Barack Obama in 2008 and Ron Paul in 2012 have disillusioned voters seen such anti-establishment candidates (depending on your definition of the establishment) as genuine alternatives to politics as usual.
Trump and Sanders have been successful because of their ability to appeal to those who have stopped voting, or who feel at odds with the modern political establishment. While Sanders seems to be the leading voice on income inequality and mass incarceration, Trump brings public discourse towards our immigration system and Islamic extremism. In the eyes of their supporters, Trump and Sanders are raising issues that have, for the most part, disappeared from the national dialogue in the last few years.
Each candidate sheds light on issues that transcend party politics. They are issues that highlight what regular citizens are concerned about, and feel politicians have ignored. Despite how partisan certain views towards gun laws or Islamic extremism have become in recent years, both candidates are getting their opinions heard by people beyond their target audience. Their campaigns are utilizing media to widely disperse their viewpoints on issues long in need of solutions.
Sanders and Trump alike speak on their hot button issues with the audacity to voice their own opinions. To his supporters, what Trump says — on Islam, immigration and terrorism — has been left unsaid far too long. On the other side, Sanders has reinvigorated the debate on income inequality to a level unseen since the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Some may argue that the each candidate is running on a platform that will do nothing but harm their respective party. Bernie Sanders has been compared to Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the U.K. Labour Party. Both men are viewed in terms of their socialist, left-wing views. In places like the United Kingdom, Corbyn has been called “unelectable” for bringing his party to the hard left, as many people claim that his platform is unpopular to large swathes of the populace. But Bernie Sanders’ platform hits home in all parts of our society, putting to doubt this need to remain moderate to be electable.
Trump has been compared to U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Both men have used their hard-line voices to bring media attention toward immigration issues in a way that most people and the political elite would be careful to avoid. The appeal of Trump and Farage to their constituencies comes in part from each politician being unafraid to offend people in a rancorous, but real, debate over immigration.
It has also been said that Sanders and Trump are ploys by their respective party’s leadership to bring disillusioned voters to the polling station. Indeed, both candidates seem poised to increase party turnout in key target demographics. For example, blue-collar workers or college-educated adults may determine who steps into the White House in January 2017. But can we realistically see Trump or Sanders in the White House? Or does the populist platform just exist to re-engage a disenchanted part of the electorate tired of mainstream media, political classism and Washington inefficiency?
With all this talk about empowering voters, we will ultimately have to wait to see if either candidate can demonstrate enough power in the primaries to give him a chance to have his platform discussed in the general election. But it remains true that a scenario in which either Sanders or Trump is elected will disprove many theories about radical agendas. It will suggest that candidates with views closer to the fringes are not left or right-wing nut cases, but alternatives that can offer genuine change to the American political landscape.
Justin Chau is a new opinion columnist for the Aggie. Born and raised in San Francisco, he grew up watching the 49ers and Giants. His columns will deal with the dynamic nature of American politics as the 2016 election gets underway. A keen observer of the United Kingdom, Chau will also include tidbits from the political scene of America’s special cousin.
You can reach JUSTIN CHAU at firstname.lastname@example.org.