The Democratic Primaries: Is there an alternative to establishment politics?

Aidan Priestley

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Voter Beware Photocredit: outtacontext (Flickr)
Voter Beware Photocredit: outtacontext (Flickr)

Welcome back to another update on the nomination process for the next Democratic candidate for President of the United States. For an introduction to the two potential nominations for candidacy, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, take a look here. In this post we are going to look at how the race has shaped up so far. Over the last week there have been dramatic wins for the Sanders campaign winning 5 out of the last 6 State Primaries with a share of over 70% of the vote. Sanders lost in the state of Arizona, however the voting process there has been called into question over allegations of voter suppression and election fraud, with many questioning the validity of the results.

 

Moving past that for the time being we turn our eye to the race as it stands. At this time Clinton has the lead over her competitor with 1243 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 980, a roughly 20% advantage. From the beginning the Bernie Sanders campaign had an uphill struggle. The Vermont Senator is an independent as opposed to Democrat, although he is broadly described as sharing Democratic ideals. Where there is some danger to his bid for Presidential candidacy comes from his being a self-described democratic socialist.

 

Socialism is not a popular word by any means in the United States, while Europe is traditionally more open to socialist policies, though just barely, in the US socialism is equated directly to communism. The label of socialism alone is enough to deter voters and fears among the superdelegates would include a bolstered conservative turnout if a socialist vied for Presidency. Sanders’ own campaign recognises this and as such would not seek to alienate voters by pushing a ‘socialist agenda’ specifically they aim to appeal to an anti-establishment sentiment among voters.

 

The Clinton name is entrenched in American establishment politics; in particular Hillary has been at the centre of the Democratic political machine for decades, it is for this reason that suggestions arise that election fraud benefits the establishment candidates. Criticisms of Hillary come in the form of her relationship with Wall Street, the infamous finance capital, and her seemingly malleable positions on controversial issues. Specifically there is extensive archive footage regarding Hillary’s views on gay marriage rights, which she strongly opposed until relatively recently.

Wall Street Woes Photocredit: A. Golden (Flickr)
Wall Street Woes Photocredit: A. Golden (Flickr)

Further criticism comes from Hillary’s financing of her campaign. The Sanders campaign boasts its average donation received is less than $50 while over 90% of donations are under $250. Donations come in the forms of individual contributions and Political Action Committees (PAC) which pool individual contributions into lump sums subject to maximum limits depending on community size.

 

The Sanders campaign also specifically and outright refused to accept what are called Super PAC donations, which are fundraising mechanisms wherein a company can donate a substantial sum, which exceeds the maximum permitted donation limits, to a political campaign. A review of top 20 donors reveals that the highest paying contributor to the Sanders campaign comes from Alphabet Inc (GOOGLE) at $163,339 and in 20th position a donation from the University of Washington at $21,400.

 

Contrast with Clinton’s campaign funding the same review of top 20 donors reveals that Hillary Clinton received over  seven million dollars, $7,038,800  to be exact, from the Soros Fund Management an investment bank and in 20th position DreamWorks Animation SKG donated over 1 million dollars, precisely $1,007,451. The main criticism levelled toward Hillary in this regard comes from the disconnect with the average American citizen that such huge sums of money must bring. Specifically, Clinton’s donations from investment banks. the same banks which are considered largely responsible for the huge growth in inequality in the United States.

 

The Democratic Presidential candidacy campaign of 2016 has been something of a double-edged sword; Sanders political strategy is operating based upon a principal of solidarity and citizen funded anti-establishment politics. His slogan is to bring an end to corporate America and restore the rights of the citizen. Hillary on the other hand is operating a traditional approach accepting the donations she needs to mount a larger more widespread campaign to reach more voters and is relying on establishment infrastructure to support her campaign through name recognition and the woman’s vote.

End the Corporations Photcredit: elycefeliz (Flickr)
End the Corporations Photcredit: elycefeliz (Flickr)

The Sanders campaign appeals to the disenfranchised voters while his consistency in policies and principles attest to his effectiveness and integrity; a fact which has earned him undisputed loyalty from his supporters and numerous small but meaningful donations. The Clinton campaign has massive resources with name recognition and an astute political strategy with wider reach and scope that can attract a larger, potentially less well informed, voter base.

 

However, Sanders is limited by his principles of refusing large donations and as such has difficulty reaching voters, whereas Clinton is alienating potential voters and further deepening the wedge between her and the disenfranchised electorate. Ironically, or perhaps justly, the very specific strength to each campaign constitutes their greatest weakness. Although the winner is still far from decided, one thing that is certain is the Democratic candidacy race constitutes one of the most significant philosophical democratic developments in US politics as each candidate represents fundamental ideologically opposed systems of government.

 

Stay tuned for updates as the Primaries continue and come back to read about the rise of non-traditional politics in the international arena as we look to some of our European counterparts.

 

 

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Aidan Priestley