Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE (I-Vt.) lost the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he won the war to make the Democratic Party more progressive.
The best example of his impact on the party is his strong advocacy for health care reform. Every major Democratic presidential candidate either supported Medicare For All or, like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE, favored a major expansion of the Affordable Care Act.
Even Biden feels the Bern! The day after Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign, the presumptive Democratic nominee announced an expansion of Medicare for Americans between 60 and 65. He also acknowledged another part of the Sanders agenda with a proposal to forgive tuition debt for students of public colleges and universities.
However, the biggest legacy of Sanders’ two presidential campaigns will be his young supporters. He activated a generation of progressive millennials who will dominate and lead the Democratic party over the next generation. They will replace the current Democratic leadership of baby boomers who earned their spurs in the Clintons’ presidential campaigns.
Many of these millennials are already running for office or will run in the future. Even more young activists will manage and staff these candidates. This new generation of Democratic leadership can learn a lot from the two Sanders campaigns but there are other things they can do differently.
The success of the young Bernie brigade will be its willingness to meld innovative and traditional campaign techniques.
Bernie blazed the trail in the use of social media, which will be a staple of campaigns for decades to come. Sanders proved candidates could outraise and outspend their opponents with online contributions from individual supporters. Since they don’t need to rely on special interest campaigns to win, public interest candidates need not be at a disadvantage any longer when they run against corporate backed candidates. This alone will make politics more progressive and democratic.
The need to adapt the innovative techniques developed by the two Sanders campaigns should not stop the new generation of progressive candidates and activists from trying some of the approaches from tried-and-true traditional campaigns. There are lessons the new generation of Democratic leaders can learn from the old guard.
The two Sanders presidential campaigns were focused almost exclusively on issues but it’s necessary for a winning candidate to have a strong personal narrative to complement the issue content. A personal story goes a long way in a political campaign. Creating a winning message without a strong personal component is like trying to bake bread without adding yeast.
The young people who supported the senator from Vermont were issue oriented but many of the other Democrats who voted in the caucuses and primaries were personality oriented. It would have been easier for Sanders to win over voters of his own generation if he had shared more personal stories with them. These people vote for people not for policies. Sanders’ reluctance to talk about himself was unfortunate since he has a long history of personal activism fighting for causes that are vital to the survival of American democracy.
As eager as Sanders was to discuss his support for Medicare for All, he was reluctant to paint a personal portrait. Data from the primary caucus exit polls tell the story. A big majority of voters in every state favored Sanders’ signature proposal, but his vote always fell far behind the support for his solution to the health care crisis.
In Texas for example, Democratic primary voters favored a government-run single-payer health care system by almost a two to one margin (63 percent to 34 percent). But only two out of five of those people (39 percent) voted for the lead Senate sponsor and strongest advocate of the legislation. Biden received 25 percent of the support from voters who favored a health care policy he opposed. Policies that polarize go over easier when they come from a candidate that voters are very comfortable with personally.
It may be Sanders’ last hurrah as a presidential candidate, but his presence will be felt by the Democratic party and in American politics for years. William Jennings Bryan was a presidential candidate three times in 1896, 1900 and 1908, and though he never won, his strong stand for economic populism profoundly changed the Democratic Party from a states’ right party to a movement for national government-led economic reform. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal owes a great debt to Bryan’s campaign platforms. Bernie Sanders leaves a legacy that is just as lasting.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.