One of the biggest surprises in this year’s most surprising U.S. presidential election campaign has been the appeal of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s rival to become the Democratic Party candidate.
In theory, Sanders has no hope of winning the nomination of a party he did not even join until last year. But time after time, he has turned theory on its head.
One year ago, opinion polls showed fewer than seven percent of Democratic voters behind him, compared to 62 percent for Clinton. But Sanders has won seven consecutive state primaries in the race for delegates to the party convention in Philadelphia, where the candidate will be named on July 28.
Sanders now has 1,068 delegates to Clinton’s 1,756. Both are campaigning vigorously in New York State, where 291 delegates will be chosen on April 19, and in Pennsylvania, which will elect another 210 one week later. Convincing wins in those states would take Clinton close to the threshold of 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination before the convention.
In theory, Clinton should walk away with the New York election. She represented the state as a U.S. senator from 2001 to 2009, and has been endorsed by the governor of the state and by the mayor of New York City.
Polls show Clinton ahead of Sanders among Democrats nationwide. But in some surveys she lags Sanders badly among young voters, and he keeps winning state primaries.
How has a 74-year-old politician managed to win over young people, including millions of young women who might have backed Clinton’s bid to become the first woman president?
Below, two young French activists describe their experiences working as volunteers for Sanders in the states of Iowa, Nevada and Ohio.
(by Robert Holloway)
Campaigning in the United States is very different from France.
For a start, there is a huge amount of door-to-door work, and that brings you into direct contact with voters. Talking to them is a very rewarding experience and makes the candidate better known.
It is striking how much information-gathering there is. Every time we met a member of the public, we had to take notes and enter them into a data bank for campaign follow-up.
The strangest part was the primary election system. We had seen only French presidential elections, where the whole country votes at the same time and as one constituency.
In the United States, each state organizes its own primaries, which are spread out over several months and use different methods of voting. This means an election is a drawn-out process, with its successes, disappointments and come-backs.
One way of picking a candidate is a caucus meeting, where supporters of a political party meet, discuss and decide in open debate. We found this an interesting idea in terms of citizen involvement, but it raised very some worrying questions. How representative is a caucus meeting of the electorate as a whole? And what about secret ballots?
My most memorable experience came in Nevada, as volunteers I had trained returned to the Sanders headquarters, one after one, excited to describe their feelings. The results started rolling in, and everyone was very excited. It was precisely then, as we celebrated together, that I realized how significant the movement we had created was.
My most disagreeable experience? I remember that on the day of the caucus meeting in Nevada, there weren’t enough Democratic Party subscription forms in many voting stations.
You have to be a signed-up party member if you want to take part, and long lines of irritated people were starting to form. My biggest worry was that all these people standing in line would not be able to vote.
I spent two hours on the phone in the office trying to get volunteers to bring the forms where they were needed. I had three phones ringing at once! In the end we managed to get everyone signed on, but it was a particularly stressful time!
What do I think about Donald Trump? I think he is a candidate who is attracting some people because he projects strength and is proposing radical measures. Voters who are fed up with politics see in him the possibility of change. The Trump phenomenon is similar to Bernie Sanders except Bernie has a positive message that brings people together, which is not the case with Trump.
Our three months in the United States were unusually intense. We saw a side of America we did not know existed and were welcomed with open arms. We were bowled over by the dynamism and the positive spirit of the campaign. It was an inspiring experience that made us want to get more involved in democracy so that everyone can have a voice.
Now that I’m back in France, I’m going to see how I can put what I have learned about American methods to use. This means adopting rigorous, data-oriented methods, methods that only started to arrive in France in 2012. It is no longer enough to stick up a few campaign posters!
Would I vote for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election if she beat Bernie in the primary? Yes, I would vote for Clinton. She is a Democrat, and I believe she will weave some of Bernie’s program into her speech and policies.
She doesn’t have Sanders’s qualities, but I would not want to give my vote to a Republican candidate.
Why do I prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton?
Bernie is coherent. He is not beholden to private interests.
He has a wisdom that is summed up in a saying that is currently making the rounds: “For every major mistake America has made in the last 30 years, there is a video of Bernie Sanders trying to stop it.” That’s pretty much the truth.
My happiest moments on the campaign were working with other volunteers. I loved meeting volunteers, training them, showing them my enthusiasm and strengthening their loyalty.
Once I trained a young American, barely 18 years old, and showed him how to take the lead at a caucus meeting. I reassured him that all went well.
The most disagreeable experiences? Now that I think about it, I can’t think of any. Even when a former gang leader in a black neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, tried to intimidate me Mafia-style, I found the experience so instructive it wasn’t really unpleasant.
What do I think about the Trump phenomenon? It’s a Pandora’s box that has released pent-up violence in some parts of American society. Even if Trump loses — since Sanders will beat him in any case — I fear he will have profound repercussions on the fragmentation of American society.
Which is why it’s important to have a candidate who brings people together, who is enthusiastic like Sanders, rather than the status quo that Clinton proposes.
Would I vote for Clinton if she were the Democratic nominee? I don’t know. I’m going back soon to continue campaigning for Bernie Sanders.
Flore Blondel-Goupil was born near Paris. After her studies in agricultural engineering in the French capital, she worked in the development of renewable energy sources for the agricultural sector. More recently she has specialized in entrepreneurship. After helping the organizers of the Global Climate March during last year’s global climate change summit, she volunteered for Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the U.S. presidency.
Clément Pairot was born in Toulouse, France. After majoring in urban economics and social business in Paris, he worked for a real-estate company. He recently spent one year traveling through Asia and Africa, meeting urban experts and citizens to identify resource-saving urban behaviors. Like Flore, he helped the organizers of the Global Climate March during last year’s global climate change summit before volunteering for Bernie Sanders’s campaign.