Bernie’s Base Looks a Lot Like Trump’s, is He the President’s Biggest Threat?

The pool of Democratic contenders vying to unseat President Trump just gained another member with Senator Bernie Sanders’ announcement Tuesday morning that he will be running again in 2020. Sanders is being met with an onslaught of support from fans on Twitter and Reddit, and varying levels of consternation from both parties and the mainstream media. ‘Fox and Friends’ fretted over the reemergence of the self-declared Democratic socialist, and CNN listed several reasons to be skeptical of Bernie, notably the fact that he is white, male, and seventy-seven years old. With alternatives available that check off several more identity-politics boxes it is hard to see the left consolidating behind Bernie. Options like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator Kamala Harris of California, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, appear to be being taken more seriously. An author for The Guardian summed up the left’s sentiment in an opinion piece titled,”Why vote for Sanders when you can have Elizabeth Warren instead?”

The Democratic Party didn’t like Bernie in 2016, and still doesn’t because of optics. Still, there is no denying the former contender has mass appeal among key demographics. Within 24 hours of his announcement, his campaign pulled in $6 million dollars, much of which came from small donors.

In the 2016 Democratic primary, Bernie quickly gained mass appeal among young people, especially young men, and rural blue collar Americans, groups that President Trump went on to secure in record numbers in the general election. He’ll need these same groups to stay in the Oval Office for another four years. With Bernie throwing his hat in the ring again, Republicans need to be careful not to pass over the opportunity to court eligible Generation Z voters and not to neglect blue collar voters.

Don’t Assume Counties That Flipped from Blue to Red Will Stay That Way

President Trump made historic inroads with blue collar voters in 2016 with a message that addressed their economic concerns and a promise to bring jobs back and put America first. He flipped a total of 220 counties that supported Obama in 2012 to the Republican side in 2016, the vast majority of which are solidly working-class regions. As Reuters pointed out in September, while economic growth has increased in these regions under President Trump, growth here is still slower than in other regions of the country. The average worker in these Blue-to-Red counties earned about $46,000 last year, up 1.9% from a year earlier. The country as a whole saw an increase in salary of about 2.6% according to a Reuters analysis of Labor Department data.

In the months leading up to the midterms, analysts speculated that lower economic growth in the regions Trump flipped might cause them to swing back to Democrats, but post-midterm data shows the majority stayed red. As The New York Times pointed out, of the 41 congressional districts that Democrats turned from red to blue in 2018, 38 were suburban, leaving the majority of rural regions in Republican control.

Source CityLab/New York Times
Source CityLab/New York Times

Blue collar areas are doing better under President Trump now than they were in 2016, and the midterms proved that the majority of these countries are still behind the President, for now. However, blue collar regions still lag behind the rest of the country in economic growth, and this makes them vulnerable to Bernie’s socialist promise of free everything. It is important not to take these flipped counties for granted, and to continue addressing their economic concerns.

Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Generation Z, Especially Males

Generation Z voters will play a huge role in 2020 and the years to come, for the simple reason that they make up an increasing share of the population. Young adults born after 1995 outnumber every other living age cohort in the United States at 25% of the population. Generation Z outnumbers Baby Boomers and Millennials combined. While the Democratic Party often claims to have a monopoly on the ‘youth vote’, this is increasingly inaccurate when the youngest voters are separated from the Millennial vote. As Market Research Foundation pointed out in our detailed report on Generation Z, a growing body of research indicates the youngest Americans are significantly more conservative than Millennials. The midterms validated this trend. When the youth vote includes all voters under 30, the majority of under-thirties side with Democrats. However, CNN exit polling shows Generation Z supported Republicans at higher proportions than Millennials in races across at least eight states including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. In several cases, the 18 to 24-year-old age cohort was the only segment under age 40 to break from the typical youth-vote-left pattern.

What’s more, a detailed 2018 study from Public Religion Research Institute found that Trump is viewed favorably by more than 4 in 10 young white men, and that young white men hold increasingly conservative views across a range of issues including reverse discrimination and LGBTQ issues.

Looking back at 2016, a national survey of approximately 50,000 high school students conducted by My College Options and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, found Trump led Clinton 46% to 31% for first-time voters, and 42% to 17% among Generation Z males. That said, the same survey found that 9% of white males were open to a third-party candidate, and young white men or ‘Bernie Bros’ were some of Bernie’s biggest supporters in the Democratic primary. Recent analysis from Pew Research Center indicates Generation Z as a whole has an appetite for an active government regardless of their political affiliation, which leaves this age group vulnerable to a Bernie Sanders message. It is important for the GOP to reach Generation Z and draw a contrast between an active and engaging civic life and community, and failed European-style socialism.

Bernie isn’t the biggest threat to Trump or a Constitutional Republic, because of the package he happens to deliver socialism in: white, male, and over seventy-five. In the Democratic Party, those attributes label him unelectable. His competitors for the nomination may borrow heavily from his socialist proposals like ‘Medicare for All’, but the party elite appears uncomfortable allowing him to be its figurehead. Instead, a natural fit would be Clinton-like Kamala Harris, who could clinch a majority of the female vote, the black vote, and the upper-middle class urban vote, or perhaps the measured, Obama-like Cory Booker who could secure large numbers of black voters and chip away at Trump’s male base. There is always self-alleged Native American Senator Elizabeth Warren who is young, female, and a minority.

While Bernie would be competing directly with the President for young men and blue-collar voters, given the Democratic Party’s skepticism of him, the chances of that standoff are relatively slim. That said, it is still early in the cycle, and it is possible Bernie could walk away with the nomination this time. No matter who Democrats nominate, Republicans must not take blue collar voters for granted and must work to build inroads with Generation Z.