In an election cycle that has been largely rooted in anti-establishment rhetoric, voters have flocked to presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, was not considered to be a notable candidate when he first entered the race. However, as time has gone on, his desire for a revolution which seeks to end a corrupt political system has resonated with millions of voters in America who are tired of establishment politics in their country.
Despite the overwhelming support of Sanders and his policies, Hillary Clinton still looks poised to lock up the Democratic Party’s nomination. Knowing that, the frontrunner on the Republican side could appeal to some supporters of Bernie Sanders who will mostly likely choose between Clinton and Trump in the general election.
Targeting Sanders supporters makes sense for Trump, who is looking to capitalize on the plethora of independent voters that back Sanders. Sanders’ success among independents has been clear, which makes sense considering that much of his time as a politician has been as an independent. According to the New York Times, he beat Hillary Clinton by a whopping 33 percentage points in Ohio, a trend that has become apparent in states all over the country.
With the noticeable margin among independent voters that Sanders has experienced in primaries, it is not surprising that he has performed best in open primaries. As FiveThirtyEight notes, Sanders has really struggled in closed primary states, demonstrating further evidence that his political revolution has resonated with voters who do not support either political party. Clearly, Sanders’ ideology has reverberated with a majority of independents who are not happy with the status quo, a frustration that has led Sanders’ core to forgo the chance to declare an allegiance to either party.
Knowing this trend, Trump has targeted Sanders supporters as he begins to gear up for the general election. This makes sense, as Trump’s campaign has at least one clear parallel with Sanders’ ideologies. Trump (along with Sanders) has consistently denounced the current political system throughout this election, and there is no doubt that this type of mindset could be one that resonates with the Sanders faithful.
In a recent campaign speech, the New York Times highlighted just how disgusted Trump (and millions of Americans) are with the current system.
“You’re basically buying these people. You’re basically saying, ‘Delegate, listen, we’re going to send you to Mar-a-Lago on a Boeing 757, you’re going to use the spa, you’re going to this, you’re going to that, we want your vote.’ That’s a corrupt system.”
Now, with Sanders vowing to stay in the race despite a seemingly insurmountable deficit, Trump sees current Sanders supporters as an opportunity to gain much needed voters in the general election. With the amount of independents that vote in the general election, these independents could eventually propel Trump to the presidency.
Bill Hillsman, a political consultant who has assisted in the campaigns of numerous independents, talked to CNN about how important independents are for Trump and why targeting Sanders supporters makes sense.
“It’s evident many Democrats (and certainly those supporting Bernie) find Hillary’s campaign lacking. So what Trump is doing is smart. The only possible route to a November win for him is on the backs of independent voters.”
Ultimately, a majority of independent Sanders supporters may still elect to vote for Clinton. Her ideologies align with Sanders’ platform more than Trump’s, even if she is the ultimate establishment candidate. However, with the anti-establishment piece at the forefront of the political discussion, the general election could turn out to be a tighter race than the current polls suggest.
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