In Depth

Could Bernie Sanders become the next US president in 2020?

Veteran socialist firebrand wins influential New Hampshire primary

Bernie Sanders last night claimed “a great victory” in the New Hampshire Democratic primary after beating rival Pete Buttigieg.

Thanking his “unprecedented grassroots movement”, the Vermont senator said that the win was “the beginning of the end for Donald Trump”, adding: “We are going to unite together and defeat the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.”

Sanders is leading in many polls, with some suggesting that 2020 could be his year.

So could socialist Sanders win the US presidency?

What do the polls say?

Widely considered the most progressive candidate in the Democratic primary field, Sanders performed well in the polls at the start of his campaign last spring, but plateaued in the second half of 2019 amid a surge from fellow progressive Warren and a stubbornly solid lead for moderate candidate Joe Biden.

His bid for the White House appeared to have been derailed when he suffered a heart attack in October, forcing the 78-year-old off the campaign trail.

But, according to the latest Quinnipiac survey, only Michael Bloomberg is polling better than Sanders against Trump. Sanders has an eight-point lead over the incumbent, one point less than Bloomberg, but also one point more than his rival, Biden.

After securing victory in New Hampshire, Sanders will now be looking ahead to “Super Tuesday” on 3 March. According to FiveThiryEight, which aggregates polls from across the US, he is ahead of the pack in five of the 15 states that will declare that day. These are California, Colorado, Maine, Utah and Vermont.

Is this Sanders’ year?

Strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire have not dented his chances, but a vote is yet to take place in a state where Biden has widespread support - and billionaire Bloomberg is lingering around the top of the polls, threatening to upset Sanders’ apple cart.

As Politico reports, “two groups run by young people - the Sunrise Movement, which seeks to combat climate change, and Dream Defenders, which advocates for people of colour”.

The news site adds that Sanders has “also won the backing of People’s Action and the Center for Popular Democracy, which together claim more than 1.5 million members”, as well as liberal-minded labour unions and three lawmakers in the so-called “Squad” - a group of influential young female Democratic congresswomen of colour including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.

That resurgence has been noticed in the White House. President Trump has tweeted: “Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party. So what does this all mean?” Sanders tweeted back: “It means you’re going to lose.”

What might stand in his way?

Despite his recent gains, Sanders still trails Biden in polls on a national scale, and has been accused of being too radical to take on Trump and win.

In an interview with The Guardian, Republican political strategist Rick Wilson has argued that Sanders would be “the easiest person in the world to turn into the comic opera villain Republicans love to hate, the Castro sympathiser, the socialist, the Marxist, the guy who wants to put the aristos in the tumbril as they cart them off to the guillotine”.

Wilson draws parallels with the recent UK general election, in which Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn suffered a devastating defeat to Boris Johnson - “a very unlikeable PM [who] was able to convince a lot of Brits his opponent was too much of a risk”, says the US politics guru.

As a result of such fears, there could “be a stop Sanders movement among Democratic elites”, says CNN’s political analyst Harry Enten.

In order to take the lead at a national level, experts agree unanimously that Sanders has to win the favour of the country’s powerful black voting bloc - a demographic that overwhelmingly favours Biden.

A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll put Biden on 48% support among black Democratic voters, with Sanders trailing on 20%. All of the other Democratic candidates polled in single digits.

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