We’ve all heard people make the comparison, especially in the past few weeks: “Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign is very similar to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign,” many will observe, often also noting that “history repeats itself.” And the more you look at these two historic campaigns, the more it would appear that history is, indeed, doing just that.
History Appears To Be Repeating Itself
Those observations aren’t unfounded. When Barack Obama announced his candidacy in February of 2007, Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee, leading every other potential candidate by a runaway margin. It was unfathomable then that Obama could possibly slip past Hillary, outflanking her with a more progressive platform, and snatch the nomination right out of her hands.
But then, a funny thing happened on the way to the convention. The more exposed to Obama’s platform people became, the more likely they were to pledge their support to him, and the more people who supported Obama, the more vitriolic Hillary’s supporters became. You know how Republicans today love to call Obama a “secret Muslim?” Hillary’s campaign started that nonsense. And surely you remember the “birther” conspiracies? Yep… those were started by Team Hillary as well. The more popular Obama became, the worse their rhetoric grew, and the more aggressively they tried to discredit Obama however they could, not along policy lines, but personal ones.
Skip ahead to present day, and the Bernie Sanders campaign is showing striking similarities to that of the Obama ’08 campaign. To say that Sanders’ campaign has been successful would be an understatement: he’s breaking every record Senator Obama set for campaign rallies in 2007 and 2008, with the sort of attendance you rarely see even in general election rallies, let alone during a primary. He’s trouncing Hillary in New Hampshire and Iowa, and now his campaign is shifting attention toward other caucuses and primaries. And he’s doing all of this without so much as a single penny coming by way of super PAC funding… as if it weren’t impressive enough as it is.
Now, Hillary’s supporters are starting to ramp up their anti-Sanders rhetoric in a big way. Some are pointing out that he wasn’t a Democrat until the presidential election. The Facebook group Armed Democrats recently endorsed Hillary Clinton while openly attacking Bernie Sanders and his supporters, claiming “He’s no Democrat. We are.” The posts have since been removed from their page, presumably after someone realized how asinine some of their comments had been. But they are by no means the worst offenders. That honor belongs solely to the Hillary supporters who frequently compare Sanders to Adolf Hitler, inaccurately citing socialism the way a right-wing conservative normally would.
The Polling Numbers Are Telling…
The similarities between Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign are quite remarkable, but they don’t really become uncanny until you really start looking at the polling data. Using this collection of polling numbers from the 2007/ 2008 primary season, and this collection of numbers from 2015/ 2016, let’s see how Bernie Sanders’ campaign compares to that of then-Senator Barack Obama.
February 10th, 2007: Barack Obama announces his candidacy. The Times Union/ Siena College poll from February 6th – 9th has Clinton leading 45% to Obama’s 12%
April 30th, 2015: Bernie Sanders announces his candidacy. The Economist/ YouGov poll from April 25th – 27th has Clinton leading 59% to Sanders’ 10%
Now let’s skip ahead to this date, September 20th, in 2007 and in 2015. Where do these two candidates stand?
September 20th, 2007: Rasmussen’s September 20th to 23rd poll has Clinton leading 40% to Obama’s 28%
September 20th, 2015: Ipsos/ Reuters poll from September 12th to 16th has Clinton leading 46% to 25%
… And So Are The Other Numbers
We brought up Sanders’ massive rallies already, but they definitely deserve a second mention. In 2007, Obama’s campaign rallies were a sight to behold, with many pundits and media outlets blown away by the size of his rallies, and how quickly those rallies came together. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 rallies are no different… in fact, they’re even more impressive.
In August, Sanders sailed past the 100k mark for rally attendance, with rallies often bringing in more than 20k attendees, compared to the typical 10k to 20k Obama was attracting in 2007. But the truly impressive feat is the upcoming massive Sanders rally in Washington DC on November 7th, an event for which more than 120k people have RSVP’d to attend. If Sanders manages to attract even half of that crowd, it will rival the size of a typical Democratic National Convention and would easily be the largest primary campaign rally in history.
Many pundits are asking “how can these rallies be this big, if Sanders isn’t taking any super PAC money?” But that question answers itself. People are flocking to Sanders because he’s honest. He’s disavowing big money in politics and raising money with a proper grassroots effort. Not only are his ideas populist, but so is his chosen method of campaigning, and that is certainly resonating with a lot of people.
Nothing is Certain… Yet
It’s too early to say with any confidence that all of these signs are pointing conclusively toward a Sanders nomination, but there’s certainly a lot of pointing in that direction going on. Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign has thus far almost perfectly mirrored Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, from rally attendance, to polling data, to the volatile reactions of Hillary’s most ardent supporters, who are finding it hard to believe, as we all are, that the same thing can happen to the same woman twice.
There are three important lessons we should all learn from these ever-developing campaign events. The first such lesson is that Democrats are grassroots masters; if we want a candidate badly enough, we’ll have them, despite the protests of the party establishment. The second lesson is that America is, for the second time in a row, rejecting Hillary Clinton’s platform… perhaps there’s a message there that we should all take into consideration moving forward, whether she wins the 2016 primary or decides to run again in 2020 or 2024.
But then there’s the third lesson, and the one that I personally believe to be the most important: Bernie Sanders is the real deal, and it’s now impossible to take anyone who writes him off seriously. Sanders has defied every expectation and gingerly hurdled every obstacle set before him, just as Obama did in 2008. That doesn’t mean you need to drop everything to support him, but it certainly does mean you can’t discredit him with a straight face.