Bernie Sanders: Front-Runner for the Democratic Nomination

Joseph Perkins | @counter_econ

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders ran an insurgent campaign in 2016. As a relatively unknown senator, he attempted to defeat the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. In his attempt, he almost succeeded in doing so garnering 43% of the vote and winning 23 states. Fast-forward to the 2020 Democratic Party nomination race and many see Bernie Sanders as a serious contender. However, Bernie Sanders is not the front-runner, in the eyes of the media. That distinction belongs to former Vice President Joe Biden who has yet to announce his candidacy.

While Bernie Sanders may not be coming in first in every poll and other candidates are competing with his fundraising numbers, he should be considered the front-runner for the Democratic Nomination.


Sanders, riding high on name recognition from his previous run for the nomination in 2016, was near the top in almost every poll even before he announced his candidacy for 2020. The only potential candidate he has ever trailed in a poll since candidates began kicking off their 2020 bids is Joe Biden.

Ever since Sanders officially announced he was running, he has seen a bump in his poll numbers. In the latest Emerson poll, Sanders is tied with Biden for the Democratic nomination nationally. In an Emerson poll just one month ago, before Sanders officially announced, he trailed Biden by ten points.

The only other two candidates one could consider contenders based on current polls are California Senator Kamala Harris and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. They are third and fourth respectively in the latest Emerson poll, but they are decidedly behind Biden and Sanders


Bernie Sanders broke fundraising records when he first announced his candidacy for the nomination. He raised $5.9 million from 223,000 individual donors. At the time this was a record high. That averages out to about $27 per donation. Such a wide donor base that is willing to give whatever it can to support a candidate is an indication of strong grassroots support.

These fundraising numbers don’t mean anything on their own until you compare them to other candidates in the field.

Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts only brought in $300,000 in the first 24 hours after her official launch.

Kamala Harris brought in a decent $1.5 million from 38,000 individual donors in her first 24 hours as a candidate.

Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota announced her campaign raised $1 million 48 hours after its official launch.

The only candidate that competed with Sanders in terms of fundraising numbers is O’Rourke who bested Sanders bringing in a staggering $6.1 million from 128,000 contributors, a new record. It is no surprise that O’Rourke raised a large sum of money. He raised a record $80 million for his failed senate campaign in the 2018 midterms.

Money alone cannot win you a major party nomination as Jeb Bush learned during the 2016 Republican nominating process. While O’Rourke did raise more money total, it came from far fewer individual donors. This is important because, while money is important, it is the people behind the money voting that will win a candidate for the nomination. Sanders pulled in donations from nearly 100,000 more contributors than O’Rourke. This shows he has more grassroots support from the Democratic base than O’Rourke.

Differing Lanes

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have bases that can be divided into different “lanes.” In the Democratic Party, there is currently a progressive lane and an establishment lane. The establishment lane has more centrist, neoliberal politicians such as Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, the Senator from New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke. The progressive lane has more left-wing candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Tulsi Gabbard, the representative from Hawaii.

The establishment lane is more crowded than the progressive lane is, especially with serious contenders. Biden, Harris, and O’Rourke all occupy this lane and are fighting for the same votes.

These voters are typically easier to sway than a progressive voter. This group also tends to be older which could help establishment lane candidates in that they are more likely to show up at the polls.

Meanwhile, the only other progressive candidate besides Sanders that isn’t floundering in the polls is Warren. Warren is polling fifth in the latest Emerson poll mentioned earlier. Her numbers have not budged since she announced her candidacy.

The progressive lane is a growing lane in the Democratic Party. This is the lane of the millennial voter which will soon be the largest voting block. Sanders far outperformed Hillary Clinton, who was in the establishment lane, in 2016 with millennials.

Too Early

If one looked back to March 2015 for the front-runner for the 2016 Republican nomination, they would find Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker. The eventual nominee and current president, Donald Trump, wasn’t even being polled.

Anything from a new revelation to an insurgent candidate to a gaff can drastically change a race. The Iowa Caucus is still over eleven months away, but based on current data and race conditions, Bernie Sanders should be considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

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