In August 2015, an article appeared in Five Thirty Eight titled "The Bernie Sanders Surge Appears To Be Over." Despite Sanders having narrowed his polling gap between Hillary Clinton by over 20 points since the start of his campaign, the author reasoned that because the members of the electorate who were most likely to favor Sanders had largely switched to his side already, it would only become harder from there for him to continue gaining ground.
Predictions like these were common among conventional polling analysts. Nate Silver came to a similar conclusion about the Sanders campaign, predicting that it would flounder in all but the most white, liberal states. Both of these political calculations, of course, were wildly off. Bernie's poll numbers continued to increase at about the same rate after August, peaking in mid-April with him being virtually tied nationally (he would most certainly have then pulled ahead had the New York primary, which looks like it was stolen from him, gone in in his favor). Sanders also did better with nonwhite voters than most people think, having won some of the most diverse states in the country. And though he lost with nonwhites overall, he was able to significantly cut into Clinton's initial support among them. Had it not been for the historically unique amount of voter suppression and electoral fraud that occurred during the 2016 democratic primaries, Sanders would have likely won.
But all of that is in the past now, and the former supporters of Bernie Sanders, along with everyone else who shares their goals for social, economic, and environmental justice, are looking for other places to go. Though all people in this vast but currently divided coalition of course intend to continue Sanders' movement through grassroots activism, there's a dispute within it as to whether their agenda's future in electoral politics will take place in a reformed Democratic Party or in a rising populist third party.
I'm going to explain why I think the latter is true.
There are a great deal of indicators involving the more direct factors in political predictions-polling, demographics, historical trends in the outcomes of elections-which lead me to believe that such a seismic event in American politics in the coming years is probable. There's the fact that millennials, the group most likely to embrace third parties, will make up 40% of the electorate in time for the next election. There's the fact that the Democratic Party appears to be headed for dissolution in the coming years, with Democratic membership having been in steady decline since 2008 and there being a movement within the Sanders coalition to abandon the party which will only become more successful as establishment Democrats continue on the path of neoliberalism. And there's the fact that the majority of Americans agree with the Green Party's agenda, as I illustrated in a past article with a list comparing the Green platform to opinion polls.
But even these factors, which I've focused on many times in previous articles, are not sufficient to make my case. When commentators like HA Goodman and Bill Curry predicted early in the race that Bernie Sanders would succeed based on how most Democratic voters as well as Americans in general agree with his agenda, similarly to how I predict a surge for the Greens, polling analysts like Nate Silver still decided to stick with the narrative that such an upset wasn't possible. And from a certain standpoint, such a pessimistic view of Sanders' chances despite the fact that his ideas had the backing of the majority was appropriate; leftist insurgents like him, such as Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, have embarked and failed in similar endeavors despite the views of Americans having aligned with their agenda for many years. So is the case with those who are skeptical of the idea that the current party system can be challenged; it's been tried before, so why should we expect it to succeed this time?
The factor which rendered the political calculating methods of Bernie Sanders' doubters irrelevant is the same one that will disprove the assumptions of those who dismiss the potential of the Green Party: income inequality.
Though Sanders technically lost with voters who had an annual income of less than $50,000, this was due to the fact that the poor tend not to vote, and outside of the electoral horse race, the lower people were on the income scale, the more likely they were to support Sanders' candidacy and his goals of a fairer economy. This can be considered the key to his success, with millennials, who overwhelmingly supported him because of how economically insecure they are, having given him the boost that he needed to become competitive. So was the case with the rest of the relatively small but crucial group of poor people who voted for Sanders; had the electorate not been as economically insecure as it is in 2016, Hillary Clinton would have easily won.
It's not clear when exactly the point was reached where poverty became so prevalent that candidates like Sanders could get as far as he did (2008 might have been the year, with Obama having been able to defeat Hillary Clinton in the primaries mainly because voters were tired of her brand of neoliberal triangulation). But what's certain is that the buildup to today's political environment has been directly tied into the rising wealth gap.
Those who think that inequality isn't a problem, insisting that the ones affected by it can simply overcome their poverty by working harder, are ignoring a basic rule of economics, which is that people's potential for success tends to depend on how much opportunity they have. And the facts of the modern U.S. economy very much illustrate that principle.
The top 0.1% of earners (not to be confused with the 1%) own almost 90% of the wealth in America, while the bottom 90% have 22.8% of it. This disparity, which can largely be explained by the dramatic inconsistency between the amount of labor that most workers have contributed throughout the last several decades and the amount of compensation that they've received, has had very real consequences for the vast majority of the country. The rate of unemployment, which is widely misrepresented as being at around 5%, is in fact around twice that number at 9.7%. Half of Americans can be considered poor, as reflected in how about that same amount of them rely on government aid (many of them are social security recipients, but such a number is still worth noting.) And overall, 81% of Americans are living on an income that's been either stagnant or declining in the past decade.
We've been hearing about rising income inequality and a shrinking middle-class for many years, though. What makes it worth talking about now is that when you look at the long-term history of wealth distribution, you can only conclude that the general population is on the verge of staging a successful revolt against the economic elite.
All the past cases of increasing economic unfairness, from 18th century Franch to 20th century Scandanavia, have resulted in massive, effective efforts on the part of the lower classes to reverse the trend of inequality. And the levels that we're seeing today closely resemble those of other such times in history. In 2013, income inequality reached a size about the same as that of 1928 (the last instance where it reached a peak), and since then it's grown to a scale that may be unprecedented.
However, though the current economic conditions may well lead to a victory for Bernie Sanders' movement in this and other areas, inequality also tends to produce negative societal changes.
It's no coincidence that the rise in income inequality, which has afflicted not just America but the rest of the industrialized world, is being accompanied by an increase in ethnic nationalism. Some of the most horrific political developments in history, such as Russian communism and the Third Reich, were caused by widespread economic insecurity, and the success of neo-fascist movements that we've witnessed in the past several years is proof that civilization has again entered a stage of demagoguery and extremist politics. And the question that we'll be facing in the coming years is whether the situation will get as bad as it did in the instances I mentioned.