What Advantage Does Sanders Have Over Clinton in 2016?

Now that the first few candidates for the 2016 presidential elections have made their intentions known, an increasing stream of announcements have come and can be expected. Bernie Sanders became the second official Democratic candidate when he announced his bid in a press conference on April 30, after making an initial reveal during an interview with the Associated Press the previous day.

“People should not underestimate me,” Sanders told the AP. “I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeated Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country.”

Unlike the Republican Party, Democrats have a sparse playing field of presidential contenders, which makes it particularly important to see how Sanders brands himself. In particular, this means differentiating from his biggest competitor, arguably the biggest competitor for Democrats and Republicans alike: Hillary Clinton.

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Campaign funding

Take one look at Sanders’s campaign website, and it’s clear where he’s hoping to draw a distinction. “Bernie for President’ is quite quickly followed by “Paid for by Bernie 2016″ and “Not the billionaires” in a follow-up parenthetical. How accurate this becomes is an important question worth looking into. OpenSecrets.org has a list of contributors between 1989 and now for both Clinton and Sanders, covering their tenures in the federal government.

The list contains two different sets of organizations. It’s worth noting that while organizations are listed, in some cases, it was specifically a PAC or individual owner or worker within the organization where the donation actually came from.

First, Clinton’s donations are all much larger total values than Sanders’s, with Clinton’s in the hundreds of thousands and Sanders’s in the tens of thousands. Then there are the types of donations.

For Clinton, her contributors came from PACs and individuals linked to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Time Warner, Ernst & Young, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse Group, Citigroup, DLA Piper, EMILY’s List, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Skadden, Aprs et al, Lehman Brothers, Cablevision Systems, the University of California, Kirkland & Ellis, Squire Patton Boggs, 21st Century Fox, National Amusements Inc., Corning Inc., and Greenberg Traurig LLP.

And then we have Sanders’s donors: Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union, Teamsters Union, United Auto Workers, National Education Association, Communications Workers of America, United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Laborers Union, Carpenters & Joiners Union, American Association for Justice, American Federation of State/County/Municipal Employees, National Association of Letter Carriers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Transportation Union, Sheet Metal Workers Union, Operating Engineers Union, United Steelworkers, UNITE HERE, Service Employees International Union, American Postal Workers Union, and the American Federation of Teachers.

The distinction is obvious. On the one hand you have big banking, and on the other hand, you have a number of workers’ unions. Even if Sanders can’t beat Clinton in a head-to-head election, this will be a chink in Clinton’s armor that he can take full advantage of and will require her to build a strategy around.


Looking back to Sanders’s statement to the Associated Press, he manages to wrap both a strength and weakness up in that simple statement on Vermont and his ability to face big-money candidates.

His strength is his ability to draw appeal for keeping big money out of politics — and he can also point to the fact that he has a net worth of only $460,506, according to Open Secrets. In 2012, Clinton’s net worth was estimated at $15,347,503, part of the reason she is criticized for failing to understand average Americans and their struggles.

However, Clinton has more international experience than Sanders, while Sanders’s experience is largely based in Vermont, whether during his time as senator, as a member of the House of Representatives, or during his time as mayor of Burlington. Clinton has arguably had a broader scope of experience, given her time as Secretary of State.

Democrat and Socialist

Both Clinton and Sanders are technically members of the Democratic Party. However, Sanders hangs considerably further to the left than Clinton as a self-described democratic socialist. This won’t help him obtain votes, being too far to the left for the average Democrat, and far out of reach of many independents and more politically moderate voters.

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