If you are wondering why Bernie Sanders is overwhelming Hillary Clinton's establishment-style campaign, you might get a graphic answer by looking at one of Sanders' latest TV ads. A coherent message is often identified as the backbone of every successful presidential campaign, and Bernie Sanders' message is clear: his campaign is about the people and the mobilization of a movement. It is certainly not about the "I" and the pragmatism that have been the historical hallmark of Bill and Hillary Clinton's brand of politics. Their ideology, which in many respects is consistent with that of Reaganism, has shifted the Democratic Party towards the centre and blurred its definition.
In an election cycle that is being defined as a referendum against the political establishment, Sanders is not leaning on the merits of experience. Instead he is channelling the aspirations of a majority of Americans who feel that their political and economic system is pitted against them and that their government is not genuinely committed to building a society that will serve their interests.
Sanders is not the only candidate who is tapping into the discontent with the prevailing political culture in the United States. Republican front runner Donald Trump is cleaving the Republican Party, extracting support from the same distrust of the two party system which for too long has failed to demonstrate tangible differences on meaningful issues. The anxieties that Donald Trump exploits are well founded, but it is his response to them that is deeply problematic. He fails to rationally examine the problems the country faces, like the overarching power of business over government, and scapegoats minorities instead. This makes him an unimaginable victor in the presidential race on the national level.
Not long ago Hillary Clinton was perceived as the unbeatable candidate, but the notion of her invincibility has been shattered after her lacklustre Iowa caucus performance and her devastating defeat in New Hampshire. The exit poll in the New Hampshire primary indicated that key groups of voters who took part supported Bernie Sanders, including 85 per cent of the millennials and -- perhaps more significantly -- 72 per cent of independent voters.
But there is also a shift in gender dynamics; for young women, political revolution is currently overshadowing the idea of the first Madame President. According to the same poll, 54 per cent of Sanders' votes came from women. A CBS poll reveals that 82 per cent of Democratic women in the state aged 18 to 29 support Sanders, while only 18 per cent support Clinton. The only demographic groups supporting Clinton are those over 65, suggesting that the generations live on different political planets. These key matrices are reshaping the political landscape into something that was unimaginable six months ago, and this has put the Democratic Party establishment and Clinton's campaign into a state of panic.
Hillary Clinton's problem is that Bernie Sanders is preaching a message of inclusive revolution while she is advocating the continuation of the status quo. Her policy of incremental change is proving to be a hard sell in this political environment. The financial meltdown of 2008 and the subsequent global recession only intensified this. Clinton has embraced high-profile endorsements from elected officials in unpopular Washington intertwined with Wall Street, which draws attention to her obligation to money and establishment politics. This especially repels the politically disenchanted young voters who found Obama's vision of hope more sympathetic to their feelings of marginalization and unfulfilled dreams. For this emerging dominant voting block Clinton's philosophy represents concessions, and that is precisely the obstacle that stands between them and solving the injustices America faces today.
Americans have been suffering from a lack of authenticity in their politicians for some time now, and here too Clinton is failing to meet the acceptable benchmarks as a viable candidate. Among voters who cared most about honesty and trustworthiness, 92 per cent chose Sanders and only 5 per cent chose Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls in New Hampshire. Her close ties to Wall Street, including her receipt of hefty speaker fees from Goldman Sachs, have put her on the wrong side of the anti-corporate wave currently defining this election.
Sanders is shifting the attention of voters to the systemic unfairness in the US economic system. Even beyond this presidential election, Sanders is waking America up to its inequality problem, re-energizing the proud traditions of the American bottom-up movements. As his message spreads, millions of people will demand a government that works for them, not the unaccountable corporations. The electoral terrain becomes rockier for Bernie Sanders from here on, but he has created a resonating core narrative that taps into the shifting sands beneath the feet of the political establishment in the US and across the Western world.
Hillary Clinton offers process within Washington's current political structure, but lacks the inspirational vision indispensable to any progressive process, and this feeds into her campaign's lack of identity. There is no denying that she is a capable candidate rather than a transformative one, but in this year of anger it seems unwise to be too adamant about pragmatism. Clinton's faith in the current system demonstrates an inflexibility that is disconnecting her from the younger generation, while Sanders is heading in the opposite direction. We could well be witnessing a war over the very soul of the Democratic Party.
When conventional politics fail to deliver for the wider population, populism thrives. Clinton could decide to ignore this reality, but it would be at her own peril. It is spreading faster than she can control it.