By Arthur Z. Schwartz
As we neared the end of 2015, some astounding things were going on in the polls. A late December poll commissioned by CBS News showed Bernie Sanders within 5 points of Hillary Clinton in Iowa, with 5 weeks to go, and 12 % ahead in New Hampshire (where she had almost drawn even in early November). In national Democrat polls, which include lots of people not very focused on the race, Clinton fell 8 points since November in the CNN poll, and Sanders was up 4 points to 34%. Amongst Blacks and Latinos, Sanders has moved from 12% support in August to 32% support in December. In head-to-head polls involving Republicans, Sanders runs ahead of Trump by a 51 to 38% margin, while Hillary Clinton leads Trump by a 49-47% margin.
But you would not know this if you watched network news, CNN, or followed the election in the NY Times. There the whole election is about Trump, Trump, Trump, and Hillary has already been crowned with the Democratic nomination.
The fact is that both Trump and Sanders are running very untraditional campaigns, but the media plays up Trump and ignores Sanders. The two men, polar opposites in so many ways, have roughly equal support. Senator Sanders is, in fact, polling a little higher. He’s winning 34 percent of the Democratic vote at the moment, according to the rolling average RealClearPolitics.com keeps of major polls. Mr. Trump’s comparable measure is 31.4 percent on the GOP side.
Yet Trump’s media coverage is huge. The coverage of Sanders is scant. The left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters for America has put together some numbers on this, from data produced by the Tyndall Report, which tracks network news airtime. They show that, not including debate coverage, Trump has amassed 234 total network minutes on CBS, NBC, and ABC, from Jan. 1 through the end of November. Sanders? He’s had 10 minutes.
ABC World News Tonight was the most Trump-centric and Sanders-phobic of what used to be called the Big Three, airing 81 minutes of footage about or from the Trump campaign, and 20 seconds about Sanders.
That said, it’s been a long time since network news served as a useful surrogate for the media in general. The explosion in new media has provided voters with so many different ways to find out so much about any candidate that it’s not as if Bernie Sanders and his focus on economic inequality is being hidden from Americans. It’s just not being broadcast by the corporate media.
Some amazing numbers have come out of the Sanders campaign. In late December, the campaign logged its 2.3 millionth campaign contribution, surpassing any number generated by the first or second Obama campaign. Even though the average contribution is $30, the Sanders campaign has more cash on hand (over $40 million) than the Clinton campaign has. In New York, when the Sanders campaign sent out an email message asking for people to volunteer to circulate petitions to get Bernie and Bernie’s delegates on the ballot (note, the author is a delegate candidate in the 10th Congressional District, along with former State Senator Tom Duane, Gay Activist Allen Roskoff and VID activist Barbara Ruether) 23,000 people volunteered on the first day! No campaign has ever created the movement that the Sanders campaign has created. And his message is catching on.
Bernie Sanders is addressing the same “I’m sick and tired of the status quo” sentiment that Trump is tapping: the effects of an economy where wealth is concentrated in so few, where students and graduates from college are drowning in debt, where corporations own politicians, where political corruption is rampant, and our educational and health care system seem broken. But Bernie is pulling people together, not stoking anger with xenophobic, nasty sexist rhetoric. And it is working.
Lots of people still say, “well, I like Bernie better, but he can’t win.” I predict, come the Iowa Caucuses, and the New Hampshire primaries, which Bernie will win, a lot of that sentiment here in New York, and in many other places, will get reexamined. In the end, the real story of this election campaign will be Bernie Sanders, not Donald Trump.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village; he is also Counsel to the Sanders 2016 campaign in New York State.