WATCH ABOVE: Aarti Pole reports on why political outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are making headway in voter
A year ago, pundits probably couldn’t predict the two candidates gaining remarkable ground in the US presidential race would be so-called outsiders. Donald Trump is ahead in the race for the Republican nomination, while Bernie Sanders is closing in on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s celebrity status undoubtedly plays a role in boosting his popularity, but Sanders wouldn’t be categorized as a candidate with “star power.”
Even so, in cities across the U.S., Sanders supporters are caught camping outside his events for hours.
Lining up as one would for a rock concert, Mykle Curton, was one of the die-hards at an event in Portland.
“I have a day off from work and I said, you know, I’m going to be here at 6:45 to shake his hand,” he said.
That hype is spreading from Los Angeles to Seattle and Chicago, where tens of thousands are packing into arenas to “Feel the Bern” and get a chance to meet and hear from Democratic presidential hopeful.
The 73-year-old independent senator from Vermont was once considered a long shot. Now, the self-described socialist is drawing crowds larger than most other candidates from either party.
In those large crowds, was a former lifelong Republican.
“I stayed a Republican but kept getting frustrated with the way they were going,” said Larry Severson. “A month ago, I switched to Democrat so I could vote for Bernie Sanders because they believe in the constitution and protecting it.”
The unconventional candidate is making surprising gains, in what’s shaping up to be an unusual presidential race.
“Sanders taps into this kind of liberal anger on the Democratic side,” explained Kyle Kondik with the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “We’re seeing that in his polling numbers.”
A recent poll by the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics showed that in key state Iowa, Sanders is within seven points of Democratic front-runner Clinton. According to the poll, Clinton has 37 per cent support, while Sanders has 30 per cent.
His campaign remains focused on issues facing middle-class voters, promising to address poverty, equality for women, more benefits for working Americans, paid vacation, sick days and maternity leave.
“I think what’s going on is that people understand that there’s something fundamentally wrong in this country when ordinary people are working longer hours for low wages and almost all of the new income and new wealth being generated is going to the top 1 per cent,” Sanders said in a recent interview.
“Top 1 per cent” is something you’ll hear Sanders say often: the presidential candidate has somewhat resurrected the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Fraud, dishonesty, arrogance: these are just a few of the adjectives to describe Wall Street,” Sanders said at an event in Chicago. “The greed, the recklessness and the illegal behaviour of Wall Street drove this country into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” Sanders is invoking the power of the so-called 99 per cent.
“Certainly, I think a lot of people who would support the Occupy Wall Street movement a few years ago would look at Bernie Sanders rhetoric and say, ‘Hey that’s someone that I can agree with,'” said Kondik. “There’s a lot of generic demand out there for candidates who are not seen as part of the party leadership who operate outside of the traditional bounds of the Republican and Democratic parties.”
But the anti-establishment vote is not only Sanders’ demographic to woo: Donald Trump is the unconventional option on the right.
The appeal of both Trump and Sanders can be attributed to the growing number of Americans who are fed up with Washington.
“They’re very different people with very different background and even greater difference in ideology,” said Dan Schnur of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics. “But, both of them are saying to the respective bases of their parties you don’t have to compromise, you don’t have to give up what’s important to you. Let’s go get all of it.”
Sanders strongly rejects comparisons between his and Trump’s politics.
In media interviews, the Democratic candidate emphasizes he’s not a billionaire, contributions to his campaign are in the $30 range and he certainly doesn’t arrive at appearances in his private helicopter.
“We’re not engaged here in racist attacks, outrageous attacks against Mexicans,” said Sanders in an interview with NBC. “What we are trying to do is talk about the reality facing the American people.”
Despite both candidates’ current surge in the polls, some analysts say it’s unlikely Sanders’ and Trump’s unorthodox approach will yield the presidential nomination. But, experts warn, so far this campaign has been full of surprises.