Bernie Sanders’ Michigan Victory Just Proved That a Democratic Socialist Can Actually Win

With his upset win, Sanders showed the potential for his democratic socialist message to resonate across the country

Miles Kampf-Lassin March 9, 2016

In Michigan, Bernie Sanders just pulled off "one of the greatest upsets in modern political history." (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders did not just defy expec­ta­tions with his upset win in Michi­gan on Tues­day night — he shat­tered the pre­dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive of the 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic race, forc­ing pun­dits across the polit­i­cal spec­trum to eat crow. 

Bernie Sanders has now proven that his identification as a democratic socialist does not prevent him from winning in big, diverse states.

No poll­sters saw this com­ing. As recent as this week, some polls had him los­ing by 37 per­cent to Hillary Clin­ton. FiveThir­tyEight called Sanders’ win one of the great­est upsets in mod­ern polit­i­cal history.”

But there is one ele­ment of this ground­break­ing polit­i­cal feat that should not be ignored: Bernie Sanders has now proven that his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as a demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist does not pre­vent him from win­ning in big, diverse states. 

When Sanders announced his cam­paign for pres­i­dent 10 months ago, he was dis­missed by many in the media as a fringe can­di­date whose pol­i­tics were too rad­i­cal to con­nect with Demo­c­ra­t­ic voters. 

On Tues­day night, the over 592,000 Michi­gan Democ­rats who vot­ed for him proved the oppo­site: that Sanders’ poli­cies are not too extreme — they’re just what large swaths of vot­ers want. 

Run­ning on a mes­sage of eco­nom­ic jus­tice and crit­i­cal of cor­po­rate pow­er, free trade deals and a bro­ken crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, Sanders was able to win over vot­ers in a state that saw mas­sive job loss­es in the wake of the Great Recession. 

As a result of the finan­cial col­lapse, in 2009 unem­ploy­ment in the state sky­rock­et­ed to 14.9 per­cent. And while that num­ber has dropped in recent years, Alan Berube, a senior fel­low at the Brook­ings Institution’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Pol­i­cy Pro­gram, explained to Mar­ket­Place that in cities like Detroit and Flint, the loss of mid­dle-class jobs acces­si­ble to peo­ple with­out much more than a high school edu­ca­tion’ has been devastating.”

Michi­gan has also seen its infra­struc­ture fall into dis­re­pair — as evi­denced by the trag­ic water poi­son­ing in Flint. And trade deals like NAF­TA have led to vast out­sourc­ing of jobs, large­ly in manufacturing. 

Sanders’ cam­paign spoke direct­ly to these issues fac­ing work­ing peo­ple in Michi­gan, con­nect­ing vot­ers’ anx­i­eties to a sys­tem that ben­e­fits Wall Street and cor­po­ra­tions at the expense of the mid­dle class. 

He has made rebuild­ing the nation’s crum­bling infra­struc­ture — includ­ing out­dat­ed and com­pro­mised water sys­tems—cen­tral to his pol­i­cy agen­da. His plan to invest $1 tril­lion over 5 years would be paid for by crack­ing down on cor­po­ra­tions duck­ing tax­es by mov­ing their prof­its offshore. 

He called for Michi­gan Gov. Rick Snyder’s res­ig­na­tion over the Flint cri­sis back in Jan­u­ary — long before Clin­ton called for the same in Sunday’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic debate. And his long-stand­ing oppo­si­tion to both NAF­TA and the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship trade deals was con­sis­tent­ly ham­mered home as he cam­paigned across the state. 

Far from being judged too rad­i­cal by vot­ers, these posi­tions helped Sanders car­ry the Great Lakes State. If over half a mil­lion Democ­rats in Michi­gan — a state not exact­ly known for its rad­i­cal­ism — are will­ing to vote for a demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist, that is a clear sign that the term will not be a major hin­drance for Sanders going forward. 

Sanders won 71 per­cent of inde­pen­dents and the major­i­ty of vot­ers mak­ing under $50,000 a year. And he made inroads among African-Amer­i­can vot­ers, win­ning 28 per­cent of their sup­port — his high­est mar­gin yet in a state with a large African-Amer­i­can community.

As Bernie Sanders said in his hasti­ly arranged vic­to­ry speech, What tonight means is that the Bernie Sanders cam­paign, the people’s rev­o­lu­tion that we are talk­ing about…is strong in every part of the country.”

If Michi­gan is any indi­ca­tion, the nation might indeed be ready for such a rev­o­lu­tion, one led by a demo­c­ra­t­ic socialist. 

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­si­ty’s Gal­latin School in Delib­er­a­tive Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al­iza­tion, is a Web Edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MilesKLassin

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