Smile Politely

Can Bernie actually do it?

Central Illinois is somewhat of an electoral anomaly in that it is not at all stable for one party.  There are both vibrant right-wing and left-wing factions in town, and on the national scale, Champaign County’s electoral history seems to (at least partially) mimic trends throughout the country.

In 2008, for example, Barack Obama carried 57% of the vote in Champaign County, whereas nationally, he carried 54%.  These number are relatively similar to 2004, where John Kerry carried 50% of the vote in Champaign County and 48% nationally.  Consistently, Champaign County is within a couple of percentage points of the national popular vote, showing that there truly is a balance of political affiliation in town.

Having this information moving forward into 2016, things could get very, very interesting.  Given Bernie Sanders’ call for tuition-free college and widespread social justice programs, his appeal seems like it was made for towns like Champaign-Urbana.  I mean, hell, there’s already an “Illini for Bernie” group on campus that’s been holding meetings and rallies, and it’s still a relative ghost town due to Summer break.

Inevitably, Bernie seems like a novelty candidate who has sprung out of the far left-wing as a response to the archaic policies that plague the Republican Party.  His policies seem concocted based on European models and thus can easily be used to engage the internet generation, but seem to have a harder time connecting with older demographics.  For this reason, Champaign County, and many population centers of a similar ideology, are an extremely pivotal place to get an indication of how Bernie’s campaign can be run.  If Sanders succeeds in building enough student buzz, eventually it will start to spread to the rest of the county’s electorate, perhaps giving him a wave of momentum.

I’m all about jumping on the internet’s next fad as much as the next person who surfs Reddit for the next meme superstar, but I’m just not sure if the rest of the country, or Champaign-Urbana, for that matter, will.  Policies like free higher education, fighting income inequality and prison reform should be appealing to the masses, but when it comes to predicting which way Champaign County, and the rest of the country, will sway on Election Day, no one is an expert.

Regardless of if Mr. Sanders is relying on gimmicks and ambitious promises to build a following, it’s going to be important to watch how he plays in Champaign County, a community with a vibrant young population and a very important older demographic – because it could very well be indicative of how he plays in the Democratic Primary and perhaps even the general election in November 2016.

With a progressive political titan like Hilary Clinton standing directly in his way, this viral buzz is eventually going to need to translate into normal voters – but Bernie could be a dark horse.  I mean with the 4 million batshit crazy candidates the Republicans have put forward, anything could happen, right? I mean damn, if someone on a PR team actually allowed Donald Trump to say those things on camera, surely anything is possible.

The ball’s in your court, Bernie – let’s see if you can appeal to a sway population like Champaign County’s – and maybe we’ll see you in November.

Photo above taken at Bernie Sanders’ announcement rally in Burlington, VT. Photo by Andy Duback, Associated Press.

More Articles