In these crucial weeks leading up to the primaries, both Republicans and Democrats are seeing the unprecedented success of non-traditional candidates in their respective parties. On the left, Vermont Senator and self-proclaimed socialist, Bernie Sanders, is giving Secretary Clinton a closer contest than previously anticipated. And on the right, the bombastic real estate mogul and reality TV star, Donald Trump, continues to shake up the field and attract unimaginably large crowds to campaign events.
In Iowa, where the nation’s first caucuses will be held on February 1, recent polls show Clinton and Sanders neck and neck and the same for Trump and Texas senator, Ted Cruz. What remains to be seen is whether Sanders and Trump’s supporters will actually show up to vote, as answering the phone to a pollster is far easier than lining up, registering, and casting a ballot. Typically, campaigns must set up large networks of field agents to encourage others to get out and vote, but Trump’s ground operations are currently far less sophisticated than those of his rivals.
The rise of both Sanders and Trump proves that the electorate is different from previous election cycles, and fiery rhetoric is more appealing than legitimate policy solutions. A year ago, many political strategists believed the 2016 race would come down to Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, but Bush’s weak debate performances and Clinton’s vulnerability to scandals from her time as Secretary of State have placed their respective campaigns in a difficult situation.
The main theme of the election thus far has been the rise of fringe candidates at the expense of well-qualified establishment candidates, who struggle to woo millennials. Trump’s controversial statements and his expressed desire to “make America great again,” and Sanders’ advocacy of issues close to millennials’ hearts such as climate change and the affordability of a college education are connecting with the younger crowd. It is important to remember that there is still a long time until the party conventions in August, and a lot can change between now and then.