At the Canadian magazine Maclean’s, its Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes penned an insightful article unpacking the recent Canadian federal election by the numbers. Digging deep into the data, Geddes discovered a crucial factor that contributed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party‘s victory on October 19. That factor was Trudeau and his party’s ability to expand the electorate.
Geddes points out several crucial statistics that highlight the magnitude of Trudeau and the Liberals’ successful efforts in expanding the Canadian electorate that led to their landslide victory this fall (emphases and italics added):
The total number of Canadians who voted on Oct. 19 rose to 17.6 million, or 2.8 million more than marked a ballot in 2011. The Conservative share of the popular vote was down a punishing 7.7 per cent, but the party shed only 231,905 actual votes. “That means they did a pretty good job of holding onto their old support but, instead, lost big because of the rush of new voters this time,” says pollster David Coletto, chief executive of the firm Abacus Data.
On his way to dramatically increasing the Liberal share of the vote, Trudeau lifted the total number of votes cast for his party’s candidates to 6.9 million in the 2015 election, up a massive 4.1 million over 2011. “[The Conservatives] tried to defend market share, but were doing so when the market itself was expanding,” Coletto says. The Liberals took the opposite approach, aiming to substantially grow the number of Canadian voters, rather than merely do better among those who turned out to vote in 2011. As Coletto puts it, “If you can’t win in the current market, build a new one.”
David Coletto, quoted in Geddes’ article, stated it best that for a candidate to leapfrog ahead of an incumbent (or in Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ case, a formidable frontrunner who is Hillary Clinton), it’s all about building a new market (of voters that is) rather than being boxed in by an existing one. This point is not only of salient value to Sanders who’s aiming to beat Clinton in the Democratic primaries—but more importantly he is in the best position to do such thing more than any other Democrat in the field: that is to expand the electorate. It is an assessment that the Sanders campaign has long believed in as Eleanor Clift, writing in the Daily Beast, reports:
The rationale of the Sanders campaign is that it can win by appealing to disaffected voters and expanding the electorate. [Tad] Devine [senior advisor to Sen. Sanders] said he told the Democratic National Committee they should set up a table and register voters at Sanders rallies. “We’re trying to get them in the door here. It would be smart for the Democratic Party to take advantage of the Sanders phenomenon. If you go to a Sanders rally now, there’s a good chance you’ll vote for a Democrat in 2016.” (Emphasis and italics added.)
(It is also worth noting that the “expanding-the-electorate” strategy is not only key to winning the Democratic primary and caucus states for Sanders, it’s a fundamental component behind his theory of change that requires a wholesale partisan change from the GOP to Democrats, nationally and in states, to provide a crucial opening for passing progressive legislation in the country. As reported in The Nation, Sanders points out, “Democrats will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate or the US House, will not be successful in dozens of governor races across the country, unless we generate excitement and momentum and produce a huge voter turnout.” For the Vermont senator, it comes down to two simple things: “If there is a large voter turnout, Democrats will do well. If there is a small voter turnout, Republicans do well.”)
Expanding the electorate, as a political strategy, is even more critical in light of the key lesson drawn from the global phenomena that’s gripping democracies in 2015 involving a deep desire for change among voters that’s fueled, in part, by anti-insider/anti-establishment frustration. That lesson is namely the following: progressive insurgent candidates and parties alike who have been successful in riding the change wave—like the landslide victory of Jeremy Corbyn last September in the British Labour Party leadership race, and the stunning municipal victories of Podemos in Spain’s two largest cities of Madrid and Barcelona earlier this spring—have done so by attracting new voters (in particular those disaffected with the political system).
(A pronounced example of this can be gleaned by analyzing the numbers from the aforementioned Labour leadership race. In that race, the increase of new voters eligible to vote contributed to Corbyn’s smashing victory of nearly 60% of the total votes casted. In the month before the race, The New Statesman reported that “the [Labour] party . . . attracted 17,755 new members, 99,703 new affiliated members (from trade unions and socialist societies) and 51,295 new registered supporters”—a total increase of new voters of around 28% out of a total of 610,753 people who had applied to vote in the leadership contest.)
Since Sanders has a unique appeal as one of the few members of Congress, in either chamber, sitting as a principled progressive independent, he’s not tied to the establishment of either party. As such, he can make a credible claim as being an authentic change agent in the upcoming election cycle. Being a change agent will be critical in 2016 as the American electoral mood hungers for change (mirroring the same dynamic internationally), in particular sweeping away the establishment that’s seen as the source behind what the frustrated electorate views as a national malaise afflicting the U.S.
(As the Cook Political Report‘s national editor Amy Walters points out, change will be a crucial issue in 2016 and that the key challenge facing Clinton will be “to figure out how to both be an agent of change, while also not being swept out by a desire of the American public for change.” A task that may be a daunting—if not impossible—for Clinton, but is tailor-made for Sanders.)
Now, this anti-establishment-fueled desire for change is strikingly clear, in both parties, as Sanders has proven to be a resilient challenger to the Democratic establishment candidacy of Clinton, and the traction of the insurgent, anti-insider candidacies of Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump among Republicans. This bipartisan dynamic is symptomatic of an angry electorate where, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, a solid majority of voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction (hence the public mood for change) in an environment in which they’re placing the blame, in part, on insiders for the dismal state of the nation. This immense degree of frustration is saliently highlighted by a key—and startling—statistic in the poll:
A deep dive into new numbers from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that nearly seven in 10 Americans agree with the statement that “I feel angry because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington, rather than it working to help everyday people get ahead.”
For Democrats, the anti-establishment mood is even more acute than among Republicans as the same NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also highlights the following: “Democratic primary voters are MORE [emphasis in original] angry than their Republican counterparts. Fully 77 percent of Democratic primary voters express anger in the political system (42 percent say they’re ‘very’ angry) compared to 63 percent of Republican primary voters (35 percent ‘very’ angry.)”
In light of all of this—in addition to the poll above showing that Clinton has expanded her lead, as the frontrunner, among Democratic voters—it’s going to be imperative that Sanders continues to not only emphasize, more than ever, his anti-establishment brand to appeal to Democrats frustrated with insiders but to also expand his reach by enlarging the electorate in the primary and caucus states by furthering his outreach to three vital constituencies who view him strongly favorable more so than the former secretary of state: independent-minded Republicans, veterans, and youth/millennials (in particular young, first-time voters and those who don’t vote regularly). Thankfully, this is a point that bears no repeating among strategists surrounding Sanders. As reported in USA Today, a top strategist with the Sanders campaign grasps the importance of expanding the electorate to the senator’s goal in winning the Democratic nomination for the presidency:
“We understand that if the electorate stagnates, if the usual suspects show up to vote, that we will probably lose,” said Tad Devine, Sanders’ senior strategist. “But we believe that if we can change the composition of the electorate by getting young people involved and others . . . we can create a very strong coalition to help him win the nomination and help Democrats win the general election.” (Emphasis added.)
At the end of the day, Sanders, more than any other candidate in both parties, understands the crucial dynamics that will be at play in 2016. It’s no accident that Sanders’ recent campaign mantra, as highlighted in his first political ad this primary season, touting “real change” is one that identically mirrors the winning Trudeau campaign slogan that underpinned the Liberal strategy of expanding the electorate in the October Canadian election. And, as such, the symbolism of Sanders’ campaign mantra should give tremendous inspiration to the millions of his supporters everywhere that not only does the Vermont senator have a viable electoral strategy to win, but it also indicates the serious, laser-like focus of his efforts to offer real progressive change in America too.