Last week, new polls showed that Bernie Sanders's campaign for the Democratic primaries reached new heights. The self-described democratic socialist now boasts a 10-point advantage over Hillary Clinton in Iowa and an astounding 22-point lead in New Hampshire. Despite these impressive results, an overwhelming majority of political commentators continues to dismiss his campaign as nothing more than a bump on Hillary Clinton's road to the democratic nomination.
They couldn't be more wrong.
Not only is Sanders's surge durable, but he actually has a serious chance of winning the democratic ticket. The reason so many analysts fail to make that assessment is because they view him through the lens of establishment politics.
Hillary, with her brand-name, consensual stances on the issues, overwhelming support of the Democratic Party, and unrivaled ability to raise enormous amounts of cash, appears unbeatable. But Sanders's campaign cannot be understood according to the usual parameters of U.S. presidential elections. His campaign is far too revolutionary.
Pundits see endorsements by influential party members (congress members and governors in particular) as the most reliable indicator of a candidate's chances to win the nomination. And while Clinton's endorsements are already in the hundreds, Sanders hasn't secured a single one. Officially, the reason is that Sanders is just too liberal to win the White House and Clinton is better positioned for the general elections. Yet, the exact opposite may be argued: Sanders's populist proposals -- tuition-free public universities, single-payer healthcare, a $15 minimum wage -- would most likely attract millions of disillusioned voters back to the polls, including independents and moderate Republicans.
Clinton, on the other hand, an establishment figurehead embroiled in controversies and committed to the country's financial elite, would dissuade many from voting. The lack of endorsement for Sanders is probably better explained by the fact that his anti-establishment positioning threatens Democratic figures. After all, if his proposal to move toward public funding of elections is implemented, the political map of the United States would be shattered and many Democrats currently in office could lose their jobs to more populist candidates.
This is not to mention Sanders's plan, central to his campaign, to overhaul the tax system to better target the super-rich, large corporations and financial institutions -- half of congress members are millionaires and most have deep ties to the corporate world. This anti-establishment threat is undoubtedly behind the decision by Democratic national chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz -- who also served as a co-chair to Clinton's 2008 campaign -- to limit the primary debates to a shockingly low number of six, thereby significantly reducing the exposure of underdog candidates and their challenge to the establishment's nominee.
During the 2008 Democratic primaries, 26 debates were held. The political establishment's rejection of Sanders must not be viewed as a sign of insurmountable weakness, though it does complicate his campaign, but rather as an inevitable byproduct of a populist, and increasingly popular, message.
Fundraising is, too, considered a meaningful sign of a candidate's potential. Sanders has managed to raise impressive amounts of money, but falling short of even a third of Clinton's fundraising drive. That is certainly a major disadvantage to hire paid staff and buy TV ads in early primary states. But Sander's cash has come from hundreds of thousands of small donors, not few large corporations and wealthy individuals.
This means that his talk of campaign finance reform appears a lot more genuine than Clinton's, bolstering his credibility among primary voters. More importantly, however, every single of these donors -- and their numbers may reach the million in the coming months -- will be committed ambassadors to his campaign, far more valuable than TV ads. A live discussion with a family member over dinner, with an enthusiastic friend or coworker, or with a volunteer on the street is far more likely to convince an undecided voter of a candidate's worth.
And the nature of Sanders's policy proposals is breathing life into a disillusioned political generation. Those who rally around him believe his election would truly mark a break with politics-as-usual and would tangibly improve their lives. Once they join his campaign, then, they are ready to invest a lot more time, energy and money on the campaign that those who join Clinton's. FeelTheBern.org is the living proof of this extraordinary enthusiasm: the beautifully crafted website, which compiles Sanders's position and record on virtually every single policy issue, required thousands of hours of work by hundreds of volunteers from across the country and has now become a critical tool to educate the public about Sanders's candidacy. Clinton could only dream of such a volunteer-driven platform.
Finally, polling is, of course, the most commonly-used indicator to assess a candidate's chances. And while Sanders leads in Iowa and New Hampshire among primary voters, Clinton has consistently outpolled him in the rest of the country. But snapshot polls are only relevant when all candidates are more or less equally known to the public.
Three months ago, most Americans had never heard of Bernie Sanders, while Clinton is the most recognizable political figure in the country. Those who lean Democrat, even with little knowledge of her position on the issues, naturally lend her their support -- especially in the face of an often-considered scandalizing Republican primary contest.
What polls did show, however, was the speed with which Sanders caught up with Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire: once people hear of Sanders's proposals, they overwhelmingly switch their support to his campaign. Of course, these predominantly white and progressive states aren't representative of the rest of the country.
If Sanders wants to stand a chance, he will have to target more diverse population groups -- which he has already undertaken -- especially blacks and latinos, most of whom have simply never heard of him. But Clinton's support is eroding throughout the country, even among what was long thought to be her most supportive crowd, Democratic women.
As Sanders gains increased visibility through an army of volunteers canvassing the streets and the upcoming democratic debates, and as his proposals -- notably his expansive take on racial justice -- become known to the public, catching up with Clinton nationally is fast becoming a realistic prospect.
Bernie Sanders has called his campaign a "political revolution." The strength of his populist message, the resounding popularity of his proposals, and the staggering success of his grassroots organizing suggest that, in fact, a revolution is underway.