By Sylvia Mishra*
More than a dozen Republicans and a handful of Democrats have announced that they are running for their parties’ 2016 presidential nomination. On the Republican side, if the competition between the presidential nominees is rife, the competition between the two front runners for Democratic presidential nominees is only gathering steam. Hillary Clinton’s ratings are going down as Bernie Sanders stirs populism.
A Gallup poll shows that Bernie Sanders’ favourable ratings among American public has shot up to 24% in July from 12% in March this year. On the other hand, in the vortex of the email controversy, Hillary Clinton’s ratings have slipped to 43% from 48%. The good news for Hillary Clinton is that her approval ratings are almost doubly ahead of Bernie Sanders. Although, investigations looking into the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and on a possible Justice Department inquiry into Mrs Clinton’s controversial ’email-gate’ severely threaten her campaign.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders’ campaign momentum is rapidly picking up. Will Sanders be able to bridge the favourability gap between Clinton and himself by striking a chord amongst the non-white community rallying with his economic message of revolution against inequality? Or will the lack of foreign policy experience circumvent Sanders’ growing popularity among the voters? This article highlights the differences in Clinton’s and Sanders’ positions on economic, social and foreign policy issues and showcases the vulnerabilities of both the candidates.
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 economic plan is focused on increasing middle-class incomes. She stands for giving a boost to the economy by giving tax cuts to the middle class and helping small businesses and enabling women to enter the workforce. Her other economic ideas include raising the minimum wage, making college, health and child care more affordable and support long term economic growth. On the other hand, self-declared ‘democratic socialist’ Sanders has recently launched a fiery campaign in Kenner, Louisiana, denouncing inequality in America as ‘grotesque’ and ‘immoral’. Economic issues have been the basis of his campaign and Sanders has frequently called for paid family leave, mandatory paid vacations and a raise in the minimum wage. Additionally, Sanders has rallied to fix America’s ‘crumbling’ infrastructure and has also blasted against pay inequalities based on gender and racial disparities in unemployment. Broadly, the economic messages of both candidates has converged on rebuilding the American middle class, market-led recovery, higher taxes on the wealthy and both strongly favour ObamaCare. However, in the economic realm what sets Clinton and Sanders apart is their position on international free trade, especially pertaining to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). While Mrs Clinton has endorsed the trade deal as one which will produce jobs, raise wages and increase the prosperity of the American middle class, Sanders has been one of the staunchest critics of the TPP. Sanders has repeatedly argued that if the TPP is in place, multi-national corporations would outsource millions of good paying American jobs to other low-wage countries and would depress wages in the domestic market.
On social issues such as reforming education and gender equality, both the Democratic candidates’ ideas broadly converge. Clinton has advocated for women’s rights and family interests at the top of the domestic agenda along with healthcare reforms. On issues relating the environment, Hillary Clinton has promised to help people save money on their electricity bills by helping to install half a billion new solar panels. She has set a goal of producing 33 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2027 up from 7 percent today – a higher goal than the 20 percent that President Obama has called for by 2030. Ms. Clinton’s strategists see climate change as a winning issue for 2016. They believe it is a cause she can advance to win over deep-pocketed donors and \liberal activists in the nominating campaign. However, her rival Bernie Sanders too has a strong record on issues relating to the environment and climate change. Hence, Clinton’s ambitious climate change agenda would earn her votes vis-à-vis Republican candidates than her immediate rival for the nomination – Bernie Sanders.
On issues relating to immigration, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has called for comprehensive immigration and a structured path to citizenship stating that “Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together.” This claim has been in sharp contrast to the mainstream GOP agenda of advocating for tougher border security. One of the challenges for Sanders has been that his voter base is strictly confined to the white community. This is a challenge as Sanders hopes to win the nomination in a party where nearly one-in-five members are black. Though, recently Sanders has touched on many social issues of concern to civil rights groups such as voting rights to police brutality to for profit-prisons, his campaign is yet to take off where he directly reaches to black voters beyond his mostly white base.
The United States’ foreign policy is evolving and has seen a marked change from a sense of American exceptionalism during Bush years to one of cautious restraint during the ongoing Obama presidency. So issues pertaining to foreign policy would loom large in the US Presidential elections of 2016. Being the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has a clear advantage over Bernie Sanders when it comes to foreign policy. Clinton has been one of the strongest proponents of President Obama’s Pivot to Asia policy. However, over time there has been a shift in rhetoric during the election campaign to prioritize on the war in the Middle East and the immediate threat of the ISIS to the ‘Rebalance to Asia’ policy. On the other hand, Sanders has been criticised for his lack of foreign policy experience. One of the glaring shortcomings of Sanders election campaign is the lack of a foreign policy vision he offers. Sanders has been a critic of large-scale military interventions abroad, labelling them as expensive and counter-productive. He had opposed the Iraq War and had reservations about Obama’s intervention in Libya. It is interesting to note, however, that Sanders is not against military action in all cases and had previously backed Bill Clinton’s airstrikes in Kosovo and the Afghanistan War in 2001.
The Democratic election nomination tussle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is going through an exciting time as Sanders’ far-left economic agenda is increasingly becoming more appealing to the party’s base. While most thought that the Democratic nomination is going to be a landslide victory for Clinton, in reality the Democratic presidential front-runner is now labouring to find new avenues of leadership in campaign strategy in the backdrop of her sliding favourability ratings. In the long run, what could prove to be advantageous for her is her massive war chest compared to that of Sanders’ and her expertise in matters of foreign policy where Sanders is yet to gather momentum.
*The writer is a Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, Delhi