Thought experiment time.
In the 2016 Democratic Primary, once all the votes were counted, Hillary Clinton got 55% of the popular vote. Bernie Sanders got the rest: 13,210,550 votes.
The Sanders voters were crushed and defeated and a number of them didn’t go on to vote for Hillary in the General. The majority of his supporters kept up the fight and in 2020 Bernie got over 9M votes while not even competing past Super Tuesday. He also had a similarly focused opponent in Elizabeth Warren who picked up another 3M.
So in 2016 and 2020 there were about 12-13 Million supporters of Progressive Presidential Candidates.
Here is where my experiment kicks in. What would have happened in 2016 if after Bernie (and then Hillary) lost, he did a national address and said something along the lines of: “I urge all of my supporters and anyone else who believes in the things I do to help me start a new political party. Today I form the Peoples Party and I want you to join right now”. He could have done the same thing in 2020.
Imagine if overnight a new political party was formed with 10 million members. Would that be a good start? Would it push the party past some tipping point where with some marketing and messaging they could turn that 10 million into 20? I say yes. There are millions of Americans who have consistently pushed for “change”. They are ready and willing to do anything to get there. In 2016 Stein and Johnson got 5M votes. Which party are those voters allied with?? I think my 20M number is actually quite conservative.
So, what would a party of 20M mean in our political landscape? Well, the Democrats currently have 45M and Republicans have 33M. Assuming some of the new party members come from those two, that would put this new party on almost equal footing (in terms of membership).
But, you rightly argue, a party is not just its members. It’s the elected leaders as well. In State Houses and the US congress, there are almost no members who aren’t a D or R. That would take YEARS to build up the infrastructure to support the candidates locally. Fundraising as well.
Let’s talk about that for a second. Do you believe that everyone in office right now believes in their party strongly enough to not switch over as well? I think that within weeks of the formation of this new party that a number of office holders would switch immediately and I believe their constituencies would reward them for it. And locally, there are organizers in cities around the country ready to support anything that will break down the two party system.
Fundraising is also not much of an issue. Sanders and Warren in 2020 raised Millions of dollars from online small money donations. A new party would raise a ton overnight and continue to do so as it built momentum.
What I’m talking about here doesn’t need to be a thought experiment. I believe that it could happen for real if national leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would decide to make it happen.
What I’m arguing for here is something that is extremely bold and ambitious but isn’t that what is called for right now?