There was a Gallup poll done that says that Bernie Sanders has an approval of 26 percent among Republican voters. It also says that he has a 78 percent favorability among Democrats. I'm not sure if that is true because so many people talk about how he is a socialist.

For comparison, Hillary Clinton had a 4% approval among Republicans and almost the exact same among Democrats in September of 2018 in a different Gallup poll.

If Bernie Sanders is by relative terms a radical leftist, why is he seen so relatively well among members of the predominantly conservative party?

Maybe it has to do with that he is older, white, male, and lives in a non-urban area. I say this because AOC in the same poll who is younger, nonwhite, female, and lives in an urban area has a 5% approval from that same poll giving Sanders high marks.

  • 4
    It's more likely that the "approval' of Hillary Clinton is unusually low - to an extreme - than that the "approval" of Bernie Sanders is unusually high. So that may not be a good comparison.
    – davidbak
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 2:43
  • 1
    "Socialist" is not a bad word, as such. It's not a crime. It's just a description. And a very relative one at that. What the US calls socialism looks pretty right wing to us over here. Some of us have seen and experienced various incarnations of the real thing, you know.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 10:53

3 Answers 3


Sanders ran on a platform promising to shake up the elites that take wealth away from the people, serve corporate interests and provide limited services to poor people. He definitely ran as an outsider, separate from regular Democrats.

His message resonated well with younger people and I assume that it was more appealing to people who would benefit most from a stronger social support network from the state, i.e. poorer, working-class, people, rather than those who would be taxed more. It also, for reasons I don't quite follow, didn't really catch on with black communities.

On the Republican side, Trump (and some other populists before him like Buchanan), ran by appealing to the disaffection of white voters who have been doing badly economically. This is how he won states which traditionally would have voted working-class Democrats. Globalization can be beneficial to a nation as a whole, through lower prices, but it doesn't mean that workers in affected industries come out ahead.

50-70 years ago, a high school diploma could get you a factory job supporting a lower middle-class lifestyle. Now those jobs have been automated or offshored and CEOs routinely make 300x median salaries. The first two are consequences of free markets and ought to result in more overall wealth, even if not everyone benefits equally and some lose. CEO salaries however are a symptom of a deep malaise in US capitalism and will continue to attract populists like flies.

Trump's position on trade is totally at odds with the traditional free trade and budgetary hawks of the Republican party's intellectual theorists, but it won votes and it solidified his status as an outsider.

Leaving aside the rather dubious premise that a billionaire best known for his flamboyant lifestyle and trademark You're Fired! would usefully improve working people's lot, it is not difficult to see how Sanders' message could resonate with the same people who were receptive to Trump's promise of change and improvement for the "common man", against the "usual elites". The relative lack of enthusiasm for Sander's platform from black and other minorities probably also makes him more acceptable to the ethno-nationalists in Trump's base.

To Sander's credit however, his empathy is considerably stronger. Parts of his program actually made sense. Though I suspect even the parts that did, like universal health care, were too left-leaning to attract enough support to win him POTUS, in the US. That's what made a Sanders candidacy an attractive proposition to Republican strategists.

p.s. I think you'd find considerable variations if you were to compare Sanders approval from modern-day MAGA Reps vs old style Bush Sr free trade Reps.

p.p.s On the parts that probably didn't make sense, IMHO, like the Green New Deal, at least the intentions are good, even if our developing climate change emergency is unlikely to be solved by command-and-control, subsidy-driven, solutions.

  • 11
    It may be worth pointing out that a significant portion of the blue-collar vote liking both Trump and Sanders is not merely hypothetical. About 12% of Sanders' supporters actually voted for Trump in 2016 in the general election. In March of 2020, a poll found that 15% of Sanders' supporters would have voted for Trump if a general election between Biden and Trump would have happened at that time.
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 2:54
  • 4
    A good answer but some of this is pretty opinionated such as "his program actually made sense." Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 23:27
  • Comments deleted. This is not the place to debate Trump's qualities as a business person. Please keep your comments relevant to this answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 21:48
  • @DJSpicyDeluxe fair enough, and I knew this while writing it, but, while I don't fully agree with Sanders' politics, and think he would have a good chance of losing in November, I wanted to make very clear that my points of comparison with Trump in no way meant that I equated Sanders, or his followers, to Trump. Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 14:38

There are many reasons why Republicans want(ed) Sanders to be a Democratic party nominee against Trump.

  • It is particularly easier to fight against someone who can be easily accused of being a Socialist (or even a Communist);
  • Sanders divides Americans nearly as much as Trump — not along racial-ethnic lines but along class lines. This makes Trump look "not that bad" in comparison;
  • A radical left nominee would repel centrist and right-leaning Democrats from voting for a Dem or even convince them vote Rep;
  • …on the other hand, this may motivate Rep voters to vote more actively because of "saving the country from the Red Scare"
  • Additionally, some Rep voters who share Rep values but denounce Trump as a candidate, would lean toward Sanders;
  • Trump himself has designed his strategy around Sanders
  • …which drew more attention to Sanders because of a massive propaganda pulling for Sanders on Rep-leaning mass media (read: those who watch Fox News would know less about other Dem nominees than about Sanders);
  • A Horseshoe theory suggests that radical left and radical right politicians may resemble one another, analogous to the way that the opposite ends of a horseshoe are close together.

The Washington Post sums it up very simple: A vote for Bernie Sanders equals a vote for Donald Trump.


"Bernie Sanders showed he, not Biden, is 'the leader of the Democratic Party' — Sean Hannity, a Fox News propagandist

"If we can run a race against a person that’s an out-of-the-closet socialist and promoting socialist ideas, it’s a great contrast for us" — John Thune (R-S.D.)

"It’s probably [more] effective against somebody who is actually a socialist" — Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

"It is entirely possible that the American people would vote for an avowed socialist" … "We are a closely divided country. If Bernie were the nominee, he could win." — Ted Cruz (R-Tx)

We’re asking South Carolina Republicans to show their support for President Trump by crossing over the Democratic primary and voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders.SC Rep activists on Twitter (video)



I received a comment that (rightfully) notes that my answer contains an unlabeled frame change: the OP asked about the approval of Bernie Sanders, while my answer is mostly about how average Republicans support for Sanders as a candidate for upcoming presidential elections 2020 and how Rep-leaning mass media is pulling for him.

My answer is mostly about the propaganda, you could even fold my entire answer into "because the propaganda told them to".
What is important to understand is that propaganda never works the way it described in a comment. It always applies to both approval and support for elections (either for or against), never going into details (that's the difference between propaganda and fair promotion). Simply speaking, an average person (not a politician) would rarely make a difference between "I approve" and "I support". It is either both or none.
Yes, tactical voting exists, but its part never exceeds a fraction of a percentage point. Mind you, we are speaking about an average voter.

  • 1
    That is a good explanation. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 16:27
  • 22
    The question asks about approval of Sanders. You are talking about supporting his nomination. Those are two different things. If you think that the OP has mistakenly read the poll as indicating approval rather than support, you should explicitly state so and support your claim. Your answer is an unlabeled frame challenge. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 19:19
  • @Acccumulation, good catch, thanks. I have amended the answer. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 21:05
  • 4
    I don't think that's true. By 2016, the term "Socialist" had utterly lost its stigma with ordinary voters, except with a small hardline crowd, and the establishment in both parties. Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 4:08
  • 3
    If "Socialist" was really still a bogeyman term in US politics, there wouldn't be dozens of DSA members in all levels of US government.
    – Nzall
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 13:52

It comes down to the breakdown in both political parties. Starting at least in the 1990s (and probably going back to at least the highly unpopular Vietnam War), many people viewed politicians, of both parties, as living in an ivory tower, and elections as choosing the lesser evil, instead of the better leader. Those would be the voters who would readily cross party lines if somebody promised to shake up things.

This affected both parties, and by 2016 things came to a head. "Republican" and "Democrat" really only mattered insofar as voters self-identified as cheering for "their team". This has often been compared to how fans align themselves with "their" football or hockey team.

2016 was not isolated. There were at least two earlier elections with very similar dynamics.

The first example I consciously remember was the 1992 three-way election between Clinton, Bush and Ross Perot. Ross Perot got almost 19% of the vote. It is hard to tell (at least for me) whether Ross Perot got substantial support from Democratic voters. One clue is that Bill Clinton only got about 43% of the popular vote, but this is not conclusive evidence.

The next example was also a three-way election, the 2000 election between Al Gore, George Bush, and Ralph Nader. This played out very similar to the 1992 election, just with parties reversed.

These two earlier examples show that the pool of voters who were more looking for change than favoring any one party was substantial.

The 2016 election was basically the same initial setup, with two twists. First, instead of running as an independent, Bernie Sanders ran as a Democrat. That means that he did not advance to the general election the way Perot and Nader did.

Second, the Republican candidate also ran on a platform of "change". However, Sanders ran on a platform of constructive change (such as Medicare for All etc.) while Trump ran on a platform of destructive change (his first statement amounted to "Mexicans are rapists. And there are a few good ones, too").

I would be very curious how a three-way race between Clinton/Sanders/Trump in the general election might have played out.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .