How Realistic Are Bernie Sanders’ Policies?

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has become a phenomenon among US millennials since 2016. Even today, among those aged 18 to 24 years of age, 59 percent supported him in a Harvard/Harris poll conducted in November 2018. However, it is not just the 18-24 age bracket the independent Senator is appealing to the most.

Three years ago, he came second to Hillary Clinton during the race for the Democratic nomination, only to lose because his party’s establishment did not want him. But other factors were in play that year. Reports of gender and pay discrimination in his 2016 campaign, allegations of sexual harassment against some of his campaign surrogates, and a neglected and dysfunctional black outreach team caused him to be painted as the white man’s Democrat in 2016. Clinton won the black vote by large margins, even in states where Sanders won overall. Yet his determination to secure the 2020 Democratic ticket three years later has not been dented.

He polls better than every other contender with Hispanic voters, with 21 percent of them saying they would cast their vote for the Vermont Senator. The same Harvard/Harris poll from November 2018 discovered that Sanders polled favourably with Latinos and black voters by 58 percent and 66 percent respectively, a huge turnaround from 2016.

So far, he has led an energetic campaign with regular videos being posted on social media. Sanders has an ambitious plan to raise teachers’ pay to $60,000 a year, a $15 an hour minimum wage, free Medicare for all, and eradicating student debt completely. Yet he fails to appeal to all age groups. Harvard/Harris highlighted that his support in the 65-plus age range dropped by 10 points to 49 percent. A January 2019 poll from Politico and Morning Consult stated that Joe Biden is rated more favourably among black voters than the Vermont Senator, with a 33 percent approval rating. Is the independent Senator’s biggest problem that his policies are unrealistic?

Increasing teachers’ pay to $60,000 a year would have to be paid for by higher taxes. For a teacher to earn that much in Mississippi, they must have 26 years of experience. A report by The Balance Small Business found that Mississippi can afford those rates because it is ‘the most affordable state’ to reside in. Education Week discovered that the average salary for public school teachers in the US is $61,730. A teacher who has just qualified will not possess as much knowledge and experience as one who has been in the profession for 26 years, so some could argue that it is only reasonable that their pay should match their experience. It is doubtful that increasing taxes to award one profession with more money will be popular with voters generally.

Sanders wants free Medicare for all, but this would mean eradicating private insurance. Most countries with universal healthcare have some role for the private sector. In Canada, 67 percent of people buy complimentary private healthcare for benefits that are not covered by the government system. In Australia, that number is 47 percent. The Vermont Senator’s plan fails to consider whether the public sector can realistically provide all the perks private healthcare can. For many socialists, shifting the provision of goods and services from the private sector to the government is seen as an end in itself.

The independent Senator’s plan to cancel all student debt would cost nearly $1.6 trillion. Except this is not a universal plan. Due to pre-existing roadblocks for lower-income families, a large proportion of those who have gone to university and acquired student debt would be from higher-income backgrounds. As Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, cancelling all student loan debt benefits those who go to college over those who do not.

As wonderful as the independent Senator’s ideas sound, a realistic cost-benefit analysis proves that his policies are unrealistic. Sanders does not appeal to all age groups, and he will always struggle to do so, because his ideas appeal largely to younger people with lower incomes. Those who are older and earn more have enough age and wealth respectively to realise someone must pay for his policies – in higher taxes. His idealism and lack of appeal to major demographics could render him more than likely to lose, just like he did in 2016.