Avowed socialist Bernard Sanders may be losing the Democratic presidential race, but the senator from Vermont has won the ideological war.
Look no further than the party’s presumed nominee, Joseph R. Biden.
The former vice president seems to have turned the corner in the presidential race and headed into the homestretch armed with a series of Sanders-style talking points and policy positions that were viewed as too extreme just a few years ago.
“Without a doubt, Vice President Biden is sounding more Sanders-esque — like all the other candidates did,” said Kerri Evelyn Harris, a liberal activist from Delaware. “People have piggybacked off of his health care, education, criminal justice, the Green New Deal. You name it, people have taken his position and tweaked it a little bit to make it their own.”
Indeed, Mr. Biden adopted some of the Sanders proposals for tuition-free college and the plan of Sanders acolyte Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to make bankruptcy laws more consumer-friendly.
Where Mr. Biden falls short of the Sanders measuring stick on single-payer health care or get-tough climate change policies, polls show most Democratic voters back Mr. Sanders’ position even if they cast their primary vote for the former vice president.
Mr. Sanders’ presidential odyssey began in late April of 2015 when he announced his run for the Democratic nomination in a race most believed was the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Sanders relentlessly campaigned against the “rigged” economy. He criticized Mrs. Clinton’s record on foreign interventionism and trade while pushing for a “Medicare for All” government-run health care system, free public college and new taxes on Wall Street and the most wealthy Americans.
He took a similar tack in 2020, by which time public opinion had moved dramatically in his direction.
Ashley Kirzinger, associate director of the Public Opinion and Survey Research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said there has long been support for more government involvement in health care but it never translated into majority support for putting all Americans under a single government health care plan until Mr. Sanders came along.
“That is until 2016, during which Senator Sanders made ‘Medicare-for-all’ a hallmark of his primary campaign,” Ms. Kirzinger said. “Since 2016, we have consistently found a slight majority of Americans say they favor such a plan.”
The group’s most recent tracking poll showed that 52% of the public favors a Medicare-for-all plan, including 74% of Democrats, half of independents and 20% of Republicans.
“While there has been a slight increase in the public’s support for Medicare-for-all, we consistently find a more incremental change, such an optional government-administered health care plan or public option, garners more support among the public overall, including Democrats, independents, and Republicans,” she said.
At least half of the voters that turned out for primaries in the 24 states where exit poll data is available said they supported the government health care plan over private insurance, which is akin to the Medicare for All plan that Mr. Sanders has made the centerpiece of his campaign.
In the half-dozen states where voters were asked whether they support tuition-free public college, more than six in 10 voters said they did — including states such as North Carolina and Tennessee that Mr. Sanders lost in a landslide.
Meanwhile, 60% of the voters in Maine said they had a favorable view of “socialism.”
Most voters, though, were not prepared to cast a ballot for Mr. Sanders and instead concluded that Mr. Biden is best prepared to defeat President Trump in a one-on-one matchup in the November election.
Mr. Biden has a 99% chance of being the party’s nominee, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
It is a stark turn of events from a month ago, when Mr. Sanders claimed the front-runner mantle after steamrolling his way to victory in Nevada, building on the momentum he carried out of his strong second-place showing in Iowa and a victory in New Hampshire.
Mr. Biden has since won 19 of the 26 contests and holds a 1,181 to 885 delegate lead over Mr. Sanders.
Still, the exit poll findings could help explain why Mr. Biden over the weekend announced he now supports making public colleges tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000 — marking a shift in his thinking and offering an olive branch to Sanders supporters.
Mr. Biden has yet to embrace Medicare for All, but he has made it clear that he supports the broader drive toward making health care more affordable and universally available.
“Sen. Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision for the need to provide affordable health care for all Americans, reduce income inequality that has risen so drastically to tackling the existential threat of our time: climate change,” Mr. Biden said this week after sweeping contests in Arizona, Florida and Illinois.
“Sen. Sanders and his supporters have brought a remarkable passion and tenacity to all of these issues. Together, they have shifted the fundamental conversation in this country,” he said.