Bernie Sanders' Bold Vow is a Game Changer -- But Will It Work?

Created: 16 June, 2015
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

Back in May, Bernie Sanders started his 2016 presidential campaign with a pledge not to run personal attack ads. On Friday, he reiterated his campaign philosophy during an interview with Andrea Mitchell, saying he won't use personal attacks in an attempt to win the presidency:

"The American people will have to decide how they feel about Hillary Clinton. I've known Hillary for 25 years. I'm not going to be waging personal attacks against her."

The groupthink among presidential campaigners, both for candidate-run and independent expenditure groups, has become 'negative ads are necessary if you want to win.' Just take a look at the first attack ad of the 2016 campaign from the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America.

If history is any indicator, it's inevitable that more negative attack ads will start cropping up as the primary race heats up.

So how will Sanders' 'no negative attacks' strategy fare in a political climate where personal attacks and negative campaign ads are a dime a dozen and par for the course when it comes to presidential campaigning?

In the short term, it appears to be working. He has built a reputation against the practice and his supporters have taken notice. You can see it in video comments, forum posts, blogs, and social media. Sen. Sanders' positive campaign strategy works online.

Within the first few months of the campaign, Sen. Sanders raised over $6 million from more than 150,000 donors, according to accounts from Sanders himself. At about $40 per donor, there's some credence to his campaign's assertion that it is being powered by the middle class.

What remains to be seen is whether or not he'll be able to keep up the small-donor momentum well into the 2016 primary season. Running a national presidential campaign will likely require more than Sanders' stated goal of $50 million. To put it in perspective, in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama raised over $32 million in January alone.

But Bernie Sanders approaches political campaigns differently. He's been outspoken about how he disagrees with the conventional wisdom in political campaigning.

After winning re-election to the Senate in 2012, Sanders told the Nation magazine:

“These damned consultants come in and say, ‘This is how you have to run,’ and it’s always the same: raise money, spend it on television, don’t say anything that will offend anyone.”

The conventional wisdom in Washington would argue that vowing not to go negative can only end up hurting your chances in the end. After all, that's just the way it is, right? Remember when Barack Obama 'pledged' not to go negative in 2008 and then did anyway? Those negative ads must have been his key to victory, right? In a campaign of infinite variables, it's impossible to say for sure. However, Sanders may have a strong hand to play in 2016 if he can keep his word.

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The average voter has become increasingly disenchanted with partisan politicking and while no one pledge or campaign promise in itself will ever be enough for a politician to win the White House, the 'no personal attacks' pledge is indicative of something deeper than a feel-good sound bite. It means Bernie Sanders is willing to run the campaign that he wants to run, not the one his consultants will run for him. That spark of authenticity might be just the kind of thing voters are looking for this time around.

Photo Source: AP

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