Maybe the Internet isn’t so crazy after all.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who’s the online favorite in the 2016 Democratic presidential race, earned 41 percent in a straw poll vote at the Wisconsin Democratic Party this weekend, losing only to Hillary Clinton‘s 49 percent, Politico reports. The surprising results bolster Sanders claim that he’s racing to win—not simply a liberal tool to pull Clinton to the left.
In the last month, Sanders has gone from a “doomed” candidate, according to the Washington Post, to one that can challenge Clinton in early votes like Wisconsin’s.
“The point isn’t that Sanders may have a shot at becoming the Democratic nominee,” Politico’s Dylan Byers wrote in May. “The point is that the media’s job is to write about campaigns, not to write them off.”
Clinton has been seen as the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee by many observers for years. Sanders, meanwhile, has moved into second place in national polling for the Democratic race, though he remains 47.5 points behind Clinton.
That is actually a significant jump from just one week ago when Sanders was 55 points behind Clinton in the same count.
Wisconsin may have been particularly fertile ground for Sanders, the only self-described “democratic-socialist” in Congress, because of the significant presence of organized labor in the state. Unions in Wisconsin have suffered multiple major defeats in recent years, but their profile has risen thanks to state-wide and national attention.
None of Sanders’ other results have been nearly this strong. In an Iowa poll from last week, he earned 15 percent to Clinton’s 59 percent. In a North Carolina poll, he took 16 percent to Clinton’s 62. But even those modest numbers are undeniable climbs for Sanders who, despite looking like a “mad scientist,” poses the biggest Democratic challenge to Clinton so far.
Sanders has received a large chunk of his most energetic support online from sites like Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. In this respect, Sanders’ support resembles the 2008 presidential run of Sen. Ron Paul (R-Ky.), who became an online sensation despite minimal coverage in major media. In 2012, Paul even won several straw polls before ultimately losing to nominee Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican nomination.