Political positions of Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders speaking at a March 2016 rally in Portland, Oregon as part of his 2016 presidential campaign.

The political positions of Bernie Sanders are evident in his public comments and are reflected in his Congressional voting record. Sanders is the junior United States Senator from Vermont who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 election. His positions encompass economics, the environment, transparency in government, foreign policy, national security, education and social issues. Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist and a New Deal-era American progressive, who is pro-labor and emphasizes reversing economic inequality.[1][2] He is critical of the administration of Donald Trump.

Political and economic philosophy[edit]

Sanders described himself as a "democratic socialist"[3] and an admirer of aspects of social democracy as practiced in the Scandinavian countries. In an address on his political philosophy given at Georgetown University in November 2015, Sanders identified his conception of "democratic socialism" with Franklin D. Roosevelt's proposal for a Second Bill of Rights,[4][5] saying that democratic socialism means creating "an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy," reforming the political system (which Sanders says is "grossly unfair" and "in many respects, corrupt"), recognizing health care and education as rights, protecting the environment, and creating a "vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote."[6] He explained that democratic socialism not tied to Marxism or the abolition of capitalism, it instead describes a program of extensive social benefits, funded by broad-based taxes.[7]

Commentary of others[edit]

Multiple commentators have examined Sanders' characterization of his political platform and ideology as "democratic socialism" and generally found it to support tax-funded social benefits rather than public ownership of the means of production.


Samuel Goldman, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University, states that Sanders' platform is not socialist and is better described as "welfarism" reminiscent of the 1950s that aims to regulate rather than to replace capitalism. Goldman notes that Sanders does not advocate public ownership of the means of production nor does he seek to abolish the profit system, both of which Goldman considers to be defining characteristics of socialism.[8]

Lane Kenworthy, professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego, has stated that Sanders is a social democrat and not a democratic socialist, and that the two ideologies are fundamentally different from each other. Kenworthy points out that social democracy does not aim to abolish capitalism, and argues that Sanders' use of the term "socialism" when he actually advocates "social democracy" is causing more confusion than it is adding value, and might unnecessarily have a negative impact on his presidential campaign. Mike Konczal, an economic policy expert at the Roosevelt Institute, also characterizes Sanders' positions as "social democracy" rather than "socialist", noting that social democracy means support for a mixed economy combining private enterprise with government spending, social insurance programs, Keynesian macroeconomic policies, and democratic participation in government and the workplace—all of which are a part of Sanders' platform.[9]

Andrei Markovits, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, defines democratic socialism as "an attempt to create a property-free, socialist society" and something that does not exist in Denmark or anywhere else in the world, and argues that Sanders' explanation of the term is inaccurate.[10]


American socialists and representatives belonging to the Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party USA have criticized Sanders, arguing that he is not a socialist because he aims to reform capitalism rather than to replace it with an entirely different socialist system.[11] Despite these criticisms however, the Democratic Socialists of America "strongly support(ed)" his campaign for President.[12] Former Sanders colleague, Peter Diamondstone, claimed that Sanders was a socialist during his time in the Liberty Union Party but is no longer a true socialist.[13]

Other commentators[edit]

In 2015, The New Republic distinguished between socialism and "democratic socialism", suggesting that Sanders himself was loose with the distinction in his terminology and that the United States already had such social democratic programs as Social Security and Medicare.[14] Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder, editor, and publisher of the socialist journal Jacobin, considered Sanders to be a social democrat and not a socialist.[4] Noam Chomsky, a social commentator and activist, called Sanders an "honest New Dealer" and not a true socialist.[15] In a 2016 editorial, The Economist suggested that, despite calling himself a "social democrat", Sanders did not fit the mold of a social democrat, while disavowing major corporations and advocating for higher taxes on the rich.[16] A Forbes commentator suggested that his "democratic socialism" is really social democracy, as found in much of Europe and especially in the Nordic countries.[17] In 2018, The Week suggested that there was a trend towards social democracy in the United States and highlighted elements of its implementation in the Nordic countries and suggested that Sanders popularity was an element in favor of its possible growth in acceptance.[18]


Income and wealth inequality[edit]

Campaign video on income inequality

A cornerstone of Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign was to fight the increasing wealth inequality in the United States. In April 2015, the Associated Press wrote:

What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels. This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans … You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires.[19]

In July 2015, Sanders introduced legislation that would incrementally increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.[20][21]


Sanders supports repeal of some of the tax deductions that benefit hedge funds and corporations, and would raise taxes on capital gains and the wealthiest one percent of Americans. He would use some of the added revenues to lower the taxes of the middle and lower classes.[22][23] He has suggested that he would be open to a 90% top marginal tax rate (a rate that last existed during the years after World War II) for the wealthiest earners, as well as a 52% top income tax bracket.[24] He has proposed a top marginal rate of 65% for the federal estate tax, up from the current 40% rate.[25]

In 1974, while running for the Senate, Sanders said, "nobody should earn more than $1 million."[26]

Wall Street reform[edit]

On May 6, 2015, Sanders introduced a legislation designed to break up "too big to fail" financial institutions. With three of the four banks bailed out during the 2007–08 global financial crisis now larger than they were then, Sanders believes that "no single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure would send the world economy into crisis. If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist."[27][28] As a representative from Vermont, Sanders opposed the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, signed in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, which repealed the provision of the Glass–Steagall Act preventing any financial institution from acting as both a securities firm and a commercial bank. Sanders supports legislation sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to re-instate Glass–Steagall.[29]


In his "Plan to Rebuild America", the January 27, 2015 legislative proposal he co-sponsored with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the ranking member of the appropriations committee, and backed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the AFL-CIO and other trade unions, Sanders insisted on the pivotal role played by infrastructure investments: "For too many years, we have dramatically underfunded the physical infrastructure that our economy depends on. That is why I have proposed the Rebuild America Act, to invest $1 trillion over five years to modernize our infrastructure […] Importantly, the Rebuild America Act will support more than thirteen million good-paying jobs – jobs that our economy desperately needs." [30]

While clearly rooted in the Rooseveltian, progressivist tradition,[31] this policy proposal also reflects, more generally, the pre-Reagan Era bipartisan American policy consensus, which was more favorable to the notion of infrastructure spending[32] and infrastructure-driven development.


According to PolitiFact, Sanders has "consistently argued for protectionist trade policies as opposed to free trade."[33] Sanders opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which he has called "a continuation of other disastrous trade agreements, like NAFTA, CAFTA, and permanent normal trade relations with China." He believes that free trade agreements have caused a loss of American jobs and have depressed American wages. Sanders has said that America needs to rebuild its own manufacturing base by using American factories and supporting well-paying jobs for American labor rather than outsourcing to China and other countries.[34][35][36][37]

According to Sanders, TPP undermines US's sovereignty: TPP grants multinational corporations power to sue a national government in UN and World Bank tribunals over lost profits (including those yet to be made) due to the regulations about labor, health and environment that the government imposed. The tribunals can require US's taxpayer to pay compensation.[38]

The Panama Free Trade Agreement, which, according to Sanders, allowed and made the abuses documented in the Panama Papers leaks worse, was opposed by Sanders.[39]


Sanders was committed to creating job growth through infrastructure development and manufacturing, saying, "America once led the world in building and maintaining a nationwide network of safe and reliable bridges and roads. Today, nearly a quarter of the nation's 600,000 bridges have been designated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete...Almost one-third of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition..." Sanders has introduced amendments to Senate bills (S.Amendt.323) promoting the creation of millions of middle-class jobs by investing in infrastructure, paid for by closing loopholes in the corporate and international tax system.[40][41] He also supports legislation that would make it easier for workers to join or form a labor union.[42] Sanders' campaign website also has focused on the concerns of both the long-term unemployed and the underemployed, citing that "the real unemployment rate is much higher than the 'official' figure typically reported in the newspapers. When you include workers who have given up looking for jobs, or those who are working part-time when they want to work full-time, the real number is much higher than official figures would suggest."[43]

Sanders has said that there is a very important role for free enterprise and economic growth, especially for small business and entrepreneurs, but that the competitive landscape in the US has become unfair, favoring large corporations. He has also said that economic growth needs to serve people and that growth for the sake enriching the top 1% does not serve the country's interests. He has said that he would accept a reduction in economic growth in order to increase fairness and reduce economic inequality.[36][44][45]

Employee ownership[edit]

Sanders supports establishing worker-owned cooperatives and introduced legislation in June 2014 that would aid workers who wanted to "form their own businesses or to set up worker-owned cooperatives."[42][46][47] As early as 1976, Sanders proposed workplace democracy, saying, "I believe that, in the long run, major industries in this state and nation should be publicly owned and controlled by the workers themselves."[48]

In 1987, Sanders defined democracy as public ownership and workers' self-management in the workplace, stating that "Democracy means public ownership of the major means of production, it means decentralization, it means involving people in their work. Rather than having bosses and workers it means having democratic control over the factories and shops to as great a degree as you can."[49]

Offshore tax havens[edit]

Noting that American corporations are collectively holding more than $1 trillion in profits in offshore tax haven countries, Sanders has introduced legislation that would crack down on offshore tax havens by requiring companies to pay the top U.S. corporate tax rate on profits held abroad.[50] On his website, Sanders offers examples of large American companies that paid no federal taxes and even received tax refunds, with many of them receiving large amounts in financial assistance during the recent financial crisis and continuing to receive billions in subsidies.[51] Sanders feels that this is unfair and that it damages the nation's economy, believing the money used for refunds and subsidies should instead be invested in American small businesses and the working people.[52]

Federal Reserve[edit]

Sanders is in favor of auditing the Federal Reserve, which would reduce the independence of the Federal Reserve in monetary policy deliberations; Federal Reserve officials say that 'Audit the Fed' legislation would expose the Federal Reserve to undue political pressure from lawmakers disliking its decisions.[53][54][55] Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said that "such a bill would essentially empower the cranks — the gold-standard-loving, hyperinflation-is-coming types who dominate the modern G.O.P., and have spent the past five or six years trying to bully monetary policy makers into ceasing and desisting from their efforts to prevent economic disaster."[56]

In a December 2015 op-ed, Sanders called for creating board positions on the Federal Reserve for "representatives from all walks of life — including labor, consumers, homeowners, urban residents, farmers and small businesses."[57][58]


Global warming[edit]

Campaign video on climate change

Sanders views global warming as a serious problem.[59] Along with Senator Barbara Boxer, Sanders introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007 on January 15, 2007.[60] In a July 26, 2012 speech on the Senate floor, Sanders addressed claims made by Senator Jim Inhofe: "The bottom line is when Senator Inhofe says global warming is a hoax, he is just dead wrong, according to the vast majority of climate scientists."[61] He was Climate Hawks Vote's top-rated senator on climate leadership in the 113th Congress.[62]

Believing that "[we need to] transform our energy system away from fossil fuel," Sanders voted against the Keystone Pipeline bill, saying, "Unless we get our act together, the planet that we're going to be leaving to our kids and grandchildren will be significantly less habitable than the planet we have right now [...] I think it's a good idea for the president, Congress, and the American people to listen to the overwhelming amount of scientists who tell us loudly and clearly that climate change is one of the great planetary crises that we face."[63]

Sanders also stands with the Great Sioux Nation as opposed to constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline, stating:

Like the Keystone XL pipeline, which I opposed since day one, the Dakota Access fracked oil pipeline, will transport some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet. Regardless of the court's decision, the Dakota Access pipeline must be stopped. As a nation, our job is to break our addiction to fossil fuels, not increase our dependence on oil. I join with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many tribal nations fighting this dangerous pipeline.[64]

Nuclear energy[edit]

Following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, Sanders called for a moratorium on licensing new nuclear plants and re-licensing of existing ones, in an effort to slow down what has been touted as a nuclear renaissance in the United States.[65] Sanders wrote to President Obama, asking him to appoint a special commission to review the safety of U.S. nuclear plants. Sanders also wants to repeal the Price–Anderson Act, which leaves the taxpayers to pay most of the costs of a major nuclear accident. He says, "in a free-enterprise system, the nuclear industry should be required to insure itself against accidents."[65]

Sanders has gone on record against the government financial backing of the nuclear industry, which he calls "nuclear welfare".[66] Additionally, he expresses concern over the logistics and fiscal challenges of nuclear waste.[66] He has spoken in favor of sustainable alternatives and cites Vermont as a state leading such endeavors, saying in regard to opposition of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's 2011 extension (just one week after the Japanese accidents) of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant's operating license, "In my state there is a strong feeling that we want to go forward with energy efficiency and sustainable energy. I believe that we have that right. I believe that every other state in the country has that right. If we want to move to sustainable energy and not maintain an aging, trouble-plagued nuclear power plant, I think we should be allowed to do that."[67]

Transparency and corruption[edit]

Campaign finance[edit]

Sanders supports the DISCLOSE Act, which would make campaign finances more transparent and ban U.S. corporations controlled by foreign interests from making political expenditures.[68] He has been outspoken in calling for an overturn of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Supreme Court overturned McCain-Feingold restrictions on political spending by corporations and unions as a violation of the First Amendment.[69] Saying that he believes that the Citizens United decision is "one of the Supreme Court's worst decisions ever" and that it has allowed big money to "deflect attention from the real issues" facing voters,[70] he has proposed a constitutional amendment to undo the ruling.[71] He warns: "We now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates."[72]

Instant runoff voting[edit]

In 2007, Sanders testified to the Vermont Senate Government Operations Committee that he "strongly supports instant-runoff voting" because it "allows people to vote for what they really want without worrying about the possibility of them getting what they really don't want."[73] The committee and legislature ultimately passed legislation that would have enacted instant runoff voting for U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, but the governor vetoed it.[74]

Media reform[edit]

Sanders has been a leader in calling for media reform and opposes increased concentration of ownership of media outlets,[75] as well as being a contributing author for OpEdNews.[76] He appeared in Orwell Rolls in His Grave and Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, two documentaries on the subject.[77]

Net neutrality[edit]

Sanders opposes the repeal of net neutrality in the United States, as voted by FCC commissioners in a 3-2 vote on December 14, 2017 — his statement on the issue from his U.S. Senate website on the same day as the vote, partly reads: "The FCC's vote to end net neutrality is an egregious attack on our democracy. With this decision the internet and its free exchange of information as we have come to know it will cease to exist...At a time when our democratic institutions are already in peril, we must do everything we can to stop this decision from taking effect."[78]

Foreign policy[edit]

Bernie Sanders at a May 2016 rally in Vallejo, California.


Early in his career, Sanders had praised the Cuban government for their reforms, including widespread education and health care in Cuba.[79] On April 14, 2015, after the White House announced that President Obama had intended to remove Cuba from the United States' list of nations sponsoring terrorism, Sanders issued a statement saying, "While we have our strong differences with Cuba, it is not a terrorist state. I applaud President Obama for moving aggressively to develop normal diplomatic relations. Fifty years of Cold War is enough. It is time for Cuba and the United States to turn the page and normalize relations."[80]


Sanders supports the agreement with Iran reached by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. While calling it less than a perfect agreement, he believes that the US needs to negotiate with Iran rather than enter in another war in the Middle East.[81]

In 2017, Congress took up a bill designed to impose sanctions on Russia, for its alleged interference in the 2016 election, and on Iran. Sanders announced that he supported the sanctions on Russia, but he voted against the bill because of the Iran provisions. He stated:

I have voted for sanctions on Iran in the past, and I believe sanctions were an important tool for bringing Iran to the negotiating table. But I believe that these new sanctions could endanger the very important nuclear agreement that was signed between the United States, its partners and Iran in 2015. That is not a risk worth taking....[82]


Sanders strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force against that country. In a 2002 speech, he said, "I am opposed to giving the President a blank check to launch a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq" and "I will vote against this resolution. One, I have not heard any estimates of how many young American men and women might die in such a war or how many tens of thousands of women and children in Iraq might also be killed. As a caring Nation, we should do everything we can to prevent the horrible suffering that a war will cause. War must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first. Second, I am deeply concerned about the precedent that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could establish in terms of international law and the role of the United Nations."[83]

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria[edit]

Sanders has called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) "a barbaric organization" and "a growing threat," but does not believe that the U.S. should lead the fight against it. Sanders believes that "the United States should be supportive, along with other countries, but we cannot and we should not be involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East – the Muslim countries themselves have got to lead the effort."[84]

On November 15, 2015, in response to ISIS' attacks in Paris, Sanders cautioned against "Islamophobia" saying, "During these difficult times as Americans, we will not succumb to racism. We will not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia. And while hundreds of thousands have lost everything, have nothing left but the shirts on their backs, we will not turn our backs on the refugees!"[85]

Sanders criticized Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE, saying that those "countries of enormous wealth and resources – have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS". Sanders said Saudi Arabia, instead of fighting ISIS, has focused more on Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Kuwait has been a well-known source of financing for ISIS, and Qatar is spending $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, yet very little to fight against ISIS. "Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them."[86]

Israeli–Palestinian conflict[edit]

Sanders supports a two-state solution, saying that "the Palestinian people, in my view, deserve a state of their own, they deserve an economy of their own, they deserve economic support from the people of this country. And Israel needs to be able to live in security without terrorist attacks."[87] Sanders has said Israel must have a right to live in peace and security.[88]

In 2008, Sanders was a co-sponsor of a Senate Resolution, "recognizing the 60th anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel and reaffirming the bonds of close friendship and cooperation between the United States and Israel." The resolution reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself against terror. It also congratulated Israel on building a strong nation and wished for a successful Israeli future.[89]

According to Sanders' senate webpage, David Palumbo-Liu wrongly noted in Salon that Sen. Sanders "voted" for a resolution supporting Operation Protective Edge which had actually passed without a vote.[90] A statement published on his Senate website reads in part: "Sanders believes the Israeli attacks that killed hundreds of innocent people – including many women and children – in bombings of civilian neighborhoods and UN controlled schools, hospitals, and refugee camps were disproportionate, and the widespread killing of civilians is completely unacceptable. Israel's actions took an enormous human toll, and appeared to strengthen support for Hamas and may well be sowing the seeds for even more hatred, war and destruction in future years."[87]

Rania Khalek, writing in The Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian publication, has argued there is "little reason to believe a Sanders administration would be all that different on Palestine than the current one".[91] To The Intercept's Zaid Jilani, however, Sanders "stood out in contrast to the remarks from the other four major party candidates" in the 2016 presidential election, criticizing Israel's policy of settlement expansion after violent episodes and defended self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for Palestinians. After AIPAC's refusal to accept Sanders's telepresence at their 2016 debate, former U.S. ambassador Marc Ginsberg explained the event saying that Bernie Sanders "has never really extolled his Jewishness, much less any support for Israel".[92] Sanders was criticized for hiring IfNotNow founder Simone Zimmerman as his Jewish Outreach Coordinator, and she was fired from the campaign after critical social media posts about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the conflict surfaced.[93][94]

While being interviewed in April 2016 by the New York Daily News, Sanders said that Israel killed over 10,000 innocent civilians in Gaza,[95] an unnecessarily high death toll.[96] The Anti-Defamation League subsequently called on Sanders to withdraw remarks he made about the casualties, which the ADL said exaggerated the death toll of the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, citing a number far in excess of Palestinian or Israel sources' estimates.[97] Sanders later clarified that he was quickly corrected in that the death toll was closer to 2,000 civilians.[98]

Henry Kissinger[edit]

During the February 11th democratic debate, Sanders took issue with Hillary Clinton's admiration of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, noting that he was "one of the most destructive" in US modern history, stating:

I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. In fact, Kissinger's actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in who then butchered some 3 million innocent people – one of the worst genocides in the history of the world.[99]

Nicaraguan Revolution[edit]

During the Nicaraguan Revolution, Sanders opposed the U.S. funding the Contras and praised the leadership and popularity of the Sandinistas. Sanders expressed that the popularity of Sandinistas in their country was more than of the U.S. president and that the Nicaraguan people do not want invasion.[100][79]


Since the deterioration of Venezuelan living standards under the direction of the self-described socialist government in the country, concerns and comparisons to Venezuela were raised over Sanders' desires to implement socialist policies in the United States.[101][102][103] Sanders responded by attempting to distance himself from Venezuela's Bolivarian Government, replying to such worries by stating, "When I talk about Democratic socialist, I'm not looking at Venezuela. I'm not looking at Cuba. I'm looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden".[104] Sanders also furthered himself from the Venezuelan government by calling the leader of Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution, former President Hugo Chávez, a "dead communist dictator".[105]

Clinton Foundation[edit]

When asked by CNN's Jake Tapper in June 2016 if it was fair to criticize the American charity, the Clinton Foundation, for taking money from foreign governments which do not represent our values, Sanders responded, saying, "Yes it is. It is. If you ask me about the Clinton Foundation, do I have a problem when a sitting secretary of state and a foundation run by her husband collects many millions of dollars from foreign governments, governments which are dictatorships -- you don't have a lot of civil liberties or democratic rights in Saudi Arabia. You don't have a lot of respect there for opposition points of view for gay rights, for women's rights. Yes, do I have a problem with that? Yes, I do."[106][107] In September 2016, Sanders told NBC's Chuck Todd that if Clinton becomes president of the United States, she should cease all contact with the Foundation, but stopped short of agreeing it should be closed, noting, "I don't know enough. They do a lot of good things with A.I.D.S. and so forth. I can't, you know, definitively answer that."[108][109]

Insights regarding Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party[edit]

In August 2016, Sanders praised Jeremy Corbyn in his candidacy in the Labour Party leadership election. Corbyn said that he had received a message from Sanders saying that Sanders was dismissed as unelectable but that the real reason many dismissed him was that he was electable and a threat to the American political establishment.[110]

In June 2017, he again saw parallels between his efforts and those of Corbyn in the 2017 UK general election. During a speech promoting his book at the Brighton Festival,[111] Sanders said: "What Corbyn has tried to do with the Labour Party is not dissimilar to what some of us are trying to do with the Democratic Party, and that is to make it a party that is much more open and inviting for working people and young people and not have a liberal elite making the decisions from the top down. I think what Corbyn is doing is trying to revitalise democracy, bring a lot of new people into the political process and I think that's an excellent idea..."[112] He added: "...he has taken on the establishment of the Labour Party, he has gone to the grassroots and he has tried to transform that party..."[111]

After the 2017 general election, Sanders wrote in The New York Times that "the British elections should be a lesson for the Democratic Party" and urged the Democrats to stop holding on to an "overly cautious, centrist ideology", arguing that "momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers".[113][114]

National security[edit]


Sanders and Salman Rushdie in 2004 protesting section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

Sanders has long been critical of U.S. government surveillance policies. He voted against the USA PATRIOT Act and all of its renewals and has characterized the National Security Agency as "out of control." He has frequently criticized warrantless wiretapping and the collection of the phone, email, library, and internet browsing records of American citizens without due process:[115]

In my view, the NSA is out of control and operating in an unconstitutional manner. I worry very much about kids growing up in a society where they think 'I'm not going to talk about this issue, read this book, or explore this idea because someone may think I'm a terrorist.' That is not the kind of free society I want for our children.[116]

During the first Democratic presidential debate in October 2015 the candidates were asked for their opinion of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. When asked the question "hero or traitor?" Sanders replied, "I think Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined. He did—he did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that. But I think what he did in educating us should be taken into consideration." Journalist Norman Solomon praised Sanders's reply saying, "I think Bernie Sanders handled it the best in terms of scoping out and describing the terrain. And for the most part, I think Edward Snowden would probably agree with what he said."[117]


Sanders won the 2014 Col. Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award from the Military Officers Association of America for his leadership in support of veterans.[118] Sanders introduced the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013 (S. 893; 113th Congress) into the Senate on May 8, 2013.[119] The bill would increase the disability compensation rate for American veterans and their families.[120] Sanders co-wrote, with Senator John McCain, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, a bill intended to reform the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in response to the Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014.[121]


Early childhood[edit]

Drawing figures from a recent report ranking the U.S. 33rd out of 36 nations in reading literacy, 27th in mathematical literacy, 22nd in science literacy, and 18th overall in secondary education, Sanders has said, "In a society with our resources, it is unconscionable to that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives". He has introduced legislation to provide child care and early education to all children six weeks old through kindergarten. Sanders believes that "the 'Foundations for Success Act' would provide preschool children with a full range of services, leading to success in school and critical support for hard-pressed families nationwide."[122][123][124]

On Common Core State Standards, Sanders used to support it, but his current public position on Common Core at the time of the campaign was unknown. However, he had voted against an amendment that would have harmed Common Core. However, he had spoken on a program related to Common Core: Race to the Top.[125][126]

The position of Sanders on school choice was unknown.[126]

Student loans[edit]

Sanders has long been an advocate of making college more affordable. He has spoken out against the high interest rates on federal student loans, noting that in the next ten years, the federal government will profit by as much as $127 billion from them. He has also criticized President Obama for signing legislation that temporarily freeze student loan interest rates in exchange for allowing the rates to reach historic highs over the next two years. Sanders believes closing corporate tax loopholes is the solution, and has developed a plan bringing matching grants from the federal and state governments to cut tuition at public universities by more than half. He has criticized both Republicans and Democrats for failing to institute reforms that will stop predatory lending practices in the student loan market.[127]

Tuition-free public universities[edit]

Sanders favors public funding for college students. He believes "we live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated work force in the world." He further maintains that many other developed nations in Western Europe have long taken this approach to higher education. Sanders expects to strongly oppose the Republican Party, but says it is ultimately "the American people" who will determine its failure or success.[128][129]

On May 19, 2015, Sanders introduced the College for All Act (S.1373), which would use a Robin Hood tax of 50 cents on every "$100 of stock trades on stock sales" to fund tuition at four-year public colleges and universities for students who meet admission standards.[130][131][132] In addition, the Robin Hood tax would include a 0.5% speculation fee to be charged on investment houses, hedge funds, and other stock trades, while a 0.1% fee would be charged on bonds, and a 0.005% fee on derivatives.[133]

Health care[edit]

Sanders is a staunch supporter of a universal health care system, and he has said, "If you are serious about real healthcare reform, the only way to go is single-payer."[134] He advocates lowering the cost of drugs that are expensive because they remain under patent for years; some drugs costing thousands of dollars per year in the U.S. are available for hundreds, or less, in countries where they can be obtained as generics.[135]

As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, Sanders has introduced a legislation intended to reauthorize and strengthen the Older Americans Act, which supports Meals on Wheels and other programs for seniors. He believes that supporting seniors "is not only the right thing to do, it is the financially smart thing to do", because it decreases expensive hospitalizations and allows seniors to remain in their homes.[136]

Social issues[edit]

Bernie Sanders at a March 2016 rally in Phoenix, Arizona.


NARAL Pro-Choice America has given Sanders a 100% rating on his abortion rights voting record.[137]

D.C. statehood[edit]

Sanders has stated that he believes it is "morally wrong" for Washington, D.C. residents to be denied federal representation.[138] In 2015, he joined 17 other senators in co-sponsoring legislation in support of D.C. statehood under the name "New Columbia".[139]


Sanders has been a prominent supporter of laws requiring companies to provide their workers parental leave, sick leave, and vacation time, arguing that such laws have been adopted by almost every developed country, and that there are significant disparities among workers having access to paid sick and paid vacation time.[122][123]

Sanders's Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act (S.1564) would mandate companies to provide 10 days of paid vacation for employees who have worked for them for at least one year. He is cosponsoring a Senate bill that would give mothers and fathers 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a baby. It would also allow workers to take the same amount of paid time off if they are diagnosed with cancer or have other serious medical conditions or to take care of family members who are seriously ill. Sanders has also cosponsored a bill that would guarantee workers at least seven paid sick days per year for short-term illness, routine medical care, or to care for a sick family member.[122][123]

Gun laws[edit]

Sanders supports banning assault weapons,[140] universal federal background checks,[141] and closing the gun show loophole.[142]

While in the House of Representatives representing a "state with virtually no gun laws", Sanders voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that required federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the US; he later voted for the post-Newtown Manchin-Toomey universal federal background check bill as a US Senator in 2013. In the Senate, he voted for the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.[143] When asked, Sanders stated his view that mandatory waiting periods were best left to states.[144]

With regard to proposed legislation enabling gun violence victims to sue gun manufacturers, Sanders said, "If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and the murderer kills somebody with a gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not any more than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beats somebody over the head with a hammer." Sanders has said, "we have millions of people who are gun owners in this country -- 99.9% of those people obey the law. I want to see real, serious debate and action on guns, but it is not going to take place if we simply have extreme positions on both sides. I think I can bring us to the middle."[140]

Criminal justice reform[edit]

Sanders has called for reforms to sentencing guidelines, drug policy, and the use of force policies within police departments. Noting that there are more people incarcerated in the U.S. than any country in the world at an annual cost to taxpayers of $70 billion, Sanders argues that the money would be better spent on education and jobs. He has spoken out against police brutality and the uneven rates of arresting African Americans and other minorities, saying, "From Ferguson[,] [Missouri] to Baltimore[,] [Maryland] and across this nation, too many African Americans and other minorities find themselves subjected to a system that treats citizens who have not committed crimes as if they were criminals and that is unacceptable."[145] Following the release of footage depicting the arrest of African American Sandra Bland for a minor traffic violation, Sanders strongly condemned the "totally outrageous police behavior" shown in the video, stating that "This video highlights once again why we need real police reform. People should not die for a minor traffic infraction. This type of police abuse has become an all-too-common occurrence for people of color and it must stop."[146]

Sanders has also spoken out against the privatization of prisons throughout the US, stating:

It is morally repugnant and a national tragedy that we have privatized prisons all over America. In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars. We have got to end the private-for-profit prison racket in America![147]

On September 17, 2015, Sanders introduced the "Justice Is Not for Sale" Act,[148] which prohibits the US government at federal, state and local levels from contracting with private firms to provide and/or operate detention facilities within two years. He noted that "We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration."[149][150]

Sanders voted in favor of the 1994 Crime Bill, which played a role in increasing the American prison population and causing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.[151][152]

Death penalty[edit]

Sanders has strongly opposed the death penalty throughout his political career.[153] In October 2015, he said, "I would rather have our country stand side-by-side with European democracies rather than with countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others who maintain the death penalty."[154]

LGBT rights[edit]

In a letter that he published in the early 1970s, when he was running for Governor of Vermont, Sanders called for abolishing all laws against homosexuality.[155]

In the 1980s, Sanders supported the designation of the Burlington "Lesbian and Gay Pride Day" as the mayor of the city and signed a resolution recommending all government levels to support gay rights.[156]

In the House, Sanders voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which was signed by President Bill Clinton that same year.[157] Sanders opposed "Don't ask, don't tell", the US policy on LGBT service members in the military, which was implemented in 1994 and ended in 2011.[157]

Sanders first spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage in 2009.[157] Vermont was the first state to legalize same-sex unions in 2000. In a 2006 interview, Sanders noted that Vermont had "led the way" in creating the civil unions law, but said it was "a very divisive debate". Asked whether Vermont should legalize full marriage rights for same-sex couples, he said: "Not right now, not after what we went through."[158] At the same time, Sanders expressed opposition to the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have prohibited same-sex marriage in the US.[158] Sanders voted against the amendment later that year.[159] In 2009, Vermont also was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by statute.

When the Supreme Court took up the issue in 2015, Sanders issued a statement reaffirming his support, saying gay Americans in every state should be allowed to marry: "Of course all citizens deserve equal rights. It's time for the Supreme Court to catch up to the American people and legalize gay marriage."[160]


Sanders believes a path to citizenship should be created for new immigrants.[161] He voted for the comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013,[162] saying, "It does not make a lot of sense to me to bring hundreds of thousands of [foreign] workers into this country to work for minimum wage and compete with American kids." Sanders opposes guest worker programs[163] and is also skeptical about skilled immigrant (H-1B) visas, saying, "Last year, the top 10 employers of H-1B guest workers were all offshore outsourcing companies. These firms are responsible for shipping large numbers of American information technology jobs to India and other countries."[161][164] In an interview with Vox, he stated his opposition to an open borders immigration policy, describing it as:

[...] a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States [...] you're doing away with the concept of a nation-state. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.[165][166]

In 2006, Sanders voted for the Community Protection Act, which would have permitted "indefinite detention of specified dangerous aliens under orders of removal who cannot be removed, subject to review every six months." The bill was not passed in the Senate.[167][168][169] That same year, he voted for an amendment to a Homeland Security appropriations bill prohibiting the federal government from contacting the Mexican government about American civilian groups, such as the Minutemen, that patrolled the US-Mexico border to stop undocumented immigrants from crossing,[170] which a campaign representative described as one of many "nuisance amendments" and "a meaningless thing" in the view of the Customs and Border Patrol.[167]

Racial justice[edit]

Sanders was a civil rights organizer at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, and he has been given a 100% rating by the NAACP for his civil rights voting record. In 1988, Sanders worked for Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign saying, "Jesse Jackson uniquely and alone has shown the courage to tackle the most important and basic issues facing working class Americans, poor people, elderly people, environmentalists, peace activists, women, and America's minorities."[171]

As part of his 2016 presidential platform, Sanders calls for an end to "the four central types of violence waged against black and brown Americans: physical, political, legal and economic."[172][173] Speaking on these issues, Sanders says:

It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy. This must change. We must address the lingering unjust stereotypes that lead to the labeling of black youths as "thugs." We know the truth that, like every community in this country, the vast majority of people of color are trying to work hard, play by the rules and raise their children. It's time to stop demonizing minority communities.

During a Democratic debate, Sanders was asked "do black lives matter or do all lives matter" to which he responded "Black lives matter" and went on to condemn racist policing and incarceration.[174]

Church and state[edit]

Sanders is rated by Americans United for Separation of Church and State as strongly in favor of the separation of church and state.[175]

Genetically-engineered food[edit]

In 2012, along with Senator Barbara Boxer, Sanders introduced an amendment which would have given states the right to require labels on food products which are genetically engineered. The bill has been passed by the House Agriculture Committee by a vote of 9-1, but not the full House.[176]

Cannabis legalization[edit]

On October 28, 2015, Sanders expressed his support for the decriminalization and eventual legalization of cannabis by way of its removal as a Schedule I drug at the federal level, completely removing it from the list of dangerous substances outlawed by the federal government clearing the way for it to be fully legalized at the state level unimpeded by the federal government. Sanders is also in favor of the sale and tax of marijuana at the state level in a similar manner to alcohol and tobacco.[177][178]

Criticism of the Trump administration[edit]


On February 5, 2017, Sanders said Trump was a "fraud" for appointing multiple billionaires to his cabinet after committing during his campaign to tackle Wall Street, and predicted Trump would "sell out" the middle and working class.[179] In Los Angeles on February 19, Sanders called Trump "a pathological liar" and promised to defeat "Trump and Trumpism and the Republican right-wing ideology."[180]

Energy and climate[edit]

On March 30, two days after Trump signed an "Energy Independence" executive order, Sanders called Trump's choice to prioritize job creation over climate change "nonsensical, and stupid, and dangerous", and noted that scientists report that human activity is causing "devastating problems" while Trump and his allies believe climate change is a "hoax".[181]

War and peace[edit]

In an April 7, 2017 statement, Sanders expressed disapproval of Trump's ordered airstrike on Syria from the previous day: "If there's anything we should've learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which the lives of thousands of brave American men and women and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians have been lost and trillions of dollars spent, it's that it's easier to get into a war than out of one."[182]

Interest group ratings[edit]

Bernie Sanders' ratings from advocacy organizations[183]
Group Advocacy issue(s) Rating Year
ACLU Civil and Political Rights 100% 2014
AFBF Agriculture 83% 2014
AFL-CIO Labor Unions 100% 2013
AFT Education 86% 2012
ARA Senior Citizens 100% 2014
DPA Drug Policy 83% 2006
HRC LGBTQ Rights 100% 2014
LCV Environment 100% 2015[184]
LULAC Immigration Reform, Liberal 100% 2013–14[185]
LWV Civic Engagement 89% 2007
MPP Marijuana Legalization 66% 2016
NAACP Minorities and Affirmative Action 100% 2014
NARAL Abortion, Pro-Choice 100% 2014
NFU Farmer's Union 90% 2012
NRA Gun Ownership, Conservative 14% 2012
NRLC Abortion, Pro-Life 0% 2015[186]
NTU Tax Policy, Conservative 5% 2013[187]
NumbersUSA Immigration Reform, Conservative 44% 2015–16[188]
PA West Foreign Affairs 75% 2014
PPFA Reproductive Health 100% 2014
SEIU Service Union 100% 2012


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