Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Jay Martin

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© 2017 Jenanne M Vaccaro


The nation stood in either awe or disbelief when Bernie Sanders, a political Independent, only recently turned Democrat, defeated the establishment candidate and former first lady, Hillary Clinton, in the early 2016 New Hampshire primary. As the primaries concluded, it became clear that Sanders’ message resonated. But why was this the case after eight years of “hope and change” under the Obama administration? Furthermore, to what extent did Sanders align with traditional Democrats or traditional Socialists and how can we understand the unprecedented success of a presidential candidate who identifies with socialism? My thesis seeks to answer these puzzles. I do so by: interviewing Sanders supporters, investigating the development of American Socialism and Sanders’ own political identity, and analyzing the economic and social factors leading up to the 2016 primaries. Ultimately, my thesis proposes that Sanders’ ability to win over twelve million votes in the Democratic Party primaries stems from his creation of his own brand of socialism that merged traditional socialist principles of championing the working person with the economic and social realities of twenty first century middle-class America.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.