Listeners can now 'feel the Bern' with new Sanders podcast

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.) has released a podcast show featuring interviews with progressive guests. Will it keep his 'political revolution' alive in 2018?

Mary Schwalm/Reuters
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.) of Vermont speaks at an Our Revolution rally in Boston in March.

Progressives who felt “the Bern” in 2016 can keep up with their preferred Democratic candidate anytime, anywhere, thanks to a new podcast from Bernie Sanders.

The independent senator from Vermont released the first episodes of the podcast “The Bernie Sanders Show” in late March. At around a half an hour long each, the segments are conversations between Mr. Sanders and activists, scientists, and journalists who share the senator’s progressive views.

During the 2016 Democratic primary, Sanders garnered a large, loyal following by pushing progressive policies such as free education, universal health care, and racial justice. But that following also split the Democratic party, with some arguing that mainstream Democrats attempts to derail the Vermont senator’s candidacy set the ground for President Trump’s victory. Others maintained that Sanders’s bid fractured the party, setting eventual nominee Hillary Clinton up for failure in the general election by weakening her support base.

Sanders’s followers, including a number of first-time voters, have remained loyal to the outsider candidate, pushing his podcast to third place in the iTunes charts as of Thursday, out-ranking the hit podcast “Serial” and mainstay radio show “This American Life.” By maintaining a point of contact with such a large base, Sanders has the potential to influence voters in the future, experts say.

“It provides an outlet for Sanders to continue to have an influence and persuade people who really support him strongly, which I imagine make up the bulk of the listeners to the podcast,” Matthew Luttig, who teaches political science at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., tells The Christian Science Monitor. “Especially if Bernie Sanders could keep issues on the agenda that other politicians are not talking about. I think that’s one of his appeals, especially to young people. It could serve to keep younger people and people who tend to support Bernie Sanders engaged in the political process.”

In the first four episodes, Sanders sits down with Rev. William Barber, a national NAACP board member and North Carolina pastor; celebrity scientist Bill Nye; director of the Oscar-nominated environmental documentary “Gasland” Josh Fox; and Jane Mayer, a staff writer at The New Yorker.

The conversations cover topics such as global warming, campaign finance reform, health care, and race relations – all of which were central to Sanders’s campaign.   

Each episode opens with a clip of Sanders on the campaign trail, saying “when we stand together, when we do not allow them to divide us up, there is nothing, nothing, nothing, we cannot accomplish” as he addresses a crowd.

So far, the programs have been popular among listeners and has a four star rating. 

"Bernie will fill you in on the issues that never came up in the presidential debates or mainstream media, but were important to the vast majority of Americans," one listener wrote in an iTunes review. Another wrote, "We need a constant stream of someone who still cares for the people." 

But since Mr. Trump’s victory shocked many in the 2016 presidential election, debates surrounding the ethics and merits of partisan media have arisen. The trend of news consumers turning inward and seeking sources that confirm their political biases and opinions seemed to peak with the unconventional race, and some have warned of the danger of simply listening to sources which confirm one’s own views.

With Sanders’s podcast, the trend continues, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not a journalist, but a message-based candidate whose liberal branding is strong.

“It’s a great way to reach a whole subset of America that I think feel left out,” Chip Franklin, a progressive talk show host based in San Francisco who has a show on KGO Radio and is also a communications consultant, tells the Monitor. “He has an iconic sort of personality. And I think he surprised a lot of people.”

But it’s hard to say how far that message could reach.

“Are traditional conservatives going to listen to this?” he adds. “Probably not.”

Voter turnout rates have lagged significantly behind general election rates, and it’s unclear how that might change during Trump’s first term. But if an iconic figure like Sanders encourages his supporters to make it to the polls next November, his podcast could have some impact on turnout.

“I think the fact that Bernie maintains an active line of communication with his followers is important,” Debra Cleaver, chief executive of Vote.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit focused on voter turnout and engagement, tells the Monitor. “He could use this to keep the issues at the forefront of people’s minds and leverage it to get people to the polls. It does seem like a good opportunity for Bernie to encourage people to vote.”

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