Editor’s Note: This post was written by Eric Brower.
Six to eight months ago, few people predicted as contentious of a primary battle for the Democratic Party nomination as the one that existed between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. What was supposed to be an easy path to the nomination for Clinton turned into a dogfight, beginning with the Iowa Caucuses in January and ended with the California primary in June. The protracted battle effectively divided the Democratic Party into two camps: Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters. A divided party after the nomination contests often leads to problems for the party down the road, in the general election. Thus, it is of the utmost importance for a convention to attempt to heal these divisions and bring the different segments of a party together.
The 2016 Democratic National Convention opened with the most ardent of the two candidates’ supporters still firmly entrenched in opposing camps, almost two months after Clinton secured the nomination. Further fueling divisions, the Democratic National Committee faced an email scandal on the first day of the convention in which the group was accused of favoring Clinton over Sanders during the nomination contests. This led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her post as Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee. These events led to concerns of even greater divisions as a result of the scandal. Party unity was indeed in jeopardy and these worries were substantiated as Sanders delegates booed in protest at the mere mention of Clinton’s name on the first day of the convention. The DNC was faced with the clear task of uniting a splintering party behind Clinton.
The party’s ability to unite its members was quickly drawn into question when Sanders supporters verbally protested his request that his supporters back Clinton with the same fervor they exhibited for him. Although party elites had clearly coalesced behind Clinton, including Sanders, a small faction of supporters still echoed the “Bernie or Bust” mentality, narrowing the path to party unity. However, as the convention continued, hope for unity began to appear for the Democrats. A speech by Senator Cory Booker was one of the most talked about highlights of the first day. The talking points of the speech were a potential rallying point for the divided Democrats, as attendees responded well to Booker’s questioning of Republican Nominee Donald Trump’s ability to lead the United States. However, some Democrats remained uneasy about his open support for Clinton.
The road to party unity was evident with many of Sanders’ supporters saying they would vote for Clinton over Trump. This common ground, shared dislike of the Republican Nominee, was the basis of much-needed party healing. Over the next few days, speeches by Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden praised Clinton and called for Democratic Party unity against Trump. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton sought to use their speeches as a way to humanize and tell the story of the disliked and untrusted Democratic Party nominee, while also bridging the gaps between Clinton and Sanders supporters.
The 2016 DNC, much like the 2016 Republican National Convention, will be judged by its ability to heal a wounded political party and give Clinton a bump in the polls as the general election season officially begins. The DNC appears to have made its first steps in the direction of mending divisions. Clinton received a modest post-convention bump in the polls. From this bump, it would appear that the DNC had a healing effect. Polls also show that Clinton is more favored than Trump in many voter preferences for president, indicating the DNC helped her national image. However, in the coming months, the keys to Clinton winning the White House will be continuing to unite the Democratic Party, reducing skepticism and wariness voters feel toward her, and proving she is the right leader for the United States.