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No, Bernie's Fans Aren't Delusional

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Bernie Sanders campaign held thousands of house parties Wednesday night, claiming total attendance of 100,000 Berniementum enthusiasts. Yet it’s still pretty clear Sanders has no real chance of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

So are all those people wasting their time? Deluding themselves?

No, they aren’t (and if we trust HuffPollster’s survey of activists, here's evidence they aren’t fooling themselves).   

Nomination campaigns aren't only about the candidates. They’re about the political parties and how they define themselves. The individuals who turned out this week and who will soon be walking the neighborhood precincts and making phone calls and posting on social media are doing a little bit to make Sanders's arm of the party larger and more energized.

Supporting a dissenting candidate is just one way to change a party. Another option for Democrats who wish Clinton's views were more like Sanders's would be to join her campaign and push for change from within. Or these activists can try to take over a formal party organization; in some areas the state or local Democratic Party is a big player.

Or the voters could become involved in one of the many party-aligned interest groups (supporting everything from abortion rights to the environment to civil rights), pushing an organization to take on new issues or simply helping it become a bigger player within the party.

Another option for Sanders fans is to focus on at least one state or local candidate running in 2016. In plenty of places, liberal candidates will be opposed in primaries by more conservative Democrats, and those contests are also part of defining the party.

For some, of course, the excitement of a presidential campaign is the main draw. That's good if it attracts people to get involved in politics -- whether it’s for Sanders or Rand Paul or, heck, even for Donald Trump. 

American political parties remain permeable, and it is possible to change them -- even if it takes a while to see results. Christian conservatives, for example, stormed the Republican Party in the 1980s, and though they have never been powerful enough to control presidential nominations, they now have what amounts to a veto against any candidate who deviates from their positions on several issues. 

So, yes, Sanders isn’t going to come close to winning. But political involvement always has the potential to have significant effects down the road. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net