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Show us the money: Four charts reveal kernel of Sanders' appeal

After Hillary Clinton's convincing wins in the Nevada caucus and South Carolina primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders now faces an uphill battle in the contest to win the Democratic Party nomination to run for president. 

Even if Sanders' campaign struggles to match Clinton's momentum on Super Tuesday, the fact that a 72-year-old self-identified democratic socialist could generate so much excitement early in the campaign says a lot about the state of economic inequality in the US today. 

Why is Super Tuesday so 'super'?

The 1st of March 2016 is a day in the US presidential electoral cycle that fully deserves its superlative; here's why.

The charts below explain how economic reality in the US creates an ideal springboard for Sanders' message, giving it the kind of resonance that Clinton, or any candidate who ends up in the White House, will need to address. 

Reaping the rewards of hard work

A growing sense that the connection between effort and reward is breaking down in the US economy gives Sanders' economic message particular resonance, especially as Americans claw their way back from the harsh recession linked to the financial crisis in 2008.

Rumpled, angry and on message: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail.
Rumpled, angry and on message: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail.  Photo: AP

The changes in the economy and job market - and people's perception of how effort is rewarded - mean many no longer look forward to working their way up the ladder of career and income. 

 

Student loans - a special burden

Sanders: 'We do have a path to victory'

There is "a path to victory," says Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders following a heavy defeat in South Carolina.

With more than $US1 trillion ($A1.4 trillion) in student debt, the issue is a particular grievance for younger voters.

"In America people should not be financially distressed for decades for the crime of trying to get a higher education," he has thundered at podiums to packed halls.

His campaign has pledged to "substantially ease that burden" while making tuition at public universities free. 

After all, earlier generations started their working life by building their savings rather than being saddled with daunting debt levels. 

Smaller piece of the pie

But it's not just the young who are struggling.

Older voters have seen their share of the national income decline. While a lot of factors are driving it - including the shift away from a manufacturing economy, the impact of free-trade agreements on advanced economies and  the fall in private-sector unions (caused in part by systematic efforts to undermine their growth) -  the political drift towards the free-market deregulation in recent years is a major factor.

The decline of the middle class, an era marked by greater global competition, deregulation and the rolling back of a social welfare safety net, has also fuelled the runaway (some would say out-of-control) success of billionaire-turned-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Funding issue

The Sanders' campaign in particular has benefited from a steady stream of small donations, which have not only powered his presidential campaign but challenged the traditional meet-and-greet fundraising model used by Hillary Clinton.

In a recent debate, Hillary Clinton said she had 750,000 donors, the vast majority giving "small contributions". Sanders crowed he had 1 million donors who had given 3,500,000 contributions with an average value of $27 each.

Then there are the Super PACs – fundraising vehicles operating outside official campaigns and seen as emblems of the influence of big money in US politics.

The fact Sanders has hardly any backing in that category supports his anti-establishment appeal.

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