Jill Stein, who is expected to be endorsed at the party’s August convention in Houston, told Guardian US that “overwhelming” numbers of Sanders supporters are flocking to the Greens rather than Hillary Clinton.
Stein insisted that her presidential bid has a viable “near term goal” of reaching 15% in national polling, which would enable her to stand alongside presumptive nominees Clinton and Donald Trump in televised election debates.
But in a potentially destabilising move for the Democratic party, and an exciting one for Sanders’ supporters, the Green party candidate said she was willing to stand aside for Sanders.
“I’ve invited Bernie to sit down explore collaboration – everything is on the table,” she said. “If he saw that you can’t have a revolutionary campaign in a counter-revolutionary party, he’d be welcomed to the Green party. He could lead the ticket and build a political movement,” she said.
Stein said she had made her offer directly to Sanders in an email at the end of the primary season, although she had not received a response. Her surprise intervention comes amid speculation that Sanders will finally draw a line under a bruising Democratic contest by endorsing Clinton’s presidential bid next week.
“If he continues to declare his full faith in the Democratic party, it will leave many of his supporters very disappointed,” she said. “That political movement is going to go on – it isn’t going to bury itself in the graveyard alongside Hillary Clinton.”
Stein said the Democratic establishment had conducted “psychological warfare” against Sanders and “sabotaged” his attempts to gain the party’s presidential nomination. Many of his young, progressive supporters are now moving over to the Green party rather than fall in behind Clinton, Stein added.
“I’m not holding my breath but I’m not ruling it out that we can bring out 43 million young people into this election,” she said. “It’s been a wild election; every rule in the playbook has been tossed out. Unfortunately, that has mainly been used to lift up hateful demagogues like Donald Trump, but it can also be done in a way that actually answers people’s needs.”
Stein, a former Massachusetts doctor turned environmental activist, is attempting to woo young voters with a promise to make college free and, beyond what Sanders has pledged, to cancel all existing student debt through quantitive easing.
With a more ambitious climate change policy (Stein favors getting to 100% renewable-powered electricity by the middle of the century) and a less interventionist approach to foreign affairs than Clinton, the Greens have also pitched at voters who have been dubbed as being “Bernie or bust”.
However, Stein still faces an uphill battle to reach the 15% in polling that would give her a spot in the televised debates. She may not even secure the 5% that would give the Green party federal funding in the next election.
Stein, who secured nearly 470,000 votes as the Green party candidate in 2012, is currently polling between 4% and 6%. Almost nine out of 10 voters don’t know enough about Stein in order to pass judgment on her leftwing stances, and polling conducted for the Guardian has shown that a large chunk of Sanders’ base is prepared to back Clinton if, as expected, she is confirmed as the Democratic nominee.
The veteran political scientist Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said he expected most Sanders voters to rally to Clinton.
“The polarization we’ll see in the fall will be as intense as we’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’ll push the right to Trump and the left to Clinton. You’ll see consolidation, especially on the Democratic side – the idea of Trump as president will make anyone even slightly left of center vote for Clinton.
“Jill Stein will get some of the Bernie voters but Hillary will get most, not because people love Hillary but because they hate Trump. The Green party vote won’t have much an influence unless it’s a squeaker like in 2000 [when Ralph Nader got 2.9m votes for the Green party and George W Bush became president]. But a lot of Democratic voters remember what happened then.”
But Stein, who unsuccessfully challenged Mitt Romney to be governor of Massachusetts in 2002, said Clinton’s policies made her unsavory to many young people.
“She is the fracking queen,” Stein said. “We would be fools to expect Hillary to deal with the climate crisis – the day of reckoning will come closer with her as president. As scary as Trump talks, Hillary has a scary record for warmongering and the neoliberalism.
“It’s a mistake to think the lesser of two evils will fix things. A lot of people are in the target hairs of a neoliberalist nightmare. Wars are bankrupting us morally and financially. At least when Republicans are elected, people fight – when Democrats are elected, people are lulled into complacency and fall asleep.”
While the Green party has had members elected to several US state legislatures, the party has never made inroads into federal politics. This is in contrast with sister Green parties in the UK, which has a member of parliament; Australia, where the Greens have been part of government; and Austria, where a former Green was recently elected president.
Stein said this was because the US had a voting system “designed to suppress opposition”. A switch to a different model is highly unlikely, however, particularly in the near term.
“Since the Republicans were established in the 1880s, we haven’t had a third party become a major party,” said Sabato. “If we had a parliamentary system, the Greens would have representation. But that is scheduled to happen on the 12th of never.”