On Tuesday, popular commentary podcast host Joe Rogan said he’d be voting for Sanders in the primaries. This came the day before a national poll by CNN showed Sanders pulling ahead of Biden by a three-point lead. In their New Hampshire poll, Sanders was ahead by as much as ten points.
Sanders acknowledged Rogan’s endorsement on Thursday, leading to Rogan’s name trending on Twitter with a large variety of people lending their opinions on the controversial podcast host’s endorsement, as well as Sanders’s reaction.
On the left, Rogan has seen criticism for hosting far-right political figures like provocateur Milo Yiannopolous, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and other key figures of the far-right such as Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson. He has also faced criticism for his transphobic comments.
Rogan’s show tends to lean center-right in the context of American politics. His podcast is in a conversational style, and has been running since about 2003. As of April 2019, the Joe Rogan Experience was receiving 190 million downloads a month. His YouTube channel “PowerfulJRE” has almost eight million subscribers at time of writing, and uploads almost daily, with videos acquiring between 500,000 and seven million views. For another measure of his influence, his podcast with Area 51 enthusiast Bob Lazar inspired last year’s “Storm Area 51: They Can’t Stop All of Us” meme page on Facebook.
Bernie Sanders’s official twitter account posted the video and caption of Rogan saying he’d vote for the candidate. This was met with a mixed response from all sides of the political spectrum.
Many criticized the Sanders campaign for associating himself with Rogan.
“Good to know you actively welcome transphobic misogynists into your campaign,” said one responder.
Others criticized Rogan for aligning himself with the ideological left, comparing Sanders’s proposed policies to 20th century dictators.
Those who supported Sanders’s tweet generally commented on how the endorsement could benefit the campaign.
“That Bernie can get Barbara Smith’s and Joe Rogan’s endorsements just a few days apart testifies to the kind of monumental coalition politics like Bernie’s can build,” noted one twitter user.
Possibly more interesting, however, is that this endorsement comes at a time when Sanders’s popularity among the far-right is growing, if slowly. Richard Spencer, president of the white supremacist think tank National Policy Institute and the neo-Nazi who went viral when he was punched in the face, has recently shown support for specifically anti-billionaire, anti-establishment politicians. He quote-tweeted Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet about taking power from billionaires, saying “Based AOC!” Based is a fascist term referring to an action being beneficial or related to their goals of a supremacist state.
Some posters on the notorious 4chan /pol/ boards have shown support to Sanders, albeit with harsh backlash from others on the boards who remain staunch Trumpists. Over the past week or so, a divide between those who post on the /pol/ boards has become slightly more apparent: the populism of Trump, or the populism of Sanders. Sanders’ policy promises also have a draw to many of the disenfranchised, often middle to low income individuals who are attracted by the alt-right.
Similarly to some of Sanders’s critics over his acknowledgement of Joe Rogan’s endorsement, many people’s first reaction would be to be put off by seeing Sanders and leftist populists like Ocasio-Cortez receive support from neo-Nazis. Admittedly, this first reaction is probably healthy. However, the benefits of commentators such as Rogan, and prominent pundits like Spencer, showing even marginal support to Sanders’s movement could boost Sanders’s campaign even further.
As shown in recent polling, Sanders is surging among independent voters, beating Trump by a ten-point margin. Sanders has been criticized in the past for having a notable chunk of his 2016 primary voters move on to vote for Trump in the general election, after Clinton won the Democratic primary. This might flow both ways. Increasingly, those on the far-right are disenfranchised with Trump and his administration. At the beginning of the primary season, many white nationalists saw Andrew Yang as their go-to candidate, largely due to his anti-establishment beliefs.
As Mother Jones reports, Yang’s popularity in the Democratic field rose sharply almost immediately after his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience.