How Bernie Sanders uses imagery to appeal to younger voters

The Takeaway
Bernie Sanders

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders raises a fist as he speaks at his caucus night rally Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016.

Rick Wilking/Reuters

How did Bernie Sanders capture an astounding 84 percent of Iowa voters aged 17 to 29? Or 58 percent of voters aged 30 to 44?

One reason is a portrayal of the Vermont senator as unafraid, unassuming and unaffected by celebrity and the trappings of public life. It's Arun Chaudhary's job to keep that portrayal in the forefront, whether it’s videos featuring Simon & Garfunkel songs or impassioned speeches about inequality.

The anti-Trump? Chaudhary, the digital creative director for Sanders' campaign, hopes to keep voters thinking that way.

Chaudhary is tasked with capturing and crafting candid and authentic photos and videos of Sanders — images that are designed to resonate with millennial voters.

"Unscripted, honest moments in which an individual, a man or a woman, may be sort of asking questions ... is something that I think is fundamentally unique to backstage videography when it comes to politics,” says Chaudhary.

Those images of a candidate interacting with potential voters, Chaudhary says, helps demonstrate a candidate's intellectual curiosity and personality in a way that interviews, speeches and debates rarely do. Additionally, he argues that behind-the-scenes footage is an important tool for voters who are looking to learn more about a candidate’s character.

“Obviously the Bernie Sanders phenomenon has really taken a hold with young people in an amazing way, and it’s been very gratifying to watch them, and to take those photographs,” he says. “You can see in the pictures the nature of the crowd being very, very young, and people being very, very excited.”

While poll numbers show Sanders is resonating with young voters, Chaudhary says his camera provides “undeniable proof.”

“Picture after picture is just excited young people on the rope line, just rushing up to meet this man,” he says.

But choosing what to record can be a difficult task in and of itself. Chaudhary says content can be funny, heartfelt or tragic, but across the board, things have to be real.

“You want to be around all the time, but you don’t want to be shooting all the time,” he says. “You want to be judicious about what you shoot because if you’re just shooting all the time, A — you have all this footage and no time to edit it, and B — you’re just creating a haystack for yourself to find the good stuff. I think it’s about being in a presence, especially when you’re talking about politicians because they have bubbles. So it’s about travelling in those bubbles and only raising the camera up when you need it.”

Chaudhary, who is currently the creative director at Revolution Messaging, says he picks and chooses his moments with the senator.

“Just coming out of the Iowa Caucuses, Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane decided to take a walk just to clear their heads, to see what was going on and take stock,” he says. “The reason there are no pictures of it is because I did not chase after him with the camera. I was like, ‘I think this is actually a private moment and he would like to go do that.’”

Chaudhary served as the first official White House videographer from 2009-2011. He says President Barack Obama and Sanders have a great deal in common.

“Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama, and I’ve gotten a chance to work very closely with both of them, are very similar in that they are just the same person on and off camera,” he says. “With that being said, it means that he’s sort of always doing something that is camera-worthy because he is always being Bernie Sanders. But I try to look at it through his head, so is what he is doing, or talking about, or [how he is] interacting adding up to something that’s on message, for lack of a better word — something that actually promotes an idea.”

This story first aired as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.