Can progressives find romance through their mutual love of a political candidate?
It didn’t take long for Bernie Singles, the OkCupid for Bernie Sanders supporters, to find its place on the cultural map. Within days of its launch, its user base grew meteorically, crashing the site repeatedly thanks to the popularity and, indeed, novelty of the idea.
Joshua Kaunert, one of Bernie Singles’ creators, tells GOOD that the site began life as a “campy idea” conceived on the Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash singles group on Facebook. Kaunert says that this Facebook page, where users shared memes and support for Sanders, became a place for singles to mingle.
Inspired by this group, Arizona State University political science student Colten Caudle threw the BernieSingles.com site up just a few days after Valentine’s Day. The site went viral; after a week, thousands of users had signed up, and the site’s tech team has grown to more than a dozen web developers and administrators working on the project around the clock.
“Everyone is attracted intellectually to a certain degree,” Kaunert says. “A Stanford business study discovered, using data they were given by OkCupid, that political compatibility actually made a potential mate about 9 percent more attractive. That’s not a small number when you think about the day-to-day presence of politics in most people’s lives—and someone who is so enthusiastic about voting for Bernie Sanders this spring is not most people, when it comes to politics.”
So who, in fact, are these Bernie supporters signing up for Bernie Singles? We spoke to a few of the users to get their impressions of the Bernie Singles experience, and the romantic and many other upsides of supporting the same political candidate and philosophy as a potential mate.
Maggie Calkins, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says she hasn’t been using the site to necessarily meet or date guys. Indeed, her plans are a bit more strategic.
“I basically joined to get more ideas on how to help Bernie and to also tell more people who support him to contact their state’s superdelegates,” Calkins explains. “A few people have actually messaged me asking how to contact the superdelegates in their respective states. I’ve had a few friend requests but haven’t had any message conversations besides that.”
Calkins has joined a few Bernie Singles groups, including one called Bernie Ideas, but says she was already familiar with most of the strategies she found there, like volunteering, phone banking, and canvassing.
Bernie Singles intrigued Griffin Winkworth, a 24-year-old Houston resident who’s involved in grassroots politics, because it’s the first dating site he’s come across that is built around interest in a popular political figure. So far he hasn’t reached out to anyone directly, but in browsing through the site and its users, he’s found the overall experience pretty refreshing.
“When membership is based off support for someone like Sanders, it seems to attract a certain kind of person, mainly progressive political junkies,” Winkworth says. “I work in grassroots politics here in Texas, and if there had been a dating site for activists and political junkies, I would have joined it a long time ago. I’m more interested in finding like-minded individuals at this point—a sort of networking function to meet other progressives.”
That said, Winkworth is drawn by Sanders’ open-minded views regarding sexual orientation.
“I have noticed that it seems like a majority of people on Bernie Singles list their sexual orientation as something other than heterosexual,” Winkworth says. “And so I absolutely think that speaks to the kind of revolutionary and progressive campaign this is turning out to be.”
Winkworth also thinks that Sanders supporters have more of an attraction, or at least more of a common connection, to one another than supporters of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz.
“A large [amount] of Sanders’ millennial support, I think, comes from our [common] experiences in the recession that started in 2007,” Winkworth says. “So for me personally, Sanders really speaks to how myself and my family have struggled economically over the past decade or so.”
A 30-something Brooklyn user named Jocelyn (who preferred not to use her real name) says she joined Bernie Singles after it popped up in her Facebook feed around 15 times. She signed up only four days ago, but the number of events and chat rooms and the variety of users have impressed her.
“Interactions I’ve had so far were very friendly, wittier than on your average dating site,” Jocelyn says. “And the number of topless or faceless profile pictures, or monosyllabic messages, is minimal to nonexistent.”
Jocelyn wasn’t always political. But when Sanders began campaigning, he managed to inspire a dormant set of political ideals in her that other candidates had not.
“Bernie is the rarest creature I’ve ever come across in the political habitat,” Jocelyn says. “You can actually believe what he says—every time, and you can bet your pinky that he’s gonna fight for you, no matter how uncool fighting for you is at the time.”
“He supported an African-American candidate in the ’80s when it was pretty unheard of, as well as LGBT rights back then, civil rights in the ’60s—he didn’t care how unpopular it was, he had ordinary people’s backs,” she says. “And he can’t be bought by the interests who run the world by buying everyone else. He’s the ultimate mensch. The ultimate decent human being.”
Jocelyn says that obviously one would want to hang out and potentially partner with someone who also appreciates such traits. For her, Sanders supporters tend to be “compassionate yay-sayers … people who give a damn about other humans and the planet, and value honesty.”
She adds, “The last guy I went out with was also an enthusiastic Bernie supporter. We met offline. It didn’t work out between us for the long run, but he is one of the nicest people I know. ‘Does Feel or Does not Feel the Bern’ is one of the most effective filters I know to sift through a whole lot of humans and find a lot of decent ones. It’s shorthand for ‘empathetic, honest person, concerned with the future of the world.’”
Erica Fox, one of Bernie Singles’ web developers, tells GOOD that when the election cycle started, she was directing the men in her life to ISideWith.com to see whether they’d be interested in voting for Bernie this spring. As someone living in small-town Indiana, Fox has noticed that a lot of people are using Bernie Singles to find other Sanders supporters in places the developers hadn’t expected.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of users on the site hailing from the Pacific Northwest, [and] I know a lot of people in Madison, Wisconsin, are using the site,” Fox says. “But in places where there aren’t a lot of Berners to begin with, the site’s a great tool just to find someone who—like [a Bernie Singles user] in a small town in Montana alluded to—isn’t trying to ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Does being a Sanders supporter really signal a more fully developed sense of empathy, honesty, and concern for America? That’s up for debate. But it’s only natural that his supporters might want to find common ground and hook up so that, as the Bernie Singles slogan goes, “the 1 percent aren’t the only ones getting screwed this election season.”