Why the oldest presidential candidate is supported by the youngest electoral demographic
In the Iowa Democratic Caucus on Feb 1, Bernie Sanders led Hillary Clinton among voters under 30 by a stunning 70 points, Sanders’ 84% to Clinton’s 14%. Some analysts have tried to spin this negatively — perpetuating the notion of the “Bernie Bro” and asserting that the young people who are rampant supporters of Bernie Sanders are little more than rebellious sexists who don’t take favorably to the notion of a female president. What these assertions fail to take into account are the large numbers of women under 30 who also support Bernie Sanders.
During the February 4th New Hampshire debate, Hillary Clinton refuted the charge of being part of the political establishment by claiming that she was a woman running for the undeniably patriarchal office of president, and was therefore immune. However, her claim, while true in its historical implications, is nonetheless false due to her decades of service in the public eye. Other than Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton might well be the most establishment candidate in the entire 2016 field at the moment. What’s worse –– it appears that several young women even took offense to the idea of Clinton using her gender in an effort to claim status. While many young women do support Hillary Clinton, a fair number do not. So where is the disconnect?
One possibility is that women under 30 expect that there will be a female president within their lifetimes and don’t feel the same pressure to make history that some Boomer Generation women feel. It has also been suggested that some women under 30, These women, having grown up under the whispers of Bill Clinton’s problematic political career, beset with scandals of sexual harassment and misconduct, have turned an unforgiving glare to Hillary and the role she played in refuting accusations. The generalization would seem that younger women do not practice the same form of feminism that Hillary Clinton extols.
While these possibilities take into account the thoughts of young women, what’s to be said about the Millennial voting block as a whole? (Assuming that we are not all simply rampant sexists).
There’s much to be said about Sanders platform that seems tailor made to the Millennial plight — it addresses the rising cost of higher education, the expanding crisis of student debt, the weathered state of the economy as a result of the near 2008 collapse, and the promise of universal health care. There’s much to be said about Sanders as a candidate. The people value his integrity and he currently holds the highest favorability rating among any candidate currently running for president.
It could also be that for millennials, age is just a number. When you’re 25, is there really a difference between what it means to be 60 and what it means to be 70? Is there really a difference between 70 and 75? Bernie is old. Hillary is old. Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, most presidential candidates are old. It’s a thing. In the case of younger presidents (Kennedy, Obama, Clinton the male), these are looked on as anomalies, strange prodigies who managed to claw their ways to the top in spite of their “youth and inexperience” as Ronald Reagan once put it.
We don’t discriminate. We know how it feels for something as beyond our control as our age to be a cause for derision and scorn. We know how it feels for an entire generation to be disparaged.
And then here comes Bernie Sanders, this old man with his kid-like diminutive name — someone who has been around a while and someone who gets us. Who recognizes the vast societal difference that exists bewteen when our parents were in college and coming of age and when we are. He reocgnizes the challenges that each unique generation faces and is not only patient and understanding, but is angry too! He’s upset and he’s going to do something about it and maybe people will believe him because he’s an actual grown up!
If it seems elusive, this is the connection that the Hillary Clinton is failing to make among young voters. Some suggest that a younger electorate is more idealistic and open to wide sweeping (if unrealistic) claims as part of the idealism of a young life with a vast future ahead. And by comparison, Clinton is the sober relaization of the future — of the tomorrow that creeps up along the horizon and brings with it the inescapable promise of old age. By contrast, Sanders in all his virbrancy as an elderly man refuses to submit to the threat of time.
The test will come as Sanders continues to develop as a candidate and attempts to broaden his message in order to appeal to a wider demographic. Like Clinton, he knows that he needs to be the president not of the few but the many, the young and not-young alike. As Hillary Clinton has already poignantly promised the young electorate that seems so eager to abandon her: “They don’t have to be for me, I’m going to be for them.”
As Sanders plans to make this inevitable step towards more sobering realism at the cost of wild fancy, will his younger voters stick with him? I say yes, because it’s not just his wild and carefree vision that they respect and trust but his integrity, and, even if we don’t admit it, his compassion.