Bernie Sanders is clearly popular with young voters, and their support has powered his robust challenge to Hillary Clinton. The following graph shows how the Sanders edge in net favorability versus Clinton varies by age bracket. Sanders, the oldest candidate, looks best to young Americans, gallup.com, 4/8/16.
Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite of the Democratic establishment, however, and after a big win in the New York primary it seems inevitable (barring dramatic developments in the pending FBI investigation) that she will be her party’s nominee. This raises the question of how Sanders’ youthful followers will react. Will most of them support Clinton this fall, or will many gravitate to the Republican candidate or choose not to vote?
The answer could have a major bearing on the outcome of the general election, assuming the race turns out to be tight rather than a blowout, and may also provide some clues to the future political landscape as younger Americans take over the country while their elders dwindle in numbers and influence.
The following analysis will focus on two key questions: (1) Why have younger voters been drawn to Sanders, and (2) How can other candidates replicate his success?
A. Music to their ears – Polls show that young Americans find Bernie Sanders appealing, but one must go deeper to ferret out the reasons, e.g., interview his young backers and ask them to explain their thinking. Having done this in Iowa, where Sanders would subsequently win a stunning 84% of under-30 voters in the Democratic caucuses, one journalist concluded that (1) Sanders is perceived as authentic, and (2) he is credited with wanting to shake things up rather than settling for incremental changes. Why Bernie Sanders appeals to young voters, Kyle Jaeger, attn.com, 1/30/16.
It's not that [young voters in Iowa] dislike Clinton, it's just that Sanders advocates for a more compelling vision of the future — one where Wall Street is held accountable, college is made affordable, and income inequality is leveled. [One woman’s comment] that a Clinton presidency would only maintain the status quo of the Obama administration is no conspiracy theory. It's part of [Clinton’s] campaign strategy.
Are young people assessing whether Sanders’ promises are realistic or simply taking these promises at face value? We think the latter is closer to the mark, and here’s why.
HUMAN NATURE – Americans may be able to handle the truth, but it’s not necessarily what they want to hear. How much easier to support candidates who promise things that we want, whether the promises are credible or not, and then turn on them if the promises aren’t kept. But don’t blame the politicians for their dishonesty, because we are responsible for encouraging it. Please lie to us, Mona Charen, townhall.com, 3/18/16.
We, the middle class, have asked government to make sure everyone (no matter how credit-unworthy) can buy a house. We've demanded that government bring down the prices of healthcare and education -- with the result that those two sectors have seen the steepest price increases of any in the American economy. We've demanded that corporations pay the highest tax rates in the developed world in the mistaken belief that someone else pays those taxes (when in fact we all pay through higher prices or in the loss of jobs as companies relocate to business-friendlier countries). We've demanded that disability payments become the new welfare, and that political connections substitute for merit among businesses. Every time we vote for a candidate who promises to go to Washington to "fight for you" rather than to shrink government, we're voting for the kind of corruption that we claim to despise.
GLOOMY STATUS QUO – The US economy took a heavy jolt in 2008, and the recovery has been anemic. Good starting jobs have been hard to come by for college graduates, who are beginning their working lives with a heavy burden of student loans. No wonder that many young adults (aka millennials) moved back in with their parents rather than striking out on their own. Then factor in the realization that the government’s debt has soared, and the entitlement benefits their elders have enjoyed may not be available for them. This is hardly the future these young people had been led to expect, and they definitely aren’t happy about it. Better face it millennials: You didn’t get what you were promised, Morgan Brittany, townhall.com, 8/26/13.
I feel for these kids, I really do. I have two of my own who are struggling to find work. They didn’t ask for this economy, they are just the recipients of it. These young adults are facing a $20 trillion dollar deficit, massive entitlement programs that are going broke, and oppressive taxes. In order to pay off their student loans or just to survive, they will have to delay their lives. Marriage, children, a home of their own; that will all have to wait until a solid economy comes back.
Things may reach a point at which young Americans start pressing for Social Security, Medicare, etc. to be curtailed lest they be saddled with the resulting debt. For now, however, the thinking seems to be that the long-term fiscal problem could be readily solved if the two political parties would just talk things over and agree on some common sense solutions. Millennials profess neutrality in the dispute, but tend to view conservatives as the primary culprits. Some thoughts for millennials (part 1), 11/18/13.
One might infer from “Swindled” [a policy paper posted by “The can kicks back,"
a supposedly nonpartisan movement run by millennials] that conservative Republicans and/or the tea party [have been] gumming up the works in Washington. If only they would sit down and shut up, maybe some useful things could get done for a change. *** Rather than being credited with at least trying to reduce the deficit and stabilize the debt in recent years – largely due to the tea party influence – [conservatives] are seen as ignoring the need for entitlement reforms while single-mindedly pushing short term spending cuts and resisting tax increases.
It also seemed to be contemplated by TCKB that younger Americans should be sharing in the government largesse, e.g., by having “the freedom to use discretionary funding to create, target and develop truly efficient programs that effectively grow the economy and overall quality of life.”
If this is the young American mindset, Sanders has been playing to it with his promises of free college, single payer healthcare (“Medicare for all”), mandated family leave, a big hike in the minimum wage, etc., mostly paid for by tax increases on big corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy.
Despite the tax increases proposed, the Sanders agenda would predictably accelerate the already dangerous increase in debt that is projected – as is shown by this chart prepared by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Fix the Debt (we believe TCKB may have been folded into FTD) seems disposed to credit Sanders with attempting to detail how he would pay for his proposals. however, rather than questioning whether the proposals are affordable. Making the budget feel the Bern, fixthedebt.org, 4/7/16.
Senator Bernie Sanders is setting an important example by detailing how he would pay for his initiatives. But his offsets would fall short, meaning that he would add to the national debt even while increasing revenue substantially.
SOCIAL CONDITIONING – Generalizations about demographic cohorts cannot be regarded as “accurate,” nor are they necessarily representative of individual members. Nevertheless, some characteristics have been ascribed to millennials that probably have some validity. According to one observer who is himself a member, millennials are intelligent, tech savvy, idealistic, pragmatic and group-oriented - not goal directed in conventional ways, but consider themselves entrepreneurial – embrace a breakneck pace of change, but don’t spend every waking moment supporting causes they believe in – tend to favor government solutions to economic and social issues, but don’t have a high opinion of government institutions and disdain the gridlock in Washington – expect political candidates to engage with them and ask for their vote, but don’t gravitate towards political parties. Fast Future: How the millennial generation is shaping our world, David Burstein, Beacon Press, 2012.
Assuming this generational profile is broadly valid, it would help to explain why the Sanders agenda – provide for the “human rights” of everyone, spend less for the military and more to fight climate change, crack down on Wall Street and big business, all adding up to a veritable “political revolution” – is seen as appealing.
LIMITED KNOWLEDGE – Older Americans have had practical experience with politicians who fail to keep their promises, and they have also been personally cognizant of the failures of authoritarian regimes (e.g., collapse of the Soviet Union).
Young Americans don’t have the same experience base, and there is also reason to doubt that they are being effectively taught about American political and economic institutions in the schools of today.
There have been persistent efforts to change the curriculum for US history and civics, downplaying our system while portraying other systems as of equal merit. The drive to take “America” out of US history, Michele Malkin, New York Post, 6/3/15.
•The [proposed] framework eschews vivid, content-rich history lessons on the Constitution for “such abstractions as ‘identity,’ ‘peopling,’ ‘work, exchange and technology,’ and ‘human geography’ while downplaying essential subjects, such as the sources, meaning and development of America’s ideals and political institutions.”
•The social-justice warriors of government education have long sought, as the NAS signatories correctly diagnosed it, “to de-center American history and subordinate it to a global and heavily social-scientific perspective.” Their mission isn’t to impart knowledge, but to instigate racial, social and class divisions. Their mission is not to assimilate new generations of students into the American way of life, but to turn them against capitalism, individualism and American exceptionalism in favor of left-wing activism and poisonous identity politics.
Bully for the robust opposition to proposed revisions in the Advanced Placement US History exam, but the multiculturalism and moral relativism thrust have succeeded in other instances – probably more often than many of us realize. The 10 big lies about America, Michael Medved, 2008.
Consider the opening vignette about a letter in 2007 from officious bureaucrats that admonished all teachers and staff in the Seattle public schools to avoid "teaching about Thanksgiving in traditional ways." Heaven forbid, for example, that children should be permitted to forget that "for many Indian people, `Thanksgiving' is a time of mourning, of remembering how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn.’"
Today’s college students seem to have a fuzzy understanding of American history (e.g., who won the Civil War?) and the current political scene (who is the vice president?), but they are well versed in other matters (what show is Snookie on?). Politically-challenged Texas Tech editions, politech, youtube.com, video (3:07), 10/28/14.
Far from the avowedly socialist tenor of the Sanders agenda being a turnoff for young Americans, they seem to find the message appealing. Sanders fans are blind to reality of socialism, Judd Gregg, thehill.com, 4/11/16.
In college town after college town, Sanders turns out huge crowds, chanting his name and exalting his causes: the redistribution of wealth and the destruction of those deemed to be undeserving of their economic success. *** When so many young people express so much enthusiasm for the idea of socialism and want to try it again, you have to wonder if they have ever been taught the history of the twentieth century. One suspects that the same faculty members who dance in the streets with them for Sanders may be culprits in failing to mention the horrors brought on by socialism in every nation that aggressively embraced it during the last century.
The corollary is limited support for free enterprise, which in times past helped to make our economy the envy of the world. Bad news: Millennials, America’s largest generation, prefer socialism over capitalism, Katie Pavlich, townhall.com, 2/11/16.
Although Sanders excites young people, the reason . . . is sobering. According to analysis in the Washington Post, a majority of millennials [43% vs. 32% of respondents younger than 30, according to a poll] now view socialism as preferable to capitalism.
B. An antidote – If Clinton won the nomination, would youthful Sanders supporters shift to the other “outsider” in the race, Donald Trump? Polls suggest otherwise, and logically so – in our view – because Trump’s agenda is backward looking (“make America great again”), exclusive rather than inclusive, and clashes with the millennial vision of a brave new world in which everyone will get along and be taken care of. Poll shows Millennials would flock to Clinton against Trump, Susan Page & Jenny Ung, USA Today, 3/14/16.
In a hypothetical Clinton v. Trump contest in November, voters under 35 would choose Clinton by a crushing 52%-19%, a preference that crosses demographic lines. Among whites, she'd be backed by nearly 2-1, 45%-26%. Among Hispanics, by more than 4-1, 61%-14%. Among Asian Americans, by 5-1, 60%-11%. Among African Americans, by 13-1, 67%-5%.
Weak support for the Republican candidate from the under 30 crowd couldn’t necessarily be cured by nominating someone other than Trump; none of his rivals have demonstrated strong appeal to this demographic either. In mid-march (with Rubio and Carson still in the mix), millennial support for the GOP field was split as follows: Trump 26%, Rubio 18%, Cruz 14%, Carson 14%, Kasich 6%. Ibid.
And if the appeal of socialism to the younger generation is more than a passing fancy, this country may be headed for a very different future than the smaller, more focused, less costly government agenda SAFE espouses. Which raises this question: how can young Americans be won over to our way of thinking before it’s too late?
Young Americans supposedly value authenticity, so it might pay to offer them some of what columnist Mona Charen (Please lie to us, op. cit., 3/18/16) calls “truth serum.” Several examples follow.
#Proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour are nonsense; they would reduce the employment opportunities of the supposed beneficiaries while inflating consumer prices. A better case could be made for ending government meddling in this area. Minimum wage madness, Thomas Sowell, jewishworldreview.com, 9/17/13.
#The student loan mess (current total $1.3 trillion, a large portion of which will ultimately be uncollectable) needs to be addressed. This “crisis” stemmed from government policies that made student loans easy to obtain and encouraged colleges to hike their charges while developing grandiose academic programs and exercising poor cost control. Loan forgiveness (rewarding irresponsible behavior) and/or “free” college (predictably leading to more students in college, but not better qualified graduates) wouldn’t be appropriate. The indicated solution is to restore the market incentives that were previously eliminated Teaching the wrong lesson about student debt, Hadley Heath Manning, Washington Times, 4/20/16.
Policymakers should give students more options for higher education through accreditation reforms and expanded access to online and competency-based learning programs. This would force traditional colleges to compete on price. Schools should also be held accountable for value: If colleges have high levels of defaulting borrowers, those schools should shoulder some of the financial burden. Lenders should also be able to compete to offer borrowers the best interest rates for each loan. For those who already face debt, economic reforms can foster a stronger jobs market and healthier wage growth to aid us in repayment. Furthermore, employers should be free to offer loan repayment as a tax-free, on-the-job benefit, as they can do with tuition now.
#Chronic deficit spending and soaring debt are not minor or transitory problems, and if they aren’t stopped the consequences could be deadly. SAFE and other fiscal visionaries have so stated repeatedly, in many different ways. Consider the following comment by Erskine Bowles, who co-chaired the ultimately unsuccessful Fiscal Commission in 2010.
I think it's absolutely clear that the fiscal path we are on is not sustainable, and for me, the best analogy is these deficits are like a cancer, and over time they will destroy the country from within.
#We could go on with comments about taxes, energy policy, Social Security, healthcare, education, etc., but you get the idea.
Will some present or future Republican candidate be inspired to offer and fight for such a conservative message? Time will tell; a lot could be riding on the answer.
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I watched the Texas Tech video. Unbelievable. – SAFE member (DE)
We are raising a whole country of ignorant young people, who think knowing how to use a cell phone is crucial to their well-being - confuse information with knowledge & understanding - ignore the most fundamental facts about the world in which they live, e.g., where food comes from and how it is produced. I find it appalling that under-30 Americans would even consider voting for someone who, in 2016, advocates socialism. That’s a glaring indictment of our educational system and of how these kids are being reared at home. – SAFE member (DE)
I agree that the millennials have grown up with collectivist views and a bias in favor of government action, as will be duly reflected if they vote this fall. Based on historical experience, however, many of them are likely to stay home. – SAFE director
General response to foregoing comments: The young will take over pretty soon, whether we like it or not, and conservatives need to find some way of reaching out to them before it’s too late.