Sunday, January 31, 2016

Millennials and Bernie Sanders.

Tomorrow is the Iowa Caucus, the first vote in what promises to be a raucous presidential election year in the United States. Around this time four years ago, I posted something in this space about Millennials and Ron Paul, noting the enthusiasm that many Americans born in the 1980s and '90s had for a presidential candidate who was born during the Great Depression but nevertheless managed to speak to the interests and priorities of young voters in a way that many Boomer politicians evidently could not. Here is a bit of what I wrote at the time:
. . . the candidate who is currently drawing the most enthusiastic response from young voters is also the oldest person running. . . . Baby Boomers should pay close attention to what is going on here: the '60s mantra about not trusting anyone over thirty doesn't apply to many Millennials. Indeed, it is tempting to draw a parallel between young voters' support for Ron Paul and the affection that many young Catholics have for Pope Benedict XVI, an even older man who impresses youthful audiences with his genuine personal humility and his willingness to deliver a challenging yet inspiring message. To say the very least, it is striking that many of the most engaged and committed members of the Millennial Generation are looking beyond the Boomers and taking their inspiration from leaders who came to maturity in the 1940s and '50s.
Moving forward to 2016, it seems that Millennials are once again lining up behind a feisty septuagenarian who presents himself as an anti-establishment maverick, albeit of a very different political persuasion. The support of many Millennials for the insurgent Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been noted by the media for months, with polls suggesting that Democrats under 45 favor Sanders over Hillary Clinton by a thirty-point margin. In Iowa, where recent polls have shown a nail-bitingly close race, Sanders is hoping to eke out a win on the basis of his popularity among Millennials and an aggressive GOTV operation focused on turning out college students and those high schoolers who are eligible to vote.

Regardless of how the Sanders campaign performs tomorrow in Iowa, it seems that the septuagenarian socialist has struck a chord with many young voters. Noting the candidate's Millennial-friendly views on issues like education, healthcare, and campaign finance, Bre Payton of The Federalist opines that "Bernie Sanders is a champion of the millennial cause. He has taken up the issues that affect young people the most and is using them as a battering ram against milquetoast candidates who do nothing more than shill for the status quo." Sanders' social democratic policies set him at odds with the libertarianism of 2012 Millennial favorite Ron Paul, but I can't help but notice some affinities between the two, even if only on the level of style and the sense in which both present themselves as the principled outsiders challenging the powers-that-be.

In the short term, strong Millennial support for particular candidates may not yet be enough to turn elections - it certainly didn't do so for Ron Paul - but the long term implications of all this still fascinate me. Is Millennial enthusiasm for candidates like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders a harbinger of major shifts in political attitudes among a rising generation of American voters, or does it merely reflect the passing fancy of idealistic young people who will move on to "status quo" issues and "milquetoast" candidates as they grow older? I wish I knew the answer. AMDG.


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