Editor’s Note: This post was written by Keshawn Langhorn and Eric Brower.
The rise of Bernie Sanders has been something of a phenomenon in the Democratic Party’s race for the nomination. Sanders, an independent Senator from Vermont, entered the race and polled with very low numbers but was able to rally considerable support and make what was supposed to be an uncompetitive race somewhat interesting. Sanders has won multiple primary states and has vowed to stay in the race for the long haul. In his success, Sanders has locked down and rallied support from groups of voters who tend to be ignored, including younger voters, lower income individuals, and young minorities.
Notably, Sanders has won enormous appeal from Millennial voters—roughly the 18 to 29 demographic. Sanders has won this group largely from his more radical positions on some of the biggest political issues that matter to Millennials. These issues include student loans and debt, campaign finance reform, and universal health care coverage.
On student loans and debt, many voters in the 18 to 29 demographic are attending college, looking to attend college, or have recently graduated, making student loans and debt a key interest to them. Sanders came onto the campaign trail flaunting a platform that has promised to help students repay their loans and even offer free tuition to public colleges and universities.
In terms of campaign finance reform, many younger voters cite concerns that candidates are being coerced into platforms based on donations from corporations. Sanders takes an enormous majority of donations from individual contributions and very few from corporations, earning him the war cry, “Bernie Sanders won’t be bought.” This message of being a candidate of the people and financed by the people has resonated very well with Millennials, who believe he will represent the ideas of his voters and not corporations.
Finally, Sanders has won support from younger voters thanks to his positions on health care. Many Millennial voters like the liberal concept of a universal healthcare system. Sanders has promised to reform the current healthcare system in his platform to increase access, an idea that sits well with many Democrats and Millennials.
Low Income Voters
Bernie Sanders has used his campaign as a way to show the unequal wealth distribution in the United States. This issue has become his one of his key talking points on the campaign trail and his firm stance on these economic policies has become a reason why people support him. Income inequality, according to one measure, has become so bad that the bottom 90% of households make 38 times less than the top one percent. Younger families, usually made up of people who recently graduated or are paying off debt, have seen their income decrease by ten percent in the last fifteen years. Sanders’ stance on this issue has appealed to the low-income voters who see him as their opportunity to make the system fair again.
Sanders’s chief demographic of 18-35 year olds make up a large majority of those below the poverty line. With poverty levels in the United States currently at 14.8%, Sanders plans to raise the minimum wage to combat this issue. By increasing the minimum wage to what he calls “a living wage,” he has been able to further expand his popularity among this demographic. In the Senate, Sanders has proposed bills on this initiative, adding to his perceived authenticity.
The amount of money that is made on Wall Street has become a major issue in recent years as income inequality has risen into the public eye. Adding to his favor among lower-income people, Sanders has developed an image as the politician who attacks Wall Street and shuns its associates for their greed. Where Hillary has been connected to Wall Street numerous times, Sanders has always been outspoken about his disconnect from financial institutions. His plan to tax Wall Street to pay for free public college tuition across the country has become the backbone of his platform, offering low income citizens the chance to attend college.
Interestingly, Clinton has locked down the minority vote fairly well; however, Sanders has done a decent job of winning the support of young minority voters. While Clinton still gets the most of the minority vote, Sanders does disproportionately well among younger minorities. Typically, entire demographic groups like this may tend to align behind one candidate, but a bit of a generational difference seems to exist among minorities.
One reason for Clinton’s success among older minority voters may be a result of her husband Bill Clinton. During his administration, Bill Clinton won the hearts of minorities and has transitioned much of this support to his wife. However, the 18 to 29 minority demographic may support Sanders disproportionately highly because many of them were too young to observe Bill Clinton’s political career and its aid to minorities. Therefore, the Clinton family political legacy may have a lesser impact on their views, leading more of them to support Sanders. This may also indicate that issues relevant to their generation may be more important to them than those involving race.
Additionally, the Black Lives Matter Movement has become a key movement for younger black citizens who feel disenfranchised, vulnerable, and oppressed due to a political system dominated by whites. They have followed a new trend of leaders who have supported Sanders as they view him as the right candidate to promote equality. Sanders has created an image as the candidate who wants to hear what young black people really have to say. Furthermore, Sanders has touched young minorities with his radical ideas on how change can be made. Even though he struggles with minorities as a whole, his impact on young minorities has been notable throughout the election.