Millennial Viewpoint: Why the Young Vote Feels the Bern


Pedro Portal/El Nuevo Herald/TNS

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders acknowledges his supporters during a campaign event in Miami at the James L. Knight Center on Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

Millennials across the country are “feeling the Bern” as they prepare to vote in the 2016 presidential election. The youngest voters are pledging their support to an old Jewish guy from Vermont, but the real question is why? And are they going to show up to vote?

While Bernie Sanders is the oldest presidential candidate at 74 and a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, he garners a notable share of his campaign support from the youngest voters because he offers proposals that directly address their concerns.

Critics claim Sanders’ supporters are idealistic, don’t know anything about economics, and are only interested in his promises of “free” things. This is an unfair assessment. In actuality, Sanders’ “political revolution” galvanized Millennials by defying the rules of the political game and by challenging the forces young voters feel are responsible for a bleak economic and social outlook.

“They grew up in the recession, watched their parents struggle and became anxious about their futures. They are graduating from college with huge debts and gnawing uncertainty about landing jobs and affording homes,” writes Washington Post reporter John Wager explaining the financial pressures influencing the millennial vote. In addition to loans and housing costs, they are worried about a worsening environmental crisis largely ignored by other candidates.

First, there is the matter of democracy and socialism. For younger voters, democratic socialism means a candidate concerned with wide-reaching issues like affordable education, livable wages, and respect for the environment. When you say democratic socialist to an older citizen, often the only word they hear is socialist. Medicare, 40-hour work weeks, the minimum wage, and Social Security are based on socialist concepts but are part how the country operates.

In an interview with the Associated Press in November 1990 Sanders explained, “To me, socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything, by any means. It means creating a nation, and a world, in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.”

Next, a large number of Millennials cannot afford to go to college, and millions of others leave school with a great deal of debt. Sanders’ proposes making public colleges and universities tuition-free paid for by imposing a tax on Wall Street. Sanders says since the taxpayers of this country bailed out Wall Street in 2008, Wall Street can, in turn, pick up the $75 billion yearly cost to educate future generations.

Darrick Hamilton, Director of the Milano Doctoral Program in Economics at the New School, Duke University economics professor William Darity Jr., and  University of Massachusetts economics doctoral candidate Mark Paul co-authored an academic paper supporting Sanders’ proposal for tuition-free college noting it would promote economic mobility, and establish a more educated and productive workforce.

“Bernie Sanders would establish higher education as a ‘right,’ and bring us back to an era when public colleges and universities were free or virtually free,” the authors conclude.

Furthermore, Sanders believes the current economic system can better serve poorer and middle-class Americans. Last year, he introduced highly-criticized legislation that would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2020; an effort supporters say would bring a large section of the population out of poverty.

A group of 206 professional economists signed a letter in favor of Sanders’ plan for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage. Participants agree raising the minimum wage to that level would improve the living standard of 76 million U.S. workers and their families resulting in greater economic equality and stability for the country.

“Greater equality means working people have more spending power, which in turn supports greater overall demand in the economy,” the letter states.

Lastly, Sanders is dedicated to addressing climate change, and according to his website, he views it as a “global crisis and must be immediately and vigorously combated.”   An essential point of his plan is to ban fossil fuels lobbyists from working with elected officials and end subsidies benefitting fossil fuel companies.

“When fossil-fuel companies are racking up record profits, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies to pad their already enormous earnings,” Sanders states on his website. “After all, it is immoral that some in Congress advocate harsh cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for the most profitable corporations in America.”

Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist convicted of multiple offenses for cheating his clients, explained to 60 Minutes in 2011 the corrupt nature of the relationship between client advocates like himself and Washington insiders. He detailed a list of gifts and favors given to staffers of powerful political players, the most effective being the promise of a lucrative job, which ultimately lead to legislative influence.

“When we would become friendly with an office, and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say, or my staff would say…, ‘When you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’” Abramoff said. “The moment I said that, we owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do.”

As of press time, Sanders trails Hillary Clinton in winning delegates to secure his party’s nomination. Millennials, fed up with the status quo, can potentially be the deciding factor in this year’s presidential election. However, for all their vocal support, historically, younger voters are the least likely to show up at the polls when it’s time to cast their ballots. Even though many Millennials are “feeling the Bern,” time will tell if they feel it enough to show up and vote.