A popular new hashtag emerged over the last few weeks on Twitter and Instagram: #BernieIsBae joins #FeelTheBern and #BabesforBernie as one of the many signs that young people, specifically those aged 18-29, are increasingly supportive of Senator Bernie Sanders in his campaign for presidency. Millennials are flocking in enormous numbers to hear Sanders speak – according to the Washington Post, a hundred thousand supporters have attended Bernie Sanders’ recent rallies. Even more telling, perhaps, since people aged 25-34 are the most common demographic on Facebook, are the 1.8 million “likes” for Sanders’ Facebook page, 0.6 million more than Hillary Clinton’s and 1.6 million more than Jeb Bush’s, according to the Guardian. Across the country, young people are organizing rallies and hosting loft parties to support Sanders, Adam Gabbatt reports.
Based on polls, Sanders is gaining credibility among young people as Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness among voters diminishes. Young political newcomer Barack Obama captured our attention and youthful energy in 2008. It is interesting that young people in 2015 are increasingly choosing a 74 year-old white man as their crusader. What is it about Sanders that apparently appeals to the younger generation? The answer may lie in a combination of policy, authenticity and sincerity.
Sanders is certainly a good choice for an undecided young American voter compared to his competitors. His speeches and voting track record consistently prioritize climate change, wealth inequity, job creation, health care, minority and LGBTQ rights — issues that are most important to millennials, as compiled by USA Today. He is the only candidate declining donations from corporations and has said that he will work to repeal the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court decision of 2010 if elected president.
Although vocal on social media, only a small percentage of millennials actually vote. Young votes could be a strong force for any candidate. Americans aged 18-32 comprise over a quarter of the population. However, as Bustle reported in 2014, less than twenty percent of millennials voted in the last election. There has been plenty of speculation in the media as to why this is the case. Those whose first political memories involve Monica Lewinsky, the 2000 Florida recount and the Iraq War are more skeptical and less convinced that their vote actually makes a difference. They want a candidate who will restore their confidence by doing things differently.
Although he has been a state senator for two terms and a member of the House of Representatives for sixteen years previously, Sanders maintains his persona as an outsider to the core of Washington D.C. politics, perhaps because he spent most of his political career as an independent. For a similar reason, many Americans are attracted to Donald Trump’s “Washington outsider” appeal. We are sick of the Democratic and Republican parties battling for power at the cost of progress. Perhaps, there has been no better time for an independent candidate in the presidential race, or a stronger likelihood that such a candidate could win.
This is purely romantic speculation, but I suspect Sanders holds a kind of grandfatherly nostalgia for many people of my generation. He reminds us of those sage old people we visited on holidays and vacations, whose wisdom we were taught to respect. Then there’s the Senator’s demeanor and voice. When Bernie Sanders speaks, it’s like catching a rerun of your favorite episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm. This incredible piece by Amber Phillips in the Washington Post, “7 Times Bernie Sanders reminds us of our grumpy grandpa,” shows Bernie’s intolerance for questions that are frivolous and not politically pressing. Just look at his curt-as-can-be answers to a few questions in an interview with The Skimm, a daily online newsletter targeted towards women:
He is incredibly serious almost always, and we ironic, meme-loving millennials find him amusingly sincere.
Given Sanders’ extensive experience in politics, perhaps it comforts millennials to hear him say that wealth inequity is the most important issue today. He says in a video statement on his website that “we need a political revolution that says enough is enough, the billionaire class cannot have it all.” Thank you, Senator. Finally, a politician says it and has a track record to back it up. Like many millennials, much of my college experience overlapped with the Occupy Wall Street movement. We watched the movement’s sad death and fairly disappointing impact on federal policy. Now, it feels like our hopes for the movement have been reborn in a presidential candidate.
While Obama was a young, politically inexperienced presidential candidate back in ‘08 and probably did need youth votes to ascertain his cred, by no means should we feel comfortable calling Bernie Sanders “the millennial president.” He is a true O.G., he has been in this game for a long, long time. He has always called himself a socialist, even before it was cool. A reporter who covered Sanders’ campaign for the Vermont House seat in 1988 reflected on the Senator, then and now, in the Boston Globe:
“He was completely humorless, relentlessly focused on the evils of the American corporation. Not self-important, but self-serious to an extreme…. Yes, those of us who covered him back in the 1980s can attest — this is the real Bernie. He has been on message, it seems like, forever.”
Sanders, himself, probably cares very little about funny hashtags and t-shirts created in his honor. Young people who support Bernie Sanders can best support him by actually showing up to vote this time around in the primary election.