How Bernie can access the youth vote – and win

Bernie Sanders
Photo via Bernie 2016

Bernie Sanders can ignite the liberal base by fighting for the youth vote, writes Tanzil Chowdhury.

We often hear that the Independent vote is the most decisive voting population in an election, and the logic, at first glance, seems to check out. People who are Democratic and Left-leaning will always vote for the Democratic candidate, while people who are Republican and Right-leaning will always vote for the Republican candidate, meaning that the undecided Independent voters will make the difference. However, this reasoning has one major flaw. What if the base doesn’t vote?

Turns out, we already know the answer. As Sanders pointed out in his speech to the DNC Summer Meeting, the Democrats lost control of the Senate in 2014 because of the abysmal voter turnout. The unprecedented liberal fervor from President Obama’s groundbreaking 2008 campaign has all but vanished, leaving the energized Left-leaning base a mere shell of its former self. In fact, the voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest for a national election in the United States since World War II, clocking in at 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population. What happened?

There’s one key demographic to look at that explains how and why the Democratic base is losing its strength, the youth vote. The amount of people between the ages of 18 and 29 voting in 2008 skyrocketed, leaving Obama with youth vote differentials upwards of +20 percent in many primary states and overwhelming youth support in the general, according to the Pew Research Center. However, these historic youth numbers dipped in 2012. The youth turnout dropped significantly, about 7 percent. Now why’s that important?

Well, according to the New York Times, no group voted more favorably for Obama in the 2008 democratic primary than the Under 30 age group, with the exception of the Hispanic and African-American vote. As shown above, the youth came out in unprecedented fashion for Obama, and this group has the potential to be decisive if Sanders is to capture the democratic nomination.

Many key demographics have fallen securely into the Democratic base, including women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and young people, all of which are favoring Hillary nationally at the moment. With the combination of low turnout and the youth’s secure standing as part of the Democratic base, Sanders has a unique quality that can swing the contest in his favor, his ability to re-ignite the 2008 passion amongst youth voters.

Three major factors seem to have caused the recent drop in turnout: increasing political barriers in registration, the perceived lack of sincerity among politicians, and the feeling that their vote is unimportant. However, the Sanders campaign, due to its distinctive structure has the unique ability overcome these hurdles more efficiently than any other campaign in the race.

Following in the footsteps of Howard Dean in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, the Sanders camp has organized a 50-state, grassroots campaign focused on directly reaching voters. Through groups such as Students for Bernie Sanders, the Sanders campaign has a great opportunity in reaching a large portion of the youth vote. Not only do these groups present Bernie’s message, but they can break down the confusing nature of voting. Bernie’s grassroots groups can provide registration training and host registration events that will draw in youth at hotspots such as Universities, which tend to be especially left-leaning. With these measures, the first factor can be mitigated.

Next, the ideological roots of the Sanders campaign and Bernie Sanders’s political history can resolve the other two factors limiting the youth vote. It’s no secret that Bernie’s message, including speaking out against high tuition rates, large corporations, and increasing the minimum wage, connects well with the typical liberal young person. If Bernie’s campaign can present a topical narrative while refusing to play the political and media game, Sanders can bring many youth voters back into politics. This can even feed back and access other parts of the Democratic base.

Last night, during his DNC speech, Sanders remarked, “Democrats will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate, will not gain the House and will not be successful in dozens of governor’s races unless we run a campaign which generates excitement and momentum”. The Sanders campaign has all the distinctive features needed to access this group and continue its wave of momentum. Now, it all comes down to execution.

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