Bernie Sanders and the Millennials
The Millennials’ love affair with Bernie Sanders makes sense for a few overt reasons. First, most college students now face crushing debt the moment they take a degree. The average 2015 graduate will enter the work force $35,000 in debt. Moreover, once students do graduate, there’s no guarantee they’ll find reasonably lucrative entry level jobs of any kind, much less jobs directly relating to their fields of study. The unemployment gap between young college graduates and all workers is wider now than it was seven years ago when the economy was still in the throes of a deep recession. As John Wagner reports, of those now in college, 73% think it will be difficult to find work upon graduation, and only 25% of this age group trust the federal government. Thus, 41% of millennials voting in the Democratic primaries said they would choose Sanders, compared with 35% who would vote for Hillary Clinton, because Sanders speaks to these concerns with resonant intensity.
Of deeper significance, the Millennial-Sanders nexus has evolved for subtler and more complex reasons. As Neil Howe and William Strauss point out in a Harvard Business Review article, “generations produce observable historical patterns and thus offer a very powerful tool for predicting future trends.” As evidence, Millennial voting trends in the Democratic primaries reflect a community based, civic-minded agenda that the rest of the country should be observing carefully. Howe and Strauss note,
As more of them reach voting age, Millennials will become a political powerhouse. They will see politics as a tool for turning collegial purpose into civic progress. Young adult voters will confound the pundits with huge turnouts, massing to support favored candidates—especially elders who can translate spiritual resolve into public authority. They will reject what they perceive as the negativism, moralism, and selfishness of the national politics they witnessed as children. When they encounter leaders who cling to those old ways, they will work to defeat them. Their stand on the issues is likely to cut across conventional labels. In their willingness to use government aggressively to protect the community, strengthen the middle class, and reduce economic risk, they will seem liberal.
Accordingly, a growing number of young Americans see Sanders as a better fit for President than any of the other candidates because his social, monetary, and foreign policies appear to be singularly fair and rational, at least based on certain theoretical assumptions. This seems understandable given that Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than their Baby Boomer predecessors. Sanders almost always supports legislation that protects the disadvantaged. He rails against income inequality more than any other candidate while championing an inclusionary, not exclusionary, vision of America.
Most Millennial Democrats don’t care if Sanders describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, either. This makes some sense given that a significant number of Millennials see the current Washington, D.C. establishment as a failed system that protects an elite conspiracy of political, military, corporate, and financial insiders who have forsaken the rest of America for their own insatiable ends. Likewise, fewer Millennials will have served in the military than their predecessors, which echoes Sanders’ staunch non-interventionist military voting record. In short, they have found their face of discontent.
Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers, too, which means Sanders’ campaign might come to symbolize the birth of a new political and economic paradigm in American culture. If so, it would benefit everyone to understand the concept of socialism in clear and accurate terms. Specifically, socialism is an economic system characterized by state ownership of the means of production (e.g., factories), capital (e.g., banks), and agricultural property (e.g., farms). Iron Curtain countries tried this during the Cold War, with disastrous results for illimitable reasons. Most notably, lack of private enterprise cripples economic growth, leading to a miserable standard of living. History also shows that since every bureaucracy breeds corruption, elite party leaders still rose to power behind the Iron Curtain and lived luxurious and corrupt lives, beyond the reach of the law.
Bernie Sanders’ model of Democratic Socialism differs from pure socialism in that it doesn’t advocate for state ownership of production, capital, and agricultural property. However, it does advocate for heavier and more equitable taxation, increased government spending, and greater regulation of the private sector, especially in regard to banking oversight. Among other things, this would include a movement toward government-run single-payer health insurance, free public college tuition, broader Social Security benefits, and a separation between commercial and investment banking.
Various Northern European countries have proven that a close equivalent of this model works. The big question is whether or not Democratic Socialism would work on a grand scale in the United States. The fact that Sanders is still in the Democratic Primary race in early March means that many Americans think it would, to include a vocal Millennial contingent. Concerning wealth redistribution, Sanders has been focusing his attack on the top 1% of the American population that controls around 40% of America’s wealth. He’ll need to maintain this emphasis if he wants to remain relevant. Americans have already seen the damage done to its over-taxed middle class.