The largest political party in America is the None of the Above Party, which garners more support than either the Democrats or the Republicans: that means that motivating eligible voters to go to the polls matters more than anything else when it comes to determining the outcome of federal elections.
By far the largest group of eligible voters in the None of the Above Party is young people, and Bernie Sanders polls higher among young eligible voters than any other candidate, by a huge margin. In 2016, Sanders commanded more support from young voters than Clinton and Trump combined.
Since then, Sanders has only increased his support among young potential voters — even as younger voters have, in turn, increased their turnout. In the 2018 midterms, turnout from young people flipped many seats, and the organizations that represent young people are predicting even bigger turnouts in 2020.
One of these organizations, the Dream Defenders Fight PAC, sums up the power of Sanders: "Bernie is not our political savior. It is the movement behind him that will change this country. We are not electing a savior; we are electing a political opponent who we will hold accountable to meet our demands."
This represents an important contrast with Obama in 2008: Obama was a once-in-a-generation orator whose soaring rhetoric inspired a movement that changed the voter turnout numbers and took him into office. But Obama was deeply mistrustful of political movements and literally switched off the servers that ran his grassroots organizer network when he took office.
By contrast, Sanders is a perfectly competent orator, but what distinguishes him is the movement that supports him — the people who are there because of what Sanders stands for, not because of how he talks. As FDR told Black rights activists when he was elected, "I want to do it, now make me do it." Sanders' movement is the group that can make him do it.
I am a donor to both the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren campaigns. I have given more money to the Sanders campaign.
Sanders's youth support also has implications for the general election. Though young voters don't historically turn out in high numbers, at least not compared with seniors (the Biden bloc), outrage over Trump could change things. The U.S. Census found that for the midterm elections in 2018, voter turnout among adults ages 18 to 29 increased by 14 points over 2014. Party leaders may indeed be worried about Sanders's winning the nomination, as a recent report by the Associated Press suggested. But if they want to avoid reviving the enthusiasm gap that helped cost Clinton the election in 2016, they may want to pay attention to what young voters say they want.
Bernie Sanders Is Building a Youth Firewall [Sarah Jones/New York Magazine]
(Image: Paige Bollman, CC BY)