Eric Davis: Bernie Sanders has sway with young voters
Last week, Bernie Sanders appeared at a rally along with Hillary Clinton on the campus of the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The event drew a large and enthusiastic crowd.
Sanders vigorously endorsed Clinton to the students and other young people present. He supports her both because of specific issues in her platform, such as her plans for lowering college tuition and student loans, and because he firmly believes that a Donald Trump presidency would be dangerous and destabilizing for the nation.
Sanders also stressed the importance of not voting for either of the third-party candidates — Gary Johnson or Jill Stein — in this year’s election. This is a marked reversal from his position on third-party candidates at the start of his career in Vermont 40 years ago. Sanders told the UNH audience that there are indeed substantial differences between Clinton and Trump, and that a vote for Johnson or Stein would be, in effect, a vote for Trump.
This argument could resonate in the Granite State, where some older voters will remember that, in 2000, Ralph Nader received three times as many votes in New Hampshire as the margin by which George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in the state.
Sanders also urged his audience to vote for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, who is seeking to unseat Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte.
Sanders’ strongest support in the Democratic primaries and caucuses earlier this year came from voters under 35. Polls of young voters leading up to the general election indicate that about 40 percent of them support Clinton, 25 percent Trump, with the remaining 35 percent divided between Johnson and Stein.
Polls also show potentially low turnout among young voters, which would continue a trend following Barack Obama’s first election in 2008. That year, 49 percent of voters under 25 went to the polls, a record turnout for that age group. The under-25 turnout fell to 41 percent in 2012 when Obama was re-elected. Democratic operatives worry that it could fall even further this year.
New Hampshire, a state that was won by Sanders in the February Democratic primary, is a critically important swing state in the Electoral College. It is no surprise that the Clinton campaign brought Sanders to the rally in Durham. There are other critically important swing states, with much larger numbers of electoral votes than New Hampshire, where Sanders also did well in the primaries. Many of these states are the homes of large public and private universities that enroll thousands of young voters.
With the Senate having adjourned until November, and with Sanders not facing an election in Vermont this year, he should be spending most of his time over the next month campaigning for Clinton among young voters in swing states. The Clinton campaign should organize a “college tour” for Sanders, on which he would speak in cities such as Ann Arbor and East Lansing, Mich.; Madison, Wis.; Columbus, Ohio; Boulder, Colo.; Philadelphia, Penn.; and Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C.
All of these cities are located in the states whose electoral votes will determine whether Clinton or Trump will be president for the next four years. Many of them, such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, also have competitive U.S. Senate races that will determine which party controls the Senate next year.
Sanders can make a strong case to his young supporters that, in this year’s political environment, a vote for Clinton is by far the best choice they have, and that a vote for a Democratic Senate candidate will help make Sanders a committee chair next year. Clinton’s campaign staff should start organizing the Sanders “college tour” right away.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.
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