Why Do Young Voters Prefer Sanders?

Although Democratic outcomes are unclear, the young seem to prefer Sanders.

Posted Feb 04, 2020

The Iowa caucuses — the first political test of the 2020 presidential campaign — have ended in a shambles, with results unavailable for several days.

One thing we do know is that young people prefer Bernie Sanders (53 percent of Democratic voters under 35), the democratic socialist, while disdaining moderate Joe Biden (3 percent). That’s a nearly twentyfold difference!

And they feel strongly about their picks. Several movements of older, politically moderate Democrats have formed to attack Sanders, while — in the words of New York Magazine — Millennials form a “human shield” around Bernie. 

Why do the young prefer this old-line democratic socialist? There is an ironic combination of factors driving the young (most evident among the youngest group, Gen Zers, followed by Millennials): They distrust the state’s willingness and ability to care for them—so they turn to the state to try and address that issue.

Age differences characterize a range of issues: preferences for Obama versus Trump, openness to immigration, and racial prejudice, among others.

But they are most evident in concerns around three major issues: the destruction of the earth (even Republican youthful voters worry about global warming); and Social Security (which more than three-quarters of Millennials don’t expect to receive) in combination with Medicare and health care generally (Sanders favors government-funded health care).  

Oh, and then there are student loans, which Sanders wants to forgive. There are 45 million borrowers who collectively owe nearly $1.6 trillion. Student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt and car loans (trailing only mortgages). The average student loan burden for those graduating in 2018 was more than $29,000.

Finally, speaking of mortgages, the young can’t afford to buy homes like their parents did, due to a combination of rising home prices and — well, there’s that student debt again. 

So along with such major splits in the American electorate as white identity (the basis for much of Trump’s support) versus diversity and economic stratification (the haves and the have-nots) is the chasm between the young and the old. Young people see the ground — the very earth — beneath them disintegrating, while their elders dither about the term “socialist” and whether Bernie is a true Democrat. Who cares: the young feel like they’re drowning, and there’s no one to throw them a life preserver, or even care.

Except for Bernie.

This also contributes to why the youngest member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who took office in 2019 at age 29, is supporting Bernie, the oldest candidate, at 79, to run for president.

What’s a half-a-century when it comes to democratic socialism?