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Young voters continue to feel the Bern

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders  speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate Dec. 19. [AP Photo]
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate Dec. 19. [AP Photo]

Only one year in age separates Sen. Bernie Sanders from former Vice President Joe Biden, yet the support Sanders engenders from younger voters swamps that of Biden. This phenomenon is as evident in the Oklahoma City area as anywhere else.

Amber Integrated, an Oklahoma City firm, recently polled registered Democratic voters and independents in the 5th Congressional District about the field of candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders led the way with 20%, followed by Biden with 11% (40% were undecided).

But among voters ages 18 to 29 in the 5th District, which covers Pottawatomie and Seminole counties and most of Oklahoma County, Sanders enjoyed 48% support. Among voters in the 30-39 age group, 40% said they preferred the 78-year-old Sanders. Only 14% of voters younger than 40 said Biden, 77, was their choice.

“Three in four Sanders voters are under the age of 40, meaning that young voters are almost entirely responsible for propelling him to a commanding early lead over Joe Biden,” says Jackson Lisle with Amber Integrated.

Sanders’ support among younger voters was on display during his unsuccessful run for the nomination in 2016. Young voters helped Sanders nearly upset Hillary Clinton in Iowa that year, and they helped generate a historic turnout in his victory in New Hampshire. Sanders won Oklahoma’s Democratic primary in 2016 and nationally, he won 43% of the Democratic primary electorate.

What’s the draw? In a 2015 profile about Sanders, The Guardian interviewed Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement, an organization that urges young people to get involved in politics.

“One thing is his genuineness,” she said. “He’s been a consistent warrior against economic inequality since the ‘60s, and he hasn’t changed a bit.”

It’s also clear that many young people like what Sanders is selling — lots of “free” stuff.

A democratic socialist, Sanders wants such things as government-run health care, a $15 minimum wage, free tuition at public colleges and forgiveness of $1.6 trillion in student debt. He further appeals to young people by arguing, for example, that 18-year-olds should automatically be registered to vote.

Sanders’ railing against corporate America and income inequality also strikes a chord. “The time for moderate politics is pretty much done,” one 17-year-old Sanders supporter told Vox in June. “It’s time for a bold, progressive, international and anti-capitalist politics, and … only Bernie really understands that.”

Biden is thoroughly progressive, but his policies aren’t as extreme as Sanders’. He has argued against Medicare for All and has cautioned that the astronomical price tags on some plans proposed by Sanders make them fantastical.

Young people, here and elsewhere, view them much differently. They feel the Bern and like it.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›