It’s a scene that has occurred hundreds of times since the primaries began. A group of college students gather around a table to brainstorm ways to convince people to vote for their candidate of choice: Bernie Sanders.
More tables for voter registration? Check. Go door-to-door at the nearby senior center? (“The old people will love it.”) Check. Sell more of those “Feel the Bern, Not the Burn” condoms? Check. They’ve already peddled 400.
“We hope to go [to the National Democratic Convention] as delegates,” said Michael Riley Brann, a 24-year-old senior at the University of California Santa Barbara who is the group’s Arm of Propaganda. “So our plan, when we were selling these condoms to go there, is to be able to go and have individuals inside who are talking to anybody that will listen to us … in the Democratic Party and explain to them why Bernie Sanders is the best candidate at the national level.”
Brann and his fellow students assume Sanders will stay in the race all the way to the convention in July and still has a shot of winning despite one glaring fact: There are no longer enough delegates left for Sanders to win the nomination without super delegates switching to vote for him. That’s a very unlikely scenario. Two weeks out from the California primary, Sanders has 1,533 delegates while Hillary Clinton has 2,293, only 90 delegates short of the 2,383 needed to lock up the nomination.
But despite the delegate math, Sanders has continued to gain support and poll numbers in California reflect young voters’ enthusiasm for his campaign.
Field Polls taken in the Golden State show a consistent growth of voter support there month after month. The most recent April poll found that Clinton’s lead dropped six points, half of what it was in January. She’s at 47 percent to his 41 percent. And the majority of that support stems from voters between the ages of 18 and 35 — millennials.
“You’ll see that Sanders is the clear choice of voters under the age of 30, you’ll see it’s overwhelming. It’s 4-1 for Sanders in that age group,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “There is an increase in their preference for Sanders over time. If you go to the previous poll release of the presidential primary, I don’t believe the young vote was that one sided. What’s happened … it’s really just the movement. The segment has moved much more towards Sanders in the last month or so.”
The growth of registered voters is another factor. Online voter registration in California has resulted in a huge surge of young registrants. Out of the 560,000 people who registered to vote online in California in the first quarter of the year, 36 percent were between the ages of 17 and 25. (Seventeen-year-olds were included if they would be a 18 at the time of the June 7 primary.)
The results, according to Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, were shocking, especially because California isn’t a high turnout state and it’s not a competitive state, particularly this year when it’s so late in the primary season. The group also noted that younger voters are the only group in the state that favors Sanders over Clinton.
While California may now be more of a metaphorical capstone in the Democratic primary race — since win-or-lose Hillary Clinton will walk away being the presumed Democratic nominee — voters in the state, specifically young voters, are still looking to the primary as an important moment. And, they’re looking at Sanders’ run as more than just a presidential campaign — to them it’s a real political movement.
“I would say our generation is definitely fighting for a better future,” said Ryan Lopez, a USC sophomore and co-leader of the USC for Bernie group. “The fire that I’ve seen … isn’t going to burn away for a good while. You know, people are going to keep stepping up, we’re going to keep fighting if the system continues to screw us over. … Just our passion that we have for the movement and for wanting to create a better future for ourselves is something that’s going to keep going and something that gives me so much hope for the future.”
For Sanders’ millennial supporters the movement doesn’t begin and end with the senator because it’s focused around addressing issues they are passionate about such as job opportunities, the housing crisis, student debt and intervention in wars abroad.
“I’m interested in using Bernie’s campaign, and his rhetoric about the politics revolution, as a jumping point to get, I mean, not only Latinos, but students,” said Michael Kile, a fifth-year student at UCSB. “These are two voting blocks that are very powerful or potentially very powerful but underutilized. I’m interested in mobilizing them for not just voting but activism, too. I’m very interested in using Bernie’s campaign as a base point for future activism.”
Millennials in California aren’t any different from members of their generation living elsewhere in the country. They are about 70 percent Democratic, and, according to Morely Winograd, co-author of the “Millennial Momentum: How a new Generation is Remaking America,” “millennials’ influence is only going to continue to grow.” He said the Great Recession of 2008 was the triggering event for why most millennials vote the way they do.
So what does this mean for Clinton? Early indications are that Sanders’ supports remain hesitant to back a Clinton ticket or even vote for the Democratic Party once she claims the nomination.
A recent YouGov poll found that only 55 percent of Sanders supporters said they would vote for Clinton over Donald Trump in November. Furthermore, Sanders himself isn’t showing any sign that he’s willing to concede to Clinton before the July convention in Philadelphia — or that he’ll endorse her if she gets the nomination.
Many of Sanders’ supporters are just as resolute as he seems to be. Thirty percent of the YouGov poll respondents are so opposed to another Clinton presidency that they would consider supporting a third party candidate from the Socialist Alternative party — or not voting at all. And a stunning 15 percent said they would vote for Trump.
“She’s an imperialist, an interventionist. This woman wants to go to war. We have to see that as a problem,” said Michael Riley Brann, a senior at UCSB who supports Sanders. “I would vote for Donald Trump before I’d vote for Hillary Clinton. I’d come out and say that … Donald Trump is at least a protectionist; he’s an isolationist. He’s not going to take us to war. He’s going to enact trade deals that will help our country.”
Many millennials supporting Sanders say their loyalty to the Democratic Party pales in comparison to their loyalty to the movement.
“I wasn’t a Democrat before, so I’m not scared that the Democratic Party is going to fail. They should be scared that it does. They should be scared because their rhetoric is to the left and they are going to have to deal with the leftists who come into this party,” said Eric Villalobos, leader of the UCSB for Bernie group. “Hillary’s campaign will not, cannot be used for a base of activism.”
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