Considering Bernie just won the West Virginia primary, it is timely that we publish some questions one of our readers (thank you Julia Karon!) submitted to ask Robin Ye, who wrote an op-ed on why he supports the Senator from Vermont. Here are two of the questions Julia wrote:
JK: How do Bernie supporters expect to compromise with Congress when the majority of Congressmen have endorsed Hillary? I get that he’s trying to show that he’s outside “the system,” but that isn’t going to help him once he has to deal entirely with people within that system!
RY: I could very well respect a voter or a member of Congress/Governor (i.e. superdelegate) whose true ideological standpoint aligns most closely with Hillary Clinton. However, when the vast majority (let’s say conservatively 2/3) of Hillary Clinton’s endorsements from Congress came well before the first primary (Iowa, February 1st) and a significant portion (100+) before even the first DEBATE (October 13, 2015) this election season, I’m a little a lot skeptical about whether or not Congress truly heard both candidates and weighed their endorsement on the merits of their ideas. Also it’s hard to assess “electability” when the primary process, which is theoretically used to determine electability, had hardly begun. Bernie has since won 18 states (and narrowly almost tied in MO, IA) showing that there is a wide-swath of the Democratic party that thinks he’s electable.
If a Governor was elected President, that person probably wouldn’t enjoy deep connections to Congress either, but hey, they would be President and Congress has to work with him/her too, unless he’s Barack Obama. But it’s not like the Republicans in Congress are just going to be more into working with Hillary after demonizing her for decades. It’s a problem that any President-elect would have to face.
Look, Bernie Sanders has been dubbed the Amendment King. The New York Times even admitted this before it remembered which master it serves (hint: it’s not necessarily the people of America). Bernie Sanders has shown he is capable of compromise and working across the aisle –he couldn’t have lasted as an Independent in Congress for this long if he couldn’t work with people not in his own party. Hillary Clinton is certainly qualified to be the Chief Executive, but so is Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders holds his beliefs with strong conviction (he certainly hasn’t proclaimed himself a Democratic-Socialist Independent from Vermont out of political expediency) and is willing and able to compromise during negotiation. In her recent political life, Hillary Clinton has more or less set her own beliefs to be at about where she thinks a compromise could be struck, but has often been criticized for not being able to articulate a cohesive, thematic vision for why she wants to be President. I believe this will be a major problem in a general election, when you’re pitching what the Democratic Party stands for and defending the vital role of government. In my opinion, compromise is an action, not a belief set. Bernie has the values, the ideology, and a cohesive message of his campaign in 2016 – and he can compromise.
JK: How realistic is it to expect a political revolution with the dismal youth voter turnout rate we have?
RY: “Dismal” youth voter turnout is the symptom of an increasingly frustrating political process, not the disease that is undermining democracy. I hardly doubt Bernie Sanders “expected” anything, let alone a political revolution, but he’s certainly worked very hard to build it. He’s the candidate that has done the most to tap into the concerns and feelings of the under-30 vote. He hasn’t divided the party or hurt the presumptive nominee, he’s just revealed that the party is already divided, perhaps more divided that the political class had realized, or were messaging to the public. FiveThirtyEight had a great piece about whether competitive primaries actually hurt the party nominee. There’s little evidence that suggests it does.
Bernie Sanders also hasn’t, as the most condescending punditry have put, fooled the youth into promises of free things. It wasn’t persuasion by Bernie Sanders that has gotten an overwhelming amount of youth supporters to support his calls for universal healthcare, free higher education, taxes on wall street speculation, and bans on fossil fuels. Younger voters were already there ideologically. They are more than capable of seeing an economy that their leaders say is improving, but of which they see few benefits from.
Bernie Sanders has shown, at least on the Democratic Primary side, that youth voters are certainly an electorate that can carry a candidate pretty far if they are able to channel their hopes and concerns. In many states, young voters gave Sanders somewhere between a quarter and a third of his votes, despite never making up more than a fifth of the electorate. In Ohio, voters under 30 chose Bernie by 81%. This trend continued in populous heterogeneous states like Florida (64%), North Carolina (72%), Illinois (86%) and even New York (65%). In New York, an estimated 408,000 18-29 year olds casted ballots, making up 14% share of the total voters. This surpassed the 12% share in 2000 and slightly surpassed the record in 2008. This matters for future primaries because young voters aren’t going anywhere – physically or politically.
It is true that the youth (18-24 year olds) and the millennial vote (voters under 30) have historically been low, and this has frustrating for Democrats who tend to benefit from the youth vote when it shows up. 2014 youth turnout and youth registration was the lowest ever recorded. Only 19.9% of 18-29 year olds cast ballots in the 2014 Midterm elections – the lowest rate of youth turnout in 40 years.
But to pour cold water on the promising youth turnout from this cycle is fighting against the change we wish to see. For instance, take this article (linked before) called “Bernie’s Revolution Has No Future”. The author’s main thesis is that the revolution isn’t working not because young people aren’t coming out, but because they are not turning out enough to overcome the older electorate that holds more influence in party politics. However, when you consider that politicians funnel more resources into TV advertising that largely targets older folks, when campaign operations struggle to locate transient youth, and when politicians actively court other, more reliable and wealthier constituent groups, this feedback loop drives away youth vote and focuses on the older voters. Perhaps narrowly peddling the futility argument without considering the larger forces at hand leads to more futility? A novel idea!
Why are party forces wanting Bernie to exit a competitive primary when his candidacy is bringing in youth voters in ways that haven’t been seen in the modern era? By driving away Bernie, or failing to see that his “political revolution” is about a lot more than securing the Democratic nomination in 2016, the Democratic Party is cementing the fear that youth votes and preferences don’t matter. That sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy of low youth turnout: youth voters aren’t reliable so they aren’t considered so they’re not pursued so they don’t turnout to vote, etc..It’s not that this generation of youth vote is inherently lazy or not as engaged – in fact some studies suggest the millennials display about the same level of political interest as the youngest generation did in 1987. Perhaps the party should begin evaluating the reasons why young people don’t vote that aren’t rooted in “because they’re spoiled and are lazy and don’t care about politics.”
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this series, where Mikala Cohen will answer questions from Robin on why she supports Hillary!