Earlier this month at Iowa State University, he lectured to young voters as they played Green New Deal Pong (the Solo cups were filled with green-colored water) and Bern Bag Toss. At the University of Nevada, Reno, he croaked through a hoarse voice to address a crowd that stretched from the college lawn to the open-air floors of a parking garage beside it.
And at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Thursday evening, he implored students to get themselves to the primary polls come February — and vote for him.
You have friends out there, and I know you do, who think that the political system is absurd, he said, using a colorful expletive. Tell them that instead of just complaining, they must get involved into the political process.
Thats not to say that everyone in attendance was a committed Sanders voter. Kate Grant, a first-year dental student, voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary and said she agrees with a lot of his issues, but said shes unsure who shell vote for this time around. I think hes done a lot of great work and paved the way for a lot of really important ideas, but I think its time to pass it on to a younger generation thats more diverse and representative, she said. Undergraduate student Wayne Ruan said he supported Sanders plans to eliminate college tuition and debt, but that if the election were held today, hed vote for Andrew Yang.
It was a sentiment he has repeated often this month as he crisscrossed the country on what has amounted to a whirlwind back-to-school tour. In Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina, he has by turns used flattery (Your generation is the most progressive younger generation in the history of this country) and subtle warnings (The future of this country and in fact the world rests with your generation) to bolster his appeals.
I was able to vote for him in , so Im really happy that hes running again, said Caleb Burroughs, who drove nearly two hours from Greenville, N.C., to attend the rally. Hes adding onto his progressive platform. He isnt just sticking with the same old stuff. Its true, to some extent: while a broad expansion of the safety net and reining in corporate power and greed are still at the forefront of his campaign, Sanders universal housing plan and call for a moratorium on deportations—both rolled out in the past week—are notable and necessary (albeit logical) additions to that platform.
Everywhere, his goal was the same: muster a version of the army of young voters who propelled his campaign in 2016.
His message was one that has resonated with Brianna Williams, 19, who arrived with a group of friends to hear him in Chapel Hill. Ive seen a lot of his policies, and Im just excited for what he has to offer as a candidate, she said.
But she was just as excited by Senator Elizabeth Warren. I would love to see a woman running the country, she said. That would be really cool.
Sanders supporters I spoke with, most of whom supported him in 2016, more often than not said Warren was a second or third-choice. That doesnt mean, however, that theyre buying that shes a more palatable version of Bernie to the general electorate. Justin Trushell, a 43-year-old Raleigh resident who yelled Screw Jeff Bezos! during one mention of the Amazon CEO, said Warren was a lot better than Joe Biden or most of the other candidates. But as someone who runs an NC for Bernie Twitter account, Trushells top pick is obvious.
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Last time around, Mr. Sanderss rants against the elite and promises of free college tuition endeared him to legions of young fans. It also helped that Mr. Sanders — 74 at the time, with unruly white hair and an old-school Brooklyn accent — was both decidedly uncool and new to presidential politics, affording his campaign a paradoxical edge that inspired millions of young supporters to feel the bern and vote for him over Hillary Clinton.
Even with more careful design, problems still arise. When three Stanford economists, Rebecca Diamond, Franklin Qian and Timothy McQuade, studied San Franciscos rent-control scheme they found that though the lucky renters stayed put, affected landlords cut supply by 15%, driving up rents by 5% citywide. More than half of rental stock in New York City is either rent-controlled or rent-stabilised, though prices have surged all the same. When The Economist examined the most recent New York Housing and Vacancy Survey, conducted in 2017, we found 25,000 households in Manhattan with annual incomes greater than $200,000 living in rent-controlled and rent-stabilised flats. Landlords with such affluent tenants could petition to get rid of rent restrictions, but this mechanism has now been removed by the state legislature. At least the little people are being looked after.■
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As he fights anew for the Democratic nomination, it is not lost on him or his allies that his success hinges, in no small part, on his ability to capture that enthusiasm again — for both the optics of his race and the actual votes.
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But this time he is no longer an insurgent, nor is he the only anti-establishment candidate in the race — factors that helped boost his standing among young voters. With the race entering the crucial fall period, other candidates, including Ms. Warren and Andrew Yang, have begun siphoning off some of his support.
Even Mr. Sanderss closest advisers acknowledge that he cannot take for granted a voting cohort they view as critical, even if it is traditionally unreliable in actually making it to the ballot box.
Last time it was much more organic, Faiz Shakir, Mr. Sanderss campaign manager, said. And this time its far more intentional.
In interviews, many young voters still praised Mr. Sanders, sometimes breathlessly — citing his authenticity and conviction but also his calls for free college and universal health care and his proposal to cancel student debt. But many also expressed curiosity, if not exuberance, about other candidates
I love everything he stands for, said Asha Loutsch, 18, as she sat with a circle of friends who were waiting for his event at the University of Iowa. I think he really cares about what hes trying to say. Like, hes always getting up in there, you know?
Jiego Lim, an 18-year-old student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who was volunteering at Mr. Sanderss event there, said he supported Mr. Sanders but was also intrigued by Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Kamala Harris. I feel like we need a fresh new face in politics, he said. Bernie comes off aggressive to me sometimes.
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That affection for Mr. Sanders is reflected in some more tangible metrics. His campaign said it had so far raised over $1 million from people under the age of 25, a relatively small figure compared to his overall haul but one that nevertheless points to his continued strength with young voters.
Sanders campaign estimates there were about 2,500 people in attendance for Thursdays rally. He wasted little time digging into his platform. After a brief ovation, he made a plea to the crowd.
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And in most polls, Mr. Sanders still maintains a strong lead among young voters: A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey showed that a third of voters under 35 supported him.
Yet at the same time, a quarter of these respondents said they supported Ms. Warren, suggesting Mr. Sanders no longer has the same hold on the group he had in 2016.
Any candidate relying on the support of younger voters faces an undeniable challenge: Younger voters tend not to vote in high numbers compared with other groups. In the 2016 election, for instance, only 11 percent of voters under 30 participated in the Iowa caucuses, representing just 15 percent of the total, according to an estimate from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
But the high turnout among young voters during the 2018 midterm elections has given some experts hope that the 2020 election will be different. That strong showing has provided organizers with a larger pool to identify and target potential presidential voters. Issues, including climate change, criminal justice, health care and gun control, are also motivating young voters to act.
The truth is that if younger people in this country voted at the same level as people 65 and over, we could transform this country, Mr. Sanders said this month at the University of Iowa. Please do it!
John Della Volpe, the director of polling at Harvards Institute of Politics, said that Mr. Sanders was still doing really well but that the field was more complex and his pool of support was smaller.
At this stage, hes essentially sharing support of young people in most polls with Elizabeth Warren, Mr. Della Volpe said. The idea of going after structural reforms is really, I think, what is resonating so clearly with young people.
Indeed, of all the other candidates, it is Ms. Warren who appears to be generating the most powerful wave of energy among young voters in Democratic presidential politics — particularly among those who once supported Mr. Sanders.
Olivia Stecklein, 19, a student at the University of Iowa, said she had been a fan of Mr. Sanders since 2015 but was now choosing between him and Ms. Warren.
* It looks like North Carolina will be home to another competitive U.S. Senate race next year: Public Policy Polling found Cal Cunningham (D) with a slight lead over incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R), 45% to 43%,
I feel like theyre pretty similar, but I just kind of like how Elizabeth Warren has a set-out plan for everything, she said. She just seems very prepared.
Eliza Link, 18, a University of Iowa student, said she was also deciding between Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren.
With his characteristic verve that can exhaust even young reporters, Mr. Sanders has been in an all-out sprint to earn the vote of the youths, months before any of them can even cast their vote.
His team set up a Bernie Summer School program to train campus leaders in the art of campaigning. He urged his campaign to get him back on college campuses in the first weeks of the new school year. He constantly asks his team to share data on young voters.
Before Mr. Sanderss event in Reno, Mr. Watts wore a MATH hat, the universal accessory of Yang supporters.
But despite his overt support for Mr. Yang — who in some ways is benefiting from the outsider status among young voters that Mr. Sanders enjoyed in 2016 — Mr. Watts said he had not yet closed the door on Mr. Sanders.
Sydney Ember is a political reporter based in New York. She was previously a business reporter covering print and digital media. @melbournecoal