The day after Super Tuesday, Wood River High School’s Next Generation Politics chapter gathered to discuss the (surprising) results of Super Tuesday. Like many young people around the country, most of our members rallied behind ex-frontrunner Bernie Sanders at the beginning of the primary season. And—like many of Bernie’s young supporters—their enthusiasm did not translate into the kind of turnout that the Vermont Senator needed to win some key states. With new endorsements from Buttigieg and Klobuchar, Biden took home swaths of delegates from the South.
As we sat down last Wednesday to discuss the two-man race, many students’ sentiments had shifted. The majority of participants felt that Biden was the preferable candidate.
Upon asking why their thoughts had changed, many gave a similar response: they didn’t believe that Sanders could unify the party. A participant remarked, “Bernie doesn’t even try to.”
The students felt that Sanders had not made much of an effort to draw in voters outside of his staple demographic. Bernie’s rhetoric remains (for the most part) the same, and his platform and persona are not appealing to more moderate voters. Several discussion participants noted the “us-versus-them” mentality that Sanders perpetuates, highlighting the similarity between the appeals that Bernie and Trump use.
Beyond recognizing some concerning rhetoric, students explored why Sanders’ strong base didn’t appear so strong on Super Tuesday. Bernie’s campaign draws on an anti-establishment grassroots movement comprised largely of youth. Admittedly, Bernie could not draw young people to the polls on March 3. We all know it is hard to turn out 18-25 year olds to vote seeing as this demographic consistently has the lowest turnout rate in primary and general elections. Super Tuesday was no exception. In fact, youth turnout didn’t even match that of 2016. If Bernie wants a chance at securing the nomination, he’ll need to do a better job of bringing out young crowds.
Another big issue with Sanders’ campaign that our NGP members identified was Sanders’ inability to appeal to minorities. One student quipped, “He doesn’t have the Obama factor.”
Biden’s campaign draws on strong support from minority populations, groups that are going to play a huge role in the 2020 election. Many of our participants believed that this was because Sanders’ campaign focuses primarily on class distinctions and ignores the biggest underlying factor in issues of economic justice: race. This is why many minority groups (especially youth) aren’t showing Bernie the kind of enthusiasm that they did during his 2016 campaign. Both Bernie and Biden need to focus on the threat that Trump poses to racial equity and progress if they want to effectively connect with Black and Latinx voters.
So, who will be able to get young people and minority populations to the polls?
Whichever candidate can prove that they have what it takes to bring together a fragmented party and benefit the American middle class. The candidates need to give us more than shallow oratory and empty promises, they need to prove that they have what it takes to win and to accomplish what they are setting out to do.
Bio: Zoe Simon is a senior at Wood River High School, where she serves as the Co-Founder and President of the Next Generation Politics chapter. Outside of school, Zoe serves as the Founder and CEO of an equitable education non-profit called STEAM On, captain of her school’s debate team, Varsity tennis player, and National Honor Society president.