This won’t be about Bernie Sanders, per se. Bernie Sanders seems to be positioning himself to do the right thing in the coming weeks. What this means is that it’s time to strike a conciliatory tone in the name of forging a unified front of decent Americans aimed at ensuring that Donald Trump and the morally bankrupt party sanctioning his quest for the White House do not succeed. No, this will be about what it’s been about almost since the beginning of Sanders’s improbable rise: his rabid disciples. Specifically, his supposed army of youthful revolutionaries; the political neophytes who formed a cult of personality around Sanders knowing little about how politics actually work; the people who still threaten to “burn it all down” because they didn’t get their way; the meme-warriors who’ve spent the past 48 hours lashing out at those who’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton, including their former progressive hero Elizabeth Warren; the kids who insist their lack of presence in the general election, the result of their candidate not winning, will doom any Democratic effort.
There are two articles circulating right now that speak volumes about the Democratic primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in California and beyond. One in particular offers probably the most predictable and revealing bit of information to come out of the whole protracted contest. It’s a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle that details all the ways that, despite their deafening roar both online and at rallies, Sanders’s rowdy Millennial fan base basically let him down. In the article, titled “Young Voters’ Low Turnout Led To Sanders’ Big Loss,” Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., states unequivocally that “the young (voters)… were Bernie’s key supporters … and they didn’t show up.” The article adds that while 25% of California’s record surge of over two million new registrants were under the age of 35, only about 10% of those voters actually cast a ballot. Now, eliminating any conspiracy theories about voter suppression Sanders’s more fanatical base might be inclined to offer up as an explanation, that’s a pretty surprising number of people who sat the election out.
Or is it? When it comes to politics, young people throughout recent history have been easy to energize but have also proven notoriously difficult to actually get to the polls. There are some understandable reasons for this, like the fact that young people tend to be moving from place to place more, with their days consumed by odd work hours and other concerns older voters simply don’t have. There are also, however, some predictably dubious reasons for this, like the fact that kids love the thrill of rallies and “rock star” spectacles, where they can join with others just like them and feel like they’re part of something empowering, trendy and “cool,” but when the time comes to do the actual work, well, they just have better things to do. (Those cynical about Millennials in particular could joke that since they couldn’t, like, vote by Snapchat, too much was being asked of them.) Or they figure, wrongly, that so many people like them showed up at the rally — or are continuing to reinforce their bubble online — that their one non-vote won’t matter. When you get enough people who think that way — that’s how a candidate loses and loses badly. Older voters show up. Younger voters don’t. Simple as that.
The second article I mentioned is from the Los Angeles Times and it features an interactive map that allows you to go through L.A. neighborhood by neighborhood and see how the votes panned out. The first thing that stands out is the vast sea of blue, meant to signify Clinton votes, across the entire L.A. area. Clinton really did overwhelm Sanders in terms of votes and that’s undeniable. What’s not surprising, though, is where the bursts of Sanders orange break through: at UCLA, USC and Cal State Long Beach, of course, but also across East Hollywood, Culver City, Silverlake and Echo Park — all areas with high populations of young people. (As someone noted on Facebook, coincidentally, also all places where white gentrification has taken hold over the past 20 years.) In other words, in keeping with the national trend, Sanders’s voting base was concentrated in large parts with young, possibly first-time voters. This isn’t to say he didn’t also bring out some older voters, only that he dominated Clinton in terms of the youth vote.
So what we have here is clear: Sanders owned the youth vote that did turn out, but that youth vote didn’t turn out in the numbers Sanders needed to put him close to winning. Again, none of this is a surprise. What’s also not a surprise is that Sanders’s Millennial fan base is shocked that he didn’t win. You’re talking about people who curate their lives via social media and who can now create an environment where all they see and hear is information that appeals to their individual tastes and confirms their biases. A common refrain among the so-called Bernie Bros was, “Bernie can’t lose because everyone I personally know is voting for him.” That’s the kind of laughable metric only someone suffering from the myopia of youth can proclaim as legitimate. But maybe it’s not so surprising when you consider that Sanders did, in fact, draw massive crowds to his rallies and drummed up serious excitement online. That kind of thing always gives off the illusion of electoral dominance. The problem is, big rallies don’t always translate into big numbers at the polls. Just ask Ron Paul.
Young people are fickle. That’s not an insult, it’s simply a fact of life. But hopefully what this information will do is help dispel the myth inside the Bernie Bubble that because Sanders didn’t win despite big rallies and online excitement, it doesn’t mean corruption must be afoot. It could just be that young people are, in fact, fickle — and that’s always rendered them somewhat politically unreliable. Or course, the fact that this information probably won’t penetrate what’s left of the Bernie Bubble speaks volumes about what lost Sanders the election in the first place.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.