One on One: Can Bernie Sanders, after all, be a winner in the fall?

Published 1:15 pm Thursday, March 19, 2020

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By D.G. Martin

Bernie Sanders is going to win the upcoming election for the Democrats.

Does that sound like crazy talk?

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In light of Sanders’ recent crushing defeats on the primary campaign trail, maybe it does sound crazy. Add to that the heavy blanket of pandemic related restrictions hovering over the political landscape and preventing the rallies that Sanders might have used to resurrect his faltering campaign. That pandemic blanket snuffs out whatever slim chances he had to win the nomination.

Would it be even crazier to say that Sanders will win the election for Democrats by mobilizing young people to vote Democratic?

If you are one of those Democrats who celebrated Biden’s recent rout of Sanders, you will probably rush to tell me that the legions of youthful Sanders supporters just did not show up to vote for him in the recent primaries.

You might cite the figures given by Jamelle Bouie in a column last week in The New York Times. He wrote, “Young voters want Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee for president. But they don’t seem to want to turn out for him, or at least not in the numbers he needs to win.”

In Michigan, for instance, although the youngest (18 to 29 year old) voters gave most of their support to Sanders, they made up only 16 percent of the total voters. They were overwhelmed by the oldest voters, who were 20 percent of the electorate and gave most of their votes to Joe Biden.

Voters in the 30 to 44 year-old group supported Sanders, 52 percent to 42 percent. “But they were swamped, in turn, by the next oldest group (age 45 to 64) who backed Biden 62 percent to 26 percent.”

In Missouri Bouie reports, “14 percent of voters were under 30 versus 31 percent over 65. Sanders won the youngest voters with 70 percent of their vote. But that was no match for Biden’s 81 percent victory among retirement-age Democrats.”

Bouie noted that while overall turnout in the recent primaries increased, youth voting was down. In North Carolina it was down by nine percent.

Bouie argues that this disappointing voting participation by youths undermined Sanders’ theory of  “electability and change, which depends on mobilizing huge numbers of people –young people in particular – to execute a ‘political revolution.’”

While many Democrats celebrated the triumph of Biden’s older voters over Sanders’ younger ones, they have to face the fact that it will be hard for Biden to win without strong participation and support from young people.

Bouie understands that increasing young voter participation is a long-term project involving liberalizing voting laws and developing improved civics education in the schools. But notwithstanding the disappointing youth participation in this year’s primaries, there is an important role for Sanders to help Democrats in the fall and in the future.

Bouie writes, “There are things a campaign like Sanders’ can do to improve youth turnout and bring those supporters to the polls. In addition to stoking interest, a campaign like Sanders can educate young voters about the process – not just by telling them to register, but also by walking them through the process itself and doing the work a civics curriculum should have already done.”

For all his recent successes, Biden has not shown he can inspire the youthful voters he will need to win in the fall. While Sanders did not get enough help from his young supporters to win, he did a whole lot better with that group than Biden.

In the fall, Biden needs a lot of help. He needs the young Sanders voters and more. He needs Sanders to help.

If Sanders does help and if he inspires and mobilizes young people to support Biden in a winning effort in the fall, it will not be crazy to say that he won the election for the Democrats.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sundays at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and other times.