The true winner of the Democratic Iowa Caucus may be contested, but the results are clear — there is a tremendous age gap in the Democratic Party. Young people favor Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, and older people support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This is no mere “other side of the tracks” divide either, it is the Democrat Party’s Grand Canyon. Younger voters tend not to identify as Republican or Democrat, so Sanders’ stance as an Independent may actually be a plus to them. Millennials also seem to like the term “socialism,” even if they don’t know what it means. As a young person myself, I understand the frustration with the status quo, but find it disappointing that my generation flocks behind a self-identified socialist.
Quantifying the Gap
The Iowa Caucus results showcase the stunning divide between older and younger voters in the Democratic Party. Clinton trounced Sanders among older voters. Among those aged 45-64, she took 58 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 35 percent, and voters older than 65 preferred her by a margin of 69 percent to 26 percent. Clinton almost took three times as many seniors as her rival.
Among voters younger than 30, however, Sanders crushed Clinton, 84 percent to 14 percent, and he sizably beat her in the 30-44 year old demographic too, by 58 percent to 37 percent. In other words, the independent socialist won SIX TIMES the traditional democrat’s vote among the youngest Millennials.
This age gap traces back to 2008, when rising star and first term Senator Barack Obama challenged then-Senator Hillary Clinton for the nomination. In an analysis of all exit polls in the primary, ABC pollster Gary Langer found Obama ahead with younger voters and Clinton ahead with seniors. Among voters under 30, Obama beat Clinton by 20 percent. Among voters over 65, Clinton beat Obama by 25 percent. The 30-44 group leaned Obama by 11 percent, while the 45-64 group favored Clinton by 7 percent.
Since 2008, it seems that younger voters have become even more anxious for change than when they supported Obama.
What Else Do We Know?
But there are more factors than just age separating Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters, and these differences may help explain why the two have such opposing coalitions.
Married voters (60 percent in the caucus) broke for Clinton (56 percent to 37 percent), while single voters chose Sanders (58 percent to 38 percent). People attending their first caucus (44 percent) broke for Sanders (59 percent to 37 percent), while previous caucus goers favored Clinton (59 percent to 35 percent).
More revealing, however, are the breakdowns of ideology and party identification. Sanders won self-described “very liberal” voters by 19 percent, while Clinton won the “somewhat liberal” and “moderate” voters by 6 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Self-identified Democrats (78 percent of the caucus) broke for Clinton by 17 percent, while Sanders won voters who considered themselves “independent or something else” (20 percent of the caucus) by an astounding 43 percent.
Clinton and Sanders voters also split along economic lines. Sanders won voters who make under $30,000 per year (57 percent to 41 percent) and those who make between $30,000 and $49,999 per year (50 percent to 47 percent). Clinton took voters making $50,000 to $99,999 per year (50 percent to 45 percent) and those who make $100,000 or more (55 percent to 37 percent).
Sanders also won voters who considered income inequality the most important issue, while Clinton took voters concerned about healthcare, economy, and terrorism. Clinton won voters most concerned about the right experience and electability in November, while Sanders took voters who want an honest and trustworthy candidate, someone who “cares about people like me.”
In short, Sanders voters are disproportionately young, comparatively poor, mostly single, very liberal, skeptical of established authority, and less likely to identify as Democrats. That sounds like a great deal of the Millennial generation.
Democrats have liked Clinton for years. When she and her husband complained about mistreatment by the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” liberals ate it up. The Chicago native who moved to Arkansas with Bill Clinton and lived in Washington, D.C. as First Lady was able to win election representing New York in the United States Senate. The current New York Senators, by contrast, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, were both born in New York State.
Sanders, however, is a very new phenomenon. A true believer in government-run economies, he honeymooned in the Soviet Union and left the Democratic Party because it wasn’t liberal enough. He is truly the Ron Paul of the left, calling for liberal policies that were marginalized before his ascension to prominence. Paul had “audit the Fed!” Sanders has “reinstate Glass Steagall!”
Why Millennials Like Sanders
Surveys show that Millennials have confused political views. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson wrote, “They’d like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn’t run anything.” Perhaps most importantly, they like the word “socialism,” but not necessarily what it really means.
When asked “Which is the better system?” a full 42 percent chose “Socialism” over “Capitalism,” which still won 52 percent support. But ten percent less — 32 percent — said they favored a “government managed economy” as opposed to a “free market economy,” which took 64 percent.
When it comes to government size, Millennial views change based on one magic word — “Taxes.” If you mention this word, 57 percent of young people want a smaller government with fewer services. If you leave it out, 54 percent want a larger government with more services.
On the Republican side, the only candidate who received a disproportionate share of votes among young people was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps as the figurehead of a libertarian revolution. Young people like “change” candidates.
How Does This Make Sense?
Millennials tend to be, on average, more single, less wealthy, and more inclined toward change on many levels. Your average college graduate enters an economy with few job openings and a high cost of living, all the while struggling with large amounts of student debt. What money they can make ends up being taxed — at least in part because of Social Security and Medicare, which they suspect won’t be around when it’s their turn to retire.
Young people feel cheated, and it’s not very hard to see why. As Millennials William Handke and Ross Pomeroy wrote in RealClearPolitics, “our baby boomer parents and grandparents have monopolized and misused their political power ever since they seized it — committing crimes against their children’s and grandchildren’s generations in myriad ways.”
Handke and Pomeroy point to large government programs and low taxes, which lead to a massive deficit that future generations will have to deal with. They also point the finger at their parents and grandparents for “mismanaging the economy” and “ignoring the real causes of climate change.”
These two do not speak for every Millennial, but their concerns are shared widely among the young demographic. While the evidence of manmade climate change is highly debatable and the burden of proof should be on regulators, not an already struggling economy, many young people really do fear that the world is ending not just due to big government and a ballooning debt, but thanks to fossil fuels as well.
The vast majority of college professors teach in a way that prioritizes more liberal solutions to economic problems, even though those policies already harm young people and would do worse if a man like Sanders is elected president. Nevertheless, the focus on the young has long been a feature of radical leftist movements. From Hitler to Stalin and Mao, radicals knew that recruiting young people, who are more likely to be passionate and have less experience of the world to ground them, is an effective strategy.
This is emphatically not to say that college professors or liberal candidates like Bernie Sanders are the American equivalent of such evil totalitarian dictators. But American liberals use the same confusion and anger to mobilize their base. This is one primary reason why Millennials flock to a wild-eyed Socialist who promises to remake the world as their professors want it to be.
It saddens me to see my fellow Millennials so passionate about injustices done to them, only to double down on the same big government policies which make it so hard for young people to find a job and climb the ladder of success. By all means, we should balance the budget and avoid passing debt on to our children, but you don’t do that by tying down the free market with even more regulation and big government policies supported by socialists like Bernie Sanders.