By Monica Vega
As the largest voting demographic body in the United States, millennials have been centrally targeted by presidential hopefuls in the 2016 campaign. However, one candidate has been especially successful in his efforts — Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, began his campaign as a long shot but has recently become Hillary Clinton’s most formidable opponent for the Democratic nomination.
Sander’s skyrocketing popularity among millennials may seem odd considering that at 74 years old he is the oldest candidate running, however, his age seems irrelevant to his dedicated millennial following. What they seem to be most intrigued by is the relevance of the issues that he addresses and his genuinely engaging persona.
“Bernie-mania”, as Sander’s mounting momentum has been called, has not bypassed the University of Georgia. Bulldawgs for Bernie is a club which was created on campus in September and whose stated mission is to support Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for the presidency and also other local, state, and federal progressive candidates and initiatives.
Loren Hansen, a graduate student in the School of Social Work who serves as the vice-president for Bulldawgs for Bernie, admires Sander’s ability to organize. “I have never seen anything like this, even in some of the biggest elections…Bernie is one of the most impeccable organizers I have seen in a while,” he said. Bulldawgs for Bernie already boasts 25 to 30 members who regularly attend meetings and their Facebook page “Bulldawgs for Bernie at UGA” has amassed 132 likes since its creation in late September. Hansen also stated that he believes if Sanders were president, he would emphasize topics which are often overlooked such as income inequality, poverty, and infrastructure spending.
Rosana Sanchez, a third year psychology major from Dalton, Georgia agrees with Hansen. “What intrigues me the most about his platform is that he’s focusing on issues that other politicians aren’t interested in discussing. Other politicians are focusing on immigration and foreign trade, while Bernie is focusing on the issues we would all benefit from,” she said.
Issues such as free college tuition.
It should be intuitive that college students would support a candidate who wishes to make a college education free. But while Sander’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, also addresses college affordability, it seems that it is Sander’s consistency in his proposals and his genuine sincerity that attracts college students. Sanchez believes “Sanders is different from other candidates because he’s focusing on making a difference. He doesn’t seem to just want to win an election. He genuinely seems to want to make this country better.”
It comes as no surprise that Sander’s proposal to eliminate college tuition has garnered so much attention from college students. The Wall Street Journal reported that the average debt of a 2015 college graduate is $35,000 or more. This fact makes college students view Sanders as a beacon of hope for the future.
It is not only his “free college” proposal that has students excited for his campaign.
Millennials like Adam Lassila, a graduate of the University of Georgia, point out the consistency in his political ideals, something that many other politicians lack. “He has spent his whole political career fighting for things that benefit ordinary people and not just the already powerful. He has consistently stood up for working people,” Lassila said.
For Lassila, it is not only Sander’s proposal of free college that speaks to him but also his stance on economic inequality. “We live in an incredibly wealthy country that is getting richer as a whole, yet the middle class and working class are struggling more and more,” he said while calling income inequality “the defining issue of our time.”
While Sander’s political platform has sparked a fire within college students there are, of course, many who criticize Sanders’ proposals as unrealistic. However, Bernie supporters are quick to come to his defense. Leslie Herrera, a second year Management Information Systems major, claims that “to denounce a candidate simply off the belief that their goals are unrealistic seems pessimistic and can be applied to any other candidate. Some of his goals are a little more extreme in that they haven’t really been considered by future presidents or aren’t as big of an issue for other candidates, like free public university, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are unrealistic.”
Lassila also points out that it is only logical to set these type of goals saying, “If we set our goals at what they actually are and not just a half-way point, we are more likely to inspire more people to get involved. We have to give them something they think is worth fighting for.”
While Sanders still trails Clinton in the polls according to Real Clear Politics, it must be noted that Clinton’s numbers are falling while Sanders’ are rising. The underdog may just come out on top.