The upcoming 2016 general election will feature a Demographic first in American history. The so called Millennial Generation (those born between 1980 and 2000) will outnumber the post World War II “Baby Boomer” generation and become the largest generational group in the population. Meanwhile, the Baby Boomer dominated punditocracy on cable news is either scratching its head trying to explain the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, or outright dismissing it. Might these two seemingly unrelated things have a connection? A new national poll confirms that they do indeed.
On the surface, the CBS/NYT poll doesn’t look that different from a lot of other recent national polls. Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 47% to 27%, with Biden bringing up the three spot at 15% and everyone else at statistical noise. However, the poll’s breakdown by age group reveals a glaring disparity among age groups. If you have followed political news in the past couple of months, you know that Bernie Sanders has been slowly but steadily surging in the polls at Hilary Clinton’s expense. This poll however, does an excellent job at illustrating who has been responding to the Sanders campaign. For example, as the graphic indicates he has attracted male voters at twice the rate of female voters, which is to be expected when Bernie is running against the first serious female candidate. You might expect that his surge was also fueled by self described liberals, but that doesn’t appear to be the case at all.
While Bernie does much better among liberals than self described moderates in the Democratic Party, over the last month he has gained 10 points from each camp, which backs up something that I have said in the past – namely that Bernie’s message of socioeconomic inequality is no longer an issue of the left wing of the Democratic party, but resonates across its spectrum, and just as much among independents as well as some republicans. However, when you get to the breakdown by age, Sanders has gained a whopping 20% among voters age 18-49 (the same margin by which Clinton has declined among them) while for voters over 50, Bernie is within the margin of error of his last months result, and any loss of support Clinton has suffered has apparently gone to Joe Biden. For voters born before 1965, the Bernie Sanders campaign has been a non event for the last month, while for those born later the campaign has been a game changer. It’s unfortunate we don’t have a further breakdown among the 18-49 group, but I am willing to place a healthy bet on the notion that the younger the voting bloc, the larger Sanders’ margin over Clinton.
It’s not difficult to figure out why Bernie resonates among younger voters. The millennial generation is the one walking out of colleges laden with student debt and into a terrible job market filled with insecure and dim prospects, short term contract work and so called “gigs” in places like the sharing economy. Home ownership is often a pipe dream, and starting a family often delayed. Bernie’s campaign is pushing for free college, student loan relief, paid child care and a job program. By contrast, these are not the immediate concerns of the over 50 crowd, but what could previously be dismissed as a fringe movement that draws support primarily from a handful of young radicals has now made a significant impact on this election, thanks to the demographic strength of the Millennial Generation, and the fact that almost all of them will be eligible to vote in 2016.
If Bernie continues to surge, I predict that it will be among younger voters who will abandon Hillary Clinton’s more traditional establishment approach to economics and switch to Sanders while the older folks are going to remain relatively stable and could only be moved if Bernie does well in the early states (polls out of Iowa and New Hampshire show he will) which would give him major momentum across the board. To that end, Bernie’s campaign would be best served in registering and activating younger voters to the polls. Bear in mind that after some algebra we figure out that this poll assumes voters under 50 will make up roughly 43% of the voters in the various caucuses and primaries, despite the fact that they constitute 58% of the voting age population according to the US Census. If under 50 voters were to turnout at the same levels as those over age 50, the current 47-27 deficit for Bernie would actually be 44-30, a six point change in Bernie’s favor, which is an enormous advantage in politics.
As this summer draws to an end, Bernie Sanders can be proud of the fact that he has gone from a severe underdog to a candidate with a plausible path to the nomination. His victory is far from assured at this point, but one thing that is assured is the future. As Millenials rise in demographic dominance, regardless of who gets the 2016 nomination, the future of the Democratic politics beyond the next election is guaranteed to be dominated by the ideas of Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton.