The Democratic presidential candidate gives a voice to the anger of young Americans. Their disappointment in his broken promises will be great.
The America in which Bernie Sanders lives is an inhospitable place. Millionaires and billionaires have created a corrupt government, in which they can buy elections and candidates. The economic system has been manipulated, and enthroned at its peak are towering bankers and coupon cutters from Wall Street, whose business model is fraudulent. Fortunately, there is a way out of this dystopia; namely Sanders’ “political revolution.” This includes a program of public works for 13 million people, free study at all public universities, a doubling of the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and national health insurance for everyone based on the European model.
This especially attracts young people. In the Democratic primary – which Sanders is losing – he scored overwhelming numbers in the group of 18- to 29-year-olds. “The next generation of voters clearly favors him,” sums up The New Yorker. “It is a demographic certainty that Sanders’ revolution would not be extinguished by Hillary Clinton’s expected campaign to become the Democratic presidential candidate,” declared Bloomberg News.
Is this really the case? Is Sanders’ political program, supported by legions of enthusiastic young followers, expected to revolutionize America? This thesis, which warms the soul of so many veterans of ’68 in Europe, suffers from logical flaws. The first is overemphasizing Sanders’ popularity among the youth, considering that no age group is as unreliable in making use of their right to vote as 18- to 29-year-olds. This can clearly be seen in the surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau. In the presidential election of 1996, the youngest [voters] accounted for 22 percent of the electorate, but only 14.9 percent of actual voters. Those over 65, despite being only 17.2 percent of the eligible electorate, were 20.3 percent of the voters. For two decades, the proportion of voters over 45 years old in presidential elections has increased continuously from 53.5 percent to 61.4 percent in 2012. The young [voters] are always far from above average – even in 2008, when Barack Obama had the electrified appeal of a pop star, they came in behind the older voters, with 17.1 percent against 19.5 percent. This trend will break the 74-year-old Sanders: He is not Obama.
Still lower is the turnout of youth in the midterm elections for Congress. This is the second reason to doubt the chances of Sanders’ revolution. From free study to [increased] minimum wage to universal health care, this revolution will take majorities in both chambers of Congress. But above all, the House of Representatives will remain in the hands of the Republicans in the foreseeable future, whose majority of older followers consistently turn out for every election. A reminder: Even in 2009 and 2010, when the Democrats controlled Congress, no majority for a European-like health insurance could be found.
The third reason that Sanders will disappoint his young fans is the general mood in the country. Certainly, many Americans are disgruntled because they are unlikely to see a real rise in income for some time. But a new survey from the Pew Research Center shows that the mood has improved significantly during Obama’s second term. Since December 2011, the number of Americans who have good, or even excellent, personal finances increased by 5 percent. The number of people who say their income keeps up with the cost of living has increased by eight, nine, and seven percent in the upper, middle and lower classes of society.
Revolutionary circumstances look differently. Bernie Sanders is hopefully aware of the responsibility of managing the expectations of his young followers. It would be a shame if they were to become cynics due to his broken promises.