“This is really about how you put the numbers together to secure the nomination. As some of you might recall, in 2008 I got a lot of votes but I didn’t get enough delegates. And so I think it’s understandable that my focus is going to be on delegates as well as votes this time.” Hillary Clinton 8-28-15
At the Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis last Friday, senior Clinton campaign officials told the media that Hillary has already secured one-fifth of the pledges needed to win the party’s nomination — some 440 “super-delegates” — which includes current and former elected officials, committee officeholders, and other party dignitaries.
At the time, I thought: ‘So it looks like Bernie Sanders is going to have an uphill battle for the nomination.’ Of course, we already knew that. But then my daughter called to ask if I thought Sanders had a real chance of beating Hillary. I explained a little bit about how machine-politics works and how Clinton has a lot of friends and allies who owe her favors, who have cut deals, etc. There are a helluva lot of Clintonites out there with a lot of muscle.
“Dad, I think you might be wrong.”
Some background is in order. My daughter is thirty-one. We’ve been talking politics for more than fifteen years. In my family, we bleed politics through generations. She has never once told me in all those years that she thinks I’m wrong.
“How so?” I asked her, somewhat unsettled.
“Everyone I know under the age of thirty-five is supporting Bernie Sanders.”
More background: my daughter grew up in Minnesota, she took undergraduate degrees in northern California, and now lives and works in Portland, Maine. She is gregarious and has lots of friends across the country. Not to mention that for her generation social media connections are simply second nature. When she says everyone, she means lots of people she’s connected to in one way or another. “Everyone?” I asked her. “Everyone,” she told me.
I did a quick review in my head of what little empirical data I could muster about the Sanders supporters I’d seen. At the Minnesotans For Bernie kick-off meeting, I remembered noticing that at least half the attendees were under 40. (The graying of the DFL is an issue that has nagged me for some time). Photos from the Sanders rally in South Minneapolis show attendees were clearly weighted toward the young. Other photos and web clips I’ve reviewed since our conversation show a lot of under-40 folks in attendance at town halls, rally’s, etc.
“That’s very interesting,” I said, a conversational signal to say more.
“Dad, what you have to understand is that we’re the ones working minimum wage jobs for our livelihoods. Everyone I know who works for minimum-wage is working at least a job-and-a-half. Nobody can live on $7.50 an hour working just 40 hours. I work two-and-a-half jobs. (True). And I get paid decent money. (Also true). I know people in their thirties who are still working at McDonalds. And if you’re like me and have a good job that requires an advanced degree, you’ve got crushing school debt. We’re the ones who are being told Social Security and Medicare won’t be there for us. We’re the ones who are putting off having children, or deciding not to even have children. We’re the ones who are being told we can’t expect to have the same living standards as our parents. We’re even being told that our generation might be the first one in history whose average life-span will go down! Everyone I know is disgusted by the status quo in Washington and says they’re sick of it. We’re voting for Bernie Sanders.”
In other words, I thought, she’s talking about a generational mandate for change — which could make 2016 a transformational election year. In a transformational election, the old regime is turned out and a new regime is installed. Both Hillary and the super-delegates she touts represent the old regime. And while she may be able to count as many as 440 super-delegates firmly in her pocket (doubtful), usually pledges of support only count for the first ballot. If she fails to capture a majority vote on the first ballot, she could see significant support fall away on the second and any subsequent ballots.
While it’s too early to tell whether a generational insurgency among millennials is forming or not — after all, we are talking about a generation that failed to show up at the polls in 2010 and mostly failed to show up in 2012 — there is clear evidence that it might be. Last July, YouGov released the results of a poll that showed Sanders’ support among voters 18-29 is statistically equal to Clinton and only a few points behind in the 30-44 age group. Where support for Sanders drops off significantly is among older voters ages 45 and up. But it appears that Clinton’s support in those upper age brackets is as much about name-recognition as anything else. In other words, Sanders has room to grow his support among the older crowd as he elucidates his policies and garners momentum, while Clinton is clearly failing to inspire younger voters. It’s worth mentioning that millennials haven’t been conditioned by media to fear the socialist boogeyman the way the older generation has.
If millennials are truly weary enough, disgusted enough, with the failure of government to deal effectively with the issues that directly affect their lives — including pocketbook issues and even whether they choose to have children or not — then a generational insurgency could be in embryo. The old regime of a two-party struggle for ideological supremacy — which has created government shut-downs, gridlock, and the lowest approval ratings in history — will be displaced. A new regime and political order will replace it. If 2016 in fact proves to be a transformational election year, it will favor the dark horse candidate from either party. Voter sentiment on both sides of the aisle seems to favor political outsiders at the moment.
Recent polls show Sanders ahead in New Hampshire and within striking range in Iowa. A one-two punch in the early primaries could send Hillary reeling into Super Tuesday with her campaign bleeding both momentum and support in the crucial months just ahead of the national convention. Hillary Clinton and the machine-democrats who support her may be looking at two prime movers of electoral politics in 2016 that neither she nor they can control: a left-wing insurgency (which I predicted in Part Two and which has since proved out) and a generational mandate for change.
Bernie Sanders has a foot firmly planted in both. That alone could be energy enough to win him the nomination and to propel him into the White House. It really all comes down to whether millennials show up.
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