Kids love Bernie

I’m a little late on doing this post, but it is relevant as ever.  So, a few interesting takes on why young people are feeling the Bern so much.  First, Pew:

As you can see, Millenials are substantially more likely than to identify as liberal:

Whites, Millennials and postgrads are most likely among Democratic voters to say they are politically liberal

So, just on that fact alone, of course, we’d expect more Bernie support.  I also really like this take from Michael Tomasky:

Then in 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed. Through the 1990s, there were still a number of countries in the world that called themselves socialist. But that began to dwindle, and over these past 25 years, the memory of the distinction between liberalism and socialism has dwindled along with it. The evanescence of this memory has of course been accelerated by the roughly 89 kajillion hours of American talk radio in which any mildly left-of-center politician or proposal was reprehended as socialistic.

It all makes total sense. If you’re my age, you remember a time when the distinction between liberal and socialist mattered. If you were one or the other and lived in a place populated by many of both, you got into lots of beer-spittled arguments about the merits and demerits of each. And incidentally, you also remember a time when Bernie Sanders was this interesting, basically admirable, but only-in-Vermont mayor, and then later, this interesting, basically admirable, but for the most part inconsequential back-benching member of the House of Representatives.

But say you’re 28 and a liberal. All you know about socialists is that these eye-bulging racist vampires you see on TV keep calling Barack Obama a socialist. And you think, “Hey, I like Obama, so socialist is OK by me!” And remember that in his one big speech in which he defined what socialism means to him, Sanders—probably somewhat disingenuously, given that he chose to be a socialist rather than a liberal back when the differences were stark, but also wholly understandably—basically kinda said socialism to him means the stuff that Roosevelt did and free college and so on.

So, yeah, “socialism” means something totally different to people who did not grow up at a time when socialism was not far off from the ultimate evil– the communist menace.

And Nate Silver takes a similar stab:

Bernie Sanders proudly describes himself as a “socialist” (or more commonly, as a “democratic socialist”). To Americans of a certain age, this is a potential liability. I’m just old enough (38) to have grown up during the Cold War, a time when “socialist” did not just mean “far left” but also implied something vaguely un-American. If you’re older than me, you may have even more acutely negative associations with “socialism” and may see it as a step on the road to communism. If you’re a few years younger than me, however, you may instead associate “socialism” with the social democracies of Northern Europe, which have high taxes and large welfare states. Sweden may not be your cup of tea, but it isn’t scary in the way the USSR was to people a generation ago.

Indeed, views of socialism are highly correlated with a voter’s age. According to a May 2015 YouGov poll, conducted just before Sanders launched his campaign, a plurality of voters aged 18 to 29 had a favorable view of socialism. But among voters 65 and older, just 15 percent viewed socialism favorably, to 70 percent unfavorably.

I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but that does seem to be an interesting part of the story.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Kids love Bernie

  1. ohwilleke says:

    The critical distinction is not between “liberal” and “socialist” but between Soviet style communist and Western European style “Democratic socialist”. The closest political counterpart to the Democratic party in almost every Western European country after World War II was called a “Democratic socialist” party and those parties were even closer counterparts to the Democratic party of FDR. Democratic socialists parties favored a well regulated mixed economy with a large welfare state (and still do).

    Meanwhile the party of the center-right corresponding most closely to the American Republican party in almost every Western European party was the “Christian Democratic” party. (Western Europe also had and has smaller parties with no real U.S. analog that were further to the left, further to the right and more centrist made possible by proportional representation election systems. Most had genuine Communist Parties favoring Soviet style government and Green parties to the left of the Democratic Socialists, as well as a classical liberal or libertarian party and a far right verging on neo-Nazi party).

    Bernie Sanders was never a supporter of Soviet style or Chinese style totalitarian communism in which there was essentially no private sector apart from household gardens and some clothing and household goods that could be privately owned, and in which most economic decisions were made in five year plans.

    At Oberlin College in the 1990s, we were ahead of our time and used the same language as Bernie Sanders. The Democratic Socialist club had 600 members on a campus of 3000 and they were all, like Bernie Sanders, supporters of the policy agenda of Western European Democratic Socialist parties. The membership in the DSA heavily overlapped with residents of student run co-operatives (we had no fraternities or sororities), also about 600 which was roughly the same size as the co-op systems at the much larger UC-Berkley and U of M Ann Arbor campuses (Ann Arbor didn’t have a big DSA but did have a Tenant’s Union with tens of thousands of members drawn from both students and non-student renters). We also had 30-40 Trotskyists (something that Bernie Sanders flirted with for a matter of months half a century ago), and about 7 Republicans.

    Associating Democratic Socialism which Bernie Sanders has always espoused, with Eastern European Socialist systems is the fall into the trap of labeling him as something that he is not. He simply sought to embrace the Democratic Socialist label so that it would regain its Western European meaning in the U.S. – perhaps a foolish effort, but one that his colleagues in Congress and voters in Vermont came to understand. Vermont may be liberal, but not so liberal that 60% of its residents would support Bernie Sanders in statewide elections if they didn’t understand the label Democratic Socialist to mean what it does in Western Europe and not to inaccurately mean support for the political systems of Eastern Europe and Communist Asia.

    • Jon K says:

      Except for when he served as an elector for the Socialist Worker’s Party in the 1980’s. That would be the party founded by Trotsky and dedicated to nationalizing major sectors of the US economy.

      Also, I’m aware of the difference between Communism and Democratic Socialism. I don’t want either one to take hold in America. I think free enterprise and limited government have served America fairly well. I wouldn’t mind moderate progressive reforms – especially in the healthcare arena – but the idea of nationalizing large sectors of the economy or having tax rates over 50-70% have 0.0 appeal to me.

      No offense, but I think if I had gone to Oberlin College I would have killed myself. What you described sounds so extreme it just reiterates why Bernie Sanders can’t be president. That type of thinking appeals to kids at Oberlin and Berkeley, but what about the other 95% of the country?

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