In June, Senator Bernie Sanders began to emerge as the top challenger to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and young adults have taken notice.
Democratic Party officials and liberal activists credited the rise of Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent who proudly labels himself a socialist, to his forceful appeal for a grass-roots movement to fight Wall Street, income inequality, college debt and climate change.
“I think he’s going to be a big threat to Hillary,” said James Berge, Iowa Democratic Party chairman for Worth County. “For the middle class and working class, everything that Bernie stands for hits right at home for us.”
According to a new poll Thursday by Quinnipiac University, Sanders was nearly neck and neck with Clinton, and essentially even with her in Iowa for the first time.
“He is the candidate of the Democratic left, against his own party’s bosses and their prized presidential candidate,” explained Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown. “Sanders has seized the momentum by offering a message more in line with disproportionately liberal primary and caucus voters.”
While Sanders is admired by many college students across the country, some Central Michigan University professors say it will be hard for him to be elected.
The CMU Take
Dr. Robert Divizio has been a professor within the Department of Political Science at CMU for 25 years, specializing in American government and politics.
Given Divizio’s expertise and understanding of the complexities of politics in the U.S., he provided a candid view of Sanders’s growing relationship to millennials and their fascination with him in particular.
“Part of the reason I think is he focuses on the social justice issues,” he said. “Another reason might be the general economic outlook for graduating college students even though the economy’s started to turn around, the salary or wages are pretty low.”
Sanders introduced a federal minimum wage bill of $15 with other progressive Democrats in Washington on July 22 as federal contract workers went on strike.
Divizio did say, however, he thought it would be very difficult for Sanders to win the Democratic nomination given the current political climate of the country, particularly in the primaries during Super Tuesday next March.
“The reason I say that is some of the southern primaries that he would have to win, I don’t think those Democratic primary voters there are really amenable to his message,” he said. “Clinton has done a lot of spadework in the south getting ready for those primaries already, so I think for him to amass enough delegates would be really difficult.”
Lawrence Brunner, who has been teaching within the economics department at CMU since 1982, is even less optimistic about Sanders.
He said there is no such thing as a free lunch.
“There is this idea–he has it and Obama has it–that there are a whole bunches of money that can be extracted from higher income people with no ill effects whatsoever,” he said. “I personally don’t think the government uses the money effectively.”
Brunner also said Sanders’s proposed taxes would supposedly bring in over $6 trillion in revenue.
“Whenever you put on a tax, the tax often raises less revenue,” Brunner said. “But he’s promised expenditures that will spend 18 trillion. So basically he’s promising to spend three times as much, and this is on top of our existing problems with Social Security and Medicare.”
Brunner explained one of the main issues with the Social Security program is it is now an unfunded liability.
In other words, he said the taxes coming in will be less than the total benefits promised to pay out.
“I think the Democrats are dealing with that problem by denying it exists and by trying to make it worse by jacking up Social Security,” he said.
Brunner said Social Security benefits need to reign in.
Southfield sophomore Connor Stein admires the consistency of Sanders and says that’s probably the biggest draw for him.
“Since he started back in the ’60s during the segregation movement with MLK, he has not changed his opinions at all during his entire running and candidacies for governor, for senator or anything,” Stein said. “He’s stayed the same on civic and social issues since day one.”
Stein said that although Republicans will most likely disagree with Sanders’s economics ideas, it’s the best we’ve got given the current situation around the country.
“Overall his economics plan might not be what Republicans would agree with, but I think realistically it’s going to be the best transition available from the two terms that we’ve had with Obama directly into a very similar viewpoint candidate,” he said.
Sarah Blue is a senior from Plymouth.
Sanders recently turned 74, and Blue said that although his age could deter some voters, it shows he’s been around the block a few times.
“I think it might be an obstacle, but I think it also shows that he has a lot of experience and he’s seen what this country was in the past and what we can strive to be in the future,” she said.
Sanders and immigrants
Sanders’s policies wouldn’t just affect younger people originally born in the U.S.
It should be noted Sanders is not in favor of a totally liberalized immigration policy, as he denounced the idea of open borders as a “Koch brothers proposal” in an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein.
Still, Hesham Salman is a second-year graduate computer science student at CMU. Originally from Bahrain, Salman addressed the importance of immigration reform.
“As an immigrant, as somebody who’s come to the U.S. and got naturalized over the course of 17 years, a sensible immigration policy is kind of important,” Salman said.
Salman does not think Sanders is, as some supporters and opponents alike have called him, a socialist in the strictest sense of the word.
“I’m not concerned about his I guess borderline socialist views at all,” he said. “They’re not socialist so much as maybe social Democrat because when we say a socialist, I think we think of this heavy-handed government that has full control over a lot of the sectors, and that’s not what that is at all.”
Echoing the sentiments of Divizio, Salman asserted Sanders appeals to the younger crowd in particular because of the issues young people in this country tend to face more than other groups of citizens.
“It seems like he’s championing issues that are important mostly to the younger crowd,” he said. “Things like income inequality affect everybody, but especially students.”