Why Doesn't Hillary Connect With Young Voters? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

One reader’s answer:

Hillary is the stodgy, old politician while Bernie is fun, exciting, and new. Yeah, Bernie has been around politics forever, but no one outside Vermont other than political junkies knew who he was until about six months ago. Bernie’s appeal with college kids is especially unsurprising, since he basically carries himself like a lovable old college professor.

And why doesn’t the self-described socialist alienate many Democrats with that label? “I think young people haven’t generated enough assets and are far enough away from natural death to not be scared by social democracy,” says one reader. Not to mention that Millennials have no living memory of Cold War communism. And the Republicans have overused “socialist” over the past seven years to describe the the country’s center-left, pragmatic president and other mainstream Democrats, so perhaps the term is becoming normalized—a crying wolf, of sorts. Here’s another reader:

Why is the age gap is so stark? I’ll give you a hint: it is not because we think Bernie Sanders is totally radical, dude. It’s simple: The Internet.

Like TV was to radio in the famous Kennedy Nixon debate, so is the Internet to traditional media sources. Younger voters do not get their media through TV talking heads or dying newspapers, but even when they do, it is filtered through the Internet, where fact-checking and comments are easily and quickly accessible. We have grown up used to taking what we see with a grain of salt and then checking on Snopes to see if it’s legit.

Traditional or old media has been perpetuating the concept of Clinton as the best candidate or the inevitable candidate. Anyone with an Internet connection can see that in comment sections, Bernie Sanders is overwhelmingly more popular. They can go to opensecrets.org and see exactly where the money funding these campaigns is coming from. They can quickly access years of voting records with a click. With these resources at our fingertips, the difference between the candidates becomes as plain as day.

Bernie Sanders is funded by over 3.25 million contributions averaging $27 and has no SuperPac. Sanders has held similar positions his entire career. He has never been beholden to special interests and he never will be. He is a public servant in the truest sense of the word.

Hillary Clinton gets most of her donations from people maxing out at $2700 and holds lavish campaign fundraisers entertaining the wealthy elite. Her SuperPac has been chugging along for quite some time, gathering vast sums of dark money from we-will-never-knows. Her positions have changed time and again depending on which constituency she is speaking to or what the political mood is at the time. We have no reason to believe she has our interests at heart.

Now, if you were simply reading print editions the NYTimes or watching CNN, these facts may never have been presented to you. For added irony, the older generation that sleep-walked us into the current disaster we call our representative government (aka the status quo) are the ones who are desperately defending it. They are now what we should refer to as low-information voters.

Another reader looks to ancient philosophy for insight:

By chance, I was reading Aristotle’s Rhetoric earlier today. He argues that young people are credulous because they have not yet been deceived many times; they are optimistic because they have not yet met with much failure; they are free from malice because they have not yet observed much wickedness. Hence, he argues, an orator addressing an audience consisting of young people must adapt to this collective character.

If the audience is composed of old people, on the other hand, the speaker is advised to adapt to a different set of characteristics that—as Aristotle suggests—consists “for the most part of elements that are the contrary of these [i.e. the characteristics of young people]”: old people are cynical because they have been deceived many times; they are pessimistic because they have met much failure; they are full of malice because they have experienced much evil, and so forth.

Far as I can see, there’s a problem with his advice. Even if we assume, for the sake of the argument, that these collective character sketches are accurate, Aristotle’s advice is only helpful if the audience consists of either old people or young people. Yet what is the speaker supposed to do if the audience consists of both young and old people? On Aristotle’s own account, after all, the character of the one group is “the contrary” of the character of the other. How then is the speaker supposed to adapt to contradictory characters without constantly contradicting herself?

He doesn’t offer any answer. I don’t really have one either.

If you do, or want to sound off on Hillary vs. Bernie in general, drop us an email. Update from a few readers, starting with Jonathon Booth:

A shocking large proportion of articles analyzing why young voters support Bernie in such large numbers ignore the most obvious reason why they would do so: They agree with his policies.

I guess the idea of voting for a politician whose policy positions you agree with doesn't fit well into the stereotype of shallow Millennials, but it seems to be the case. Clearly lots of young Americans are left-leaning and support (some version of) social democracy. Given the insanity of the Republican party and the structural changes in our economy over the past 40 years, this should surprise no one—unless, of course, you’re convinced that young people care only about popularity and snap-chatting.

Another gets more specific with the policy question:

It’s healthcare. I pay $1500 out of pocket for work-provided insurance that comes with a $2500 deductible that includes prescriptions and no copays. Young people are being shafted for insurance they can never afford to use in order to benefit an older class who’s entire motto is “I got mine, deal with it.”

I’m not a Sanders fan—I’m mourning Rand Paul right now—but I can see why he has the appeal. Young people want new solutions because what we have now is bullshit. Hillary parrots the same spiel as Obama and it hasn’t been a great eight years for young people.