The National Catholic Review

The youngest voters in this year’s presidential primaries had not yet learned to walk when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton in December 1998. Few of them have heard of Vince Foster, the Clinton advisor whose suicide was exploited by conspiracy theorists, and they have no personal memory of Hillary Clinton’s TV interview in which she first identified a “vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”

This generation can be unnerving to older voters whose political worldviews are still defined by the partisan battles of the 1990s and, in many cases, the Cold War. In this winter’s first few contests, turnout among voters under 30 has been impressive, and those casting Democratic ballots have gone overwhelmingly (83 percent in New Hampshire) for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont over Hillary Clinton. Many older Democrats are startled by the success of a self-identified socialist, and some are concerned that younger women in particular are failing to rally around Mrs. Clinton, who would be the first woman to secure a major-party nomination.

The older generation may not be wrong: Mr. Sanders’s ambitious proposals would likely go nowhere in a Republican Congress, and his ability to win a general election is questionable. But it is short-sighted to dismiss his supporters as naïve or ignorant of history. Younger voters have good reason to demand changes to a political process and economic system that seems more responsive (“rigged,” Mr. Sanders calls it) to high-income campaign contributors than to the majority of Americans, who face widening income inequality and fewer opportunities for upward mobility. They are not satisfied with candidates’ résumés or with arguments about who has “earned” the presidency, nor should they be.


Jay Cuasay | 3/8/2016 - 12:00pm

This seemed like a very short article/comment. I am 45 now and freely admit that I was a late comer to political activism. I was a Dean Democrat who worked for him back when MeetUp was in vogue. "These kids today" don't even seem to remember that. But my point isn't to disparage them. I understand them and I worry or think about my 10 y.o. daughter who is two presidential terms away from voting herself.
The "dose of reality" in all of this is WHY IS VOTER TURNOUT DOWN during the primaries in comparison to 2008? Is this election go-round not "historic" enough? Speaking for democrats, is it actually a long slog in which there is a silent majority (or minority) sitting out the primary and just waiting for the national election? I don't know. I do know that part of Bernie's appeal and need for continued momentum will rely heavily on voter turnout. And right now, voter turnout is LOW. That isn't all on young people, but energizing the youth vote and bringing those new voters in is part of it.
Finally, the other part of the Youth Vote equation (though it also holds more generally for all voters), what happens after the primaries if one's candidate is not the winner? Do these voters "take their ball and go home"? Or are they mature enough (and this is not a dig on youth, because it is a sentiment that even seasoned voters voice) to swallow the bitter pill or whatever euphemism they need to still come to the polls and vote in the general even if the primaries didn't shake out to their ideals.
Vote early, vote often. (Where I live in VA, seems we do it almost every year).

Steven Reynolds | 3/5/2016 - 8:06am

We shouldn't be too judgmental of youth. My generation (50s) and older bought into various myths as part of the 1980s ideological shift and have left them the mess that they are growing up into.

Richard Booth | 3/5/2016 - 11:50am

Steven...I am certainly not disparaging young people, having worked well with them for many decades. Moreover, I would not, for a second, criticize the intensity and idealism of youth, which comes naturally to them partly due to naivete about the realities of what is possible. However, whether their parents have failed to see to it that they are informed and/or the pre-college education system has let them down (and, in my view, both are the case), it remains true that very little is tempering the idea of a better world that is being promised to them by certain politicians. Someone is not helping them distinguish between a good idea and the likelihood that a good idea can be, in the real world, truly implemented. What the young people know and do not know is reflective of what they have heard and been taught by parents, peers, and schools. Finally, I think there are many factors, including, as you mention, the prior generation, that have created the world and nation we live in. Perhaps it is time to see myths for what they are - stories - whether based in fact or not, and help the young to discern the naive internalization of stories versus reality without killing their eager spirits.

Chuck Kotlarz | 3/5/2016 - 6:50am

Outstanding! I admire their vision. They either support an alternative to donor class politics or they will be trapped by it.

Richard Booth | 3/4/2016 - 9:25pm

An addendum to J. Cosgrove's comment:

Having taught college and university students for more than 45 years, I can testify that most have virtually no sense of history (or science, or literature) but believe they are entitled to an equal hearing anyway. The young do have rights, like everyone else, but they also have responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to make themselves aware of what they are talking about before running headlong into a political "revolution" that promises the impossible. The same goes for all of us.

Richard Booth | 3/4/2016 - 5:24pm

I think it is a good idea to remember the overall lack of cognitive sophistication most of us have when we are young. We tend to be impulsive and idealistic, as well as moved by the charisma of someone we perceive to be "honest" and willing to make a "new" world. What may be lost when we are young is a balanced judgment of ideals and realities. This is not to say that all youth are equally unrealistic or that all of their elders possess good judgment. But, it is to point out that all votes may count the same and still not be "equal."

Joseph J Dunn | 3/4/2016 - 2:44pm

I get the point of this Editorial, that young voters ought to be taken seriously. But the last paragraph is incongruous.

An election that produces a Bernie Sanders presidency is hardly likely to produce a Republican congress. Have the Editors forgotten that every Member of the House, and one-third of all Senators, will be up for election also? Do the Editors believe that a 'revolution' strong enough to elect Sanders would somehow fail to leave the House and Senate unaffected?

"political process...more responsive to high income campaign contributors..." Then how to explain Sanders' surging campaign, which boasts an average contribution of $27, and (as Editors point out) heavily supported by young people? And how to explain Trump's campaign, which clearly is opposed by the Republican nabobs? So far, only one candidate fits the definition of being primarily supported by "high-income campaign contributors," "older voters," and the unified support of her party's establishment.

Edward Alten | 3/4/2016 - 1:52pm

As a very senior citizen (82) I applaud the article because I believe if God loves this country as I think He has shown He does then a "revolution" that Bernie Sanders supports will also be supported by God in ways we old timers can't imagine. We are not in charge. God is. Parting of the Red sea is an example. Lets have some faith in the democratic process which I think our God loves, because it gives Him the opportunity to inform each of us what to do when Sanders is nominated for president and how to get legislators to best help him do what God wants for us.
Its simple but takes Faith in the process but especially in God who most of us believe wants only the best for all of us.

J Cosgrove | 3/5/2016 - 12:17am

But it is short-sighted to dismiss his supporters as naïve or ignorant of history.

No, it is scary that the editors do not think it is both naive and ignorant. It is actually naive and ignorant on the part of the editors to make this statement.

Younger voters have good reason to demand changes to a political process and economic system that seems more responsive (“rigged,” Mr. Sanders calls it) to high-income campaign contributors than to the majority of Americans, who face widening income inequality and fewer opportunities for upward mobility.

No, they don't and editors should point out that this is the land of opportunity and people from all ways of life rise. They live in the richest nation on earth and are spoiled. They want something for nothing. Income inequality is a bogus measure and often reflects not economic power to control but that the super rich have stocks and personal property which has been greatly inflated by the economic polices of the government. Putting nearly 4 trillion dollars into the economy that essentially went to financial assets such as stocks and property of a few.

Please have an intelligent discussion about what is going on and do not let politics blind you.

Chuck Kotlarz | 3/5/2016 - 7:14am

Young people and others perhaps grasp history quite well. Conservative political commentator Robert Novak noted, "God put the Republican Party on earth to cut taxes. If they don't do that, they have no useful function."

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