A True Revolution: Why Conservative Millennials Support Bernie Sanders

Over the weekend, the Brigham Young University owned newspaper The Daily Universe published the results of an online poll asking students which presidential candidate they prefer.

Let’s just say BYU students are feelin’ the Bern.

Of 735 respondents self-identifying as BYU students, 30 percent said they would vote for democratic socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders if the general presidential election took place today. Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio came in second at 20 percent.
(Associated Press)

While it’s no secret that Bernie Sanders has polled well nationally among college-aged voters, BYU is no ordinary college — it’s often cited as one of America’s most conservative universities.

So, the obvious question: why are a large number of students at one of America’s most conservative universities supporting a self-proclaimed left wing socialist like Sanders? As a proud Bernie-supportin’-millennial BYU alum (that considers himself both a moderate liberal and a moderate conservative), I believe the answer comes down to these key points:

  1. Following the money
  2. Shaking up the system
  3. Advocating issues that matter

Following The Money

Six years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United, they essentially opened the flood gates for corporations and the mega-wealthy to make unlimited undisclosed donations to candidates through superPACs in exchange for access and influence.

This is bad for everybody. For example, the second wealthiest family in America (Koch) intends to spend $750 million on the 2016 presidential election — that’s more than BOTH the RNC and DNC intend to spend.

From Bernie Sander’s website:

Let’s be honest and acknowledge what we are talking about. We are talking about a rapid movement in this country toward a political system in which a handful of very wealthy people and special interests will determine who gets elected or who does not get elected.

With so much money being funneled to both parties from a very small group, it’s easy to become jaded when you realize that no matter who you vote for or what promises they make, they’re still controlled by the few major donors that fund their campaigns. It’s a system that rewards corruption.

So why is Bernie the only one consistently sounding the alarm on this issue? Why does Hillary treat this as an afterthought issue? Shouldn’t this be a conservative rallying cry? Does it have anything to do with the fact Bernie is actually practicing what he preaches? Now, to be fair, there is one GOP candidate that has sworn to tackle campaign finance reform. This guy:

Campaign finance reform is an easy-win issue for Bernie, especially since he appears to be putting his money where his mouth is. He has rejected donations from superPACs and he now has the largest fundraising base of small donors ever seen in primary elections. The average donation? $27. And he’s raised millions of dollars.

Authenticity is the moral of this story. Actually seeing a politician preach revolution and then, against all good campaign advice, actually live by those principles (successfully!) is a breath of fresh air for millennial voters.

Shaking Up The System

Voting data from the most recent mid-term elections confirms what everyone already knew: millennials are the least likely demographic to vote.

But why? Is it laziness and narcissism? Certainly that factors into it. But I firmly believe the cause is more rooted in disillusionment and disappointment. Millennials are old enough to mostly remember these three presidencies:

  • Bill Clinton: A personal life riddled with constant scandal, he eventually lied before a grand jury to preserve his “clean” image. It’s not a great thing when the most memorable quote of his eight-year presidency is surely, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
  • George W. Bush: Preached fiscal conservatism, yet sent us to multiple wars costing us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. Oh, and he left office while the country was in the midst of a serious financial meltdown.
  • Barack Obama: The preacher of Hope and Changewho promised to be the great uniter…yet he almost immediately resorted to back-room politicking that resulted in a famously long list of broken campaign promises.

I realize my above characterizations of each presidency are too simplistic and slightly unfair, given all of these presidents share blame with a feuding congress seemingly committed to gridlock politics. But the point remains: recent history from these three administrations doesn’t exactly provide a clear blueprint for the ideal political ideology. Even more poignant, Democrats and Republicans aren’t nearly as different from each other as they’d like you to believe.

There seems to be a strong sentiment among millennials that the best candidate might be one willing to disrupt the system altogether. A recent piece published in The Atlantic seems to suggest such a sentiment:

These Republicans for Sanders defy neat categorization. Some are fed up with the status quo in Washington, and believe that Sanders, with his fiery populist message, is the presidential contender most likely to disrupt it.

In my opinion, the two-party system is a spectacular failure. Both parties stand for contradictory principles that don’t represent the viewpoints and values of today’s millennials (and most Americans). Add that to the fact each party attempts to groom and promote particular candidates, despite what voters truly want.

Seeing the DNC’s efforts to stifle Bernie’s popularity is disconcerting, to say the least. Hillary is their candidate, regardless of the fact voters are practically begging for an alternative. The same can be said of the RNC’s fleeting attempts to promote Jeb Bush — and now Marco Rubio — despite voters turning out in droves to vote for Ted Cruz and Donald J. Trump.

It’s hard to get motivated to become politically active when the very parties themselves aren’t interested in serving their constituents with the candidates the public prefer. So Bernie, technically an Independent, is a breath of fresh air promoting a political revolution that plays right into desires of millennials everywhere.

Advocating Issues That Matter

When people ask me which candidate I prefer, I have to brace myself before I say, “Bernie Sanders.” More often than not, especially here in Utah, I am greeted with a befuddled response that’s usually followed up with the question, “don’t you know he’s a socialist?” Before I can answer the question, I’m usually bombarded with pleas to come back from the dark side, as if I just told them I joined ISIS.

I usually let people finish their lecture (one that often includes inaccurately comparing socialism to communism) before telling them that I’m in fact not a socialist. I don’t believe a fully-socialized government would be good for America. “Then how on earth could you support a socialist like Sanders?”

The answer: because congress would never let a fully-socialized government exist. While I do believe in the merits of socializing certain industries like healthcare, Sanders’ more extreme socialist views would never have a chance at translating into legislation. Which gets to my main point here: people let the socialist epithet distract them from examining the other important issues Bernie is tackling, namely:

  • Criminal justice reform: removing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes that have caused America’s prisons to become overpopulated and left America’s citizens to pay the bill
  • Decriminalizing (and taxing) marijuana use
  • A fair and humane immigration policy
  • Getting money out of politics and restoring democracy
  • Creating a responsible plan to combat climate change (meanwhile many republican presidential candidates still refuse to believe the unanimous scientific opinion that climate change is real and accelerated by human activity. Not exactly a popular stance with millennials)
  • Fighting to lower prescription drug prices
  • Improving the rural economy
  • Promoting and defending real family values (including fair FMLA and sick leave policies for working Americans)

These types of issues aren’t exactly hard to get behind. From the aforementioned article in The Atlantic:

“Sanders has focused primarily on economic issues on which Americans are not divided,” says Elizabeth Coggins, a professor at Colorado College who studies American political psychology and ideological identification. “There is a strong consensus in agreement with Sanders on many of his core ideas, and his rhetoric has been largely centered on these sorts of issues.”
Some conservatives readily admit they don’t love everything Sanders stands for, but insist that doesn’t change their affinity for the senator.
“I’m not 100 percent behind his platform but I like him as a person. For me it really comes down to authenticity,” says Edwards.We’ve seen so much deadlock in Congress and I think people are looking for someone who can be passionate and authentic rather than being partisan.”

With this being the most unpredictable presidential election in recent memory, offering surprises of all variety, seeing young disillusioned conservative voters throw their support behind Bernie Sanders would be far from the craziest thing.

In fact, it wouldn’t be crazy at all.

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