Bernie Sanders, by his own words, has based his entire campaign on his ability to create high voter turnout, bringing young voters and lower-income voters to the polls in record numbers, many for the first time. In fact, Sanders has based not only his campaign, but his hoped-for presidency itself on what he calls a political “revolution,” a groundswell of popular support that will somehow force his proposals — such as a new, “Medicare For All” health care system and universal, free higher education — through an otherwise resistant congress.
“All over this country,” Sanders says as part of his typical stump speech. “[Y]oung people and working people are standing up and fighting back against a rigged economy and a corrupt political system.”
But, data from the 2016 Democratic presidential primary season so far shows one big problem with Sanders’ proposed voter turnout surge — it just is not happening. If young voters and working class voters are indeed “fighting back,” they are not doing so by actually showing up to vote for Bernie Sanders.
Alarmingly, the opposite has been true. In the three contests held so far, Democratic turnout has been down in numbers every time, compared to 2008. And historical statistics show that voter turnout is highest in the early stages of a primary campaign. After the New Hampshire primary, recent history shows, voter turnout rates do not increase — they drop. If that historical pattern holds in the 2016 campaign, it spells bad news for Bernie Sanders.
The following video produced by The Washington Post shows why high turnout among young voters is critically important to the Bernie Sanders campaign.
“Voter turnout was not as high as I had wanted,” Sanders told NBC Meet The Press the morning after Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.
“What I’ve said over and over again, is we will do well when young people when working class people come out, we do not do well when voter turnout is not large,” Sanders said. “We did not do as good a job as I had wanted to bring out a large turnout.”
The following video features an extensive one-on-one interview with Bernie Sanders in which he covers numerous issues, in a conversation that occasionally became testy.
Sanders has lost two of the three Democratic contests so far, the two caucus states of Iowa and Nevada. In both of those states, turnout among young voters was well below the percent of the population comprised of voting-eligible people under 30 years of age — even though, as the below Washington Post graph shows, support for Bernie Sanders among that group compared to front-runner Hillary Clinton is overwhelming.
Yet, young voters have not translated their high levels of support into actual votes. Even in New Hampshire, the only Democratic primary election so far, which was won handily by Sanders, young voter turnout was still slightly below expected levels, based on population share, as seen in the graph.
In another development that surely must be unsettling to Sanders, polling data from the February 20 Nevada caucus shows that the high levels of enthusiasm among voters that he hopes will fuel his political revolution are more evident among Democratic voters who reject the revolution that Bernie Sanders is selling.
Polling data from Nevada, available at this link, showed that 50 percent of voters who showed up to the caucus in the state wanted the next president not to chart a whole new course for the country, but to “generally continue Barack Obama’s policies.” And, of those voters, a whopping 75 percent supported Hillary Clinton.
Only 41 percent said that they wanted the next president to be “more liberal” than Obama, with 77 percent of those supporting Bernie Sanders.
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The data suggests, experts believe, that Sanders must become more effective at convincing voters that, as the Post‘s Greg Sargent explained, “Barack Obama failed to deliver reforms commensurate with the epic scale of our challenges, because he failed to mobilize the grassroots to break oligarchic control of Congress.”
Bernie Sanders has claimed that mobilizing those grassroots is essential to creating the “revolution” that will put an end to what he calls the “rigged economy and corrupt political system.” He says that only he, and not Hillary Clinton, can accomplish that mass mobilization of young and working class voters. However, data shows that so far, he shows no signs of delivering on his promise.
[Photo By Alex Wong/Getty Images]