Characterizing Millennials’ support for Bernie Sanders as naïve or a result of “trendy behavior” is easy; it’s also dismissive and simplistic. Millennials have often been the subject of criticism from the political media, especially due to their presupposed political apathy. But this apathy has been misdiagnosed; Millennials are passionate, but frustrated with a broken political system. It comes as no surprise that Millennials have turned to a candidate that’s fighting for a political revolution. But Bernie Sanders is more than just anti-establishment; his record is honest, his vision is inspiring, and his humor connects to Millennials in a way that most politicians just can’t.
It comes as no shock that Millennials would support an anti-establishment candidate for president. They were raised to believe that they could conquer the world, yet they lived through the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The endless opportunities offered to Millennials crumbled before their eyes thanks to the reckless behavior of the huge American financial institutions. It’s no wonder that Millennials’ level of trust in the government is at a historical low. College affordability is also at an all-time low, and many Millennials are in extreme debt. Millennials seek more than change in the US political-fiscal system, and Bernie seems like just the man to do it.
From fighting the big banks that crumbled the US economy, to lowering the costs of public universities, Bernie Sanders’ ideology aligns with Millennials on most, if not all, of these issues. But how does a generation with such minimal trust in the government believe in Bernie Sanders?
Bernie’s record speaks for itself. He voted against repealing the Glass-Steagall act, a key regulation that led to the 2008 financial crisis, and he supports a bill proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, which would reinstate Glass-Steagall. He isn’t backed by big money, demonstrating that he’s not beholden to the interests of big money—just those of the voters. Bernie’s honesty is his biggest draw with Millennials; although the idea may be an oxymoron, Bernie is a politician that they feel they can trust.
Bernie’s ideas are honest, founded on his record, but they are also inspiring. There’s a reason Millennials aren’t flocking to Hillary’s pragmatism — they don’t want it. Bernie offers a future worth believing in, one that gives hope to fiscally precarious, and otherwise politically unimpressed individuals. Moreover and crucially, inspiring ideas and passing progressive legislation don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Sometimes, our political system can be a joke. Bernie pokes fun at it in an honest way that connects to his Millennial audience. At his Eastern Michigan EMU rally, Bernie demonstrated the perceived unbelievability and simultaneous feasibility of lofty ideas. He told a story about how someone six years ago might have reacted to you predicting legalized same-sex marriage in 2016. According to Bernie, they would have asked, “What are you smoking?” And he was probably right. The idea of legalized same sex marriage would have seemed crazy and completely infeasible six years ago, or even two years ago. Feasibility can be quickly overcome with voter mobilization, and this issue Bernie is great at picking out. His humor and his honesty connect to Millennials; after all, how can you not love that joke?
At this point, you may have figured out that, shockingly, I am a Millennial. When Bernie Sanders came to Eastern Michigan’s campus, I was one of about 10,000 individuals to attend the rally. I skipped three classes, and showed up to wait in line an hour before the doors opened, three full hours before he was scheduled to speak. I was still only in the middle of the full line. As I looked around the auditorium, the seats were full, and I spotted many other Millennials in the audience. We all waited outside in the frozen tundra that is Michigan just to see Bernie speak. If Millennials are willing to wait outside in the cold for hours, I anticipate they’ll rally for him in the polls. And next time someone asks you why Millennials love Bernie, remind them that it’s no surprise. We really do feel the Bern.