by Dan Fischer
As Noam Chomsky has noted, the social democratic positions of Bernie Sanders are “quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time.” Chomsky could have gone much further, had he focused on the views of the country’s largest voting-age generation, the millennials. Not only are pluralities or majorities of millennials as left-leaning as Sanders on core campaign issues—considering health care a right,distrusting Wall Street, defending Roe v. Wade—but on some critical issues such as climate change and nuclear weapons, they actually stand wellto the left of Sanders.
These facts are easy to find in recent and reputable polls, including an April survey by Harvard’s Institute of Politics of more than three thousand 18 to 29 year-olds, and a poll of a thousand 18 to 34 year-olds conducted in January by Ipsos Public Affairs, commissioned by USA Today and Rock the Vote.
The findings make clear: Compared with mainstream millennials, Sanders is an environmental fraud, a Dr. Strangelove-style warmonger, and the NSA’s right-hand man.
Sanders the Reactionary
On climate change, the Sanders plan sticks close to Hillary Clinton’s corporate-friendly formula. He’d have America powered by “80 percent clean energy sources by 2050.” That’s the same target as Clinton’s, and it corresponds to a dangerous 2-degree Celsius temperature rise, a death sentence for the world’s coastal cities, which would be threatened with submersion from rising seas this century according to leading climate scientist Dr. James Hansen.
Millennials, however, support a transition closer to what scientists say is possible and necessary. 80% of millennials want a “transition to mostly clean or renewable energy by 2030” (Ipsos). This transition is entirely possible according to engineer Mark Jacobson and research scientist Mark Delucchi’s 2009 Scientific American cover story, subtitled “How to get all energy from wind, water and solar power by 2030.” Millennials are about two times more likely to agree than disagree with the notion that the government “should do more to curb climate change, even at the expense of economic growth” (Harvard).
On nuclear weapons, “Bernie Sanders looks Pretty Darn Establishment,” a February Defense One headline observed. Sanders doesn’t advocate unilateral reductions of nuclear warheads, suggesting that he would continue to use Russian behavior as an excuse to avoid making large cuts to America’s apocalyptic arsenal. Among millennials, meanwhile, a 47% plurality supports “a unilateral reduction of American nuclear warheads,”compared to only 20% opposed, as a 2015 YouGov poll found. A 45% plurality says the US made the wrong decision in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while only 31% support the historical decision. Sanders hasn’t commented on America’s 1945 nuclear bombings, even as they’ve been widely reassessed due to Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima (I checked LexisNexis results of articles mentioning Bernie Sanders and Hiroshima).
A 2014 peer-reviewed study in Earth’s Future predicts that even 100 nukes, a small fraction of America’s enormous supply, would be enough to send large amounts of soot to the stratosphere, blocking sunlight, chilling the planet’s surface, increasing harmful ultraviolet radiation exposure, and triggering global famine.
On foreign policy, the war-weary millennials make Sanders look almost as hawkish as Clinton. Sanders supports drone strikes and even says he’d maintain Obama’s “kill list” of people to be assassinated without any sort of trial. In contrast, 50% of millennials, a plurality, oppose drone strikes(as Pew found last year). Military documents leaked to The Intercept last year showed that in a five-month period in Afghanistan, nearly 90% of America’s drone victims were not the intended targets. Sanders voted twice in 1998 for regime change in Iraq, paving the way for the 2003 invasion, which he claimed to oppose but still repeatedly voted to fund. Millennials are more likely to oppose preemptive military attacks than to support them (Harvard).
Sanders leaves out civil liberties from his website’s campaign issues and wants NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden arrested and punished: “[H]e did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that.” Millennials, however, take civil liberties very seriously. Among those familiar with Snowden, 56% support him, according to a 2015 KRC Research poll. 47% of millennials, a plurality, disagree with the statement, “As part of a broader effort to fight terrorism, I think it is okay for the government to monitor my email or social media accounts” (Ipsos).
Sanders opposes reparations for slavery, while a shockingly significant minority of millennials support reparations. According to a May 2016 Marist poll, 40% support reparations and 11% are undecided, outnumbering the 49% who share the Senator’s right-leaning position.
While Sanders sometimes calls himself a socialist, you won’t hear him outright oppose capitalism. Instead, he’ll bash “casino capitalism,”suggesting that he only wants to reform the system, rather than replace it. Meanwhile, 51% of millennials explicitly say they don’t support capitalism (Harvard). This doesn’t necessarily reflect a well thought-out stance, but it nonetheless outdoes Sanders.
Of course, there are caveats. Millennials don’t consider themselves to be left of center. Some 59% identify as moderate or conservative (Harvard). Nonetheless, when they answer specific policy questions, a plurality or majority usually advocate left-leaning views. There are only a couple clear exceptions in the Harvard poll: a plurality opposes affirmative action and a majority wants US ground troops to fight ISIS (similarly, Sanders wants US ally Saudi Arabia to send ground troops).
A “Profound” Change?
“He’s not moving a party to the left. He’s moving a generation to the left,” Harvard’s polling director John Della Volpe said of Sanders in theWashington Post. The headline declared, “Bernie Sanders is profoundly changing how millennials think about politics.”
Don’t believe the hype. Despite what the Ivy League pollster and Washington Post say, the country’s largest voting-age generation hasn’t let a 74 year-old politician “profoundly” change their beliefs.
Actually, Harvard’s annual surveys demonstrate that, overall, the generation’s views have been consistent for years before Sanders announced his candidacy.
The Post‘s Max Ehrenfreund reports, “in 2014, the number [of millennials] who agreed that ‘basic health insurance is a right for all people’ was 42 percent. That figure increased to 45 percent last year and to 48 percent in Monday’s poll.”
It sounds impressive, but that’s only because of shortened data. Back in 2011, the percentage viewing health care as a right was 49%, higher than today’s. Since 2010, the percentage has averaged at 45, only three points lower than today’s.
Ehrenfreund continues: “The share who agreed that ‘basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them’ increased from 43 percent last year to 47 percent now.” Again, it sounds impressive. But the current figure is just one percentage point above what it was in 2010 and only three above the average since then.
In other words, the difference between the current percentages and the average since 2010 are only barely outside the margin of error! No, nothing has “profoundly” changed.
What Democracy Looks Like?
Given their stances to the left of Sanders, it’s no surprise that the generation very strongly dislikes Clinton and Trump. Both candidates have a net negative approval rating among the generation. Clinton’s at -16%, and Trump’s at -57%. Sanders is the only major candidate with a net positive approval rating, 23% (Harvard).
This November, millennials will be asked to vote for one or the other business-friendly candidate, the one they abhor or the one they despise. In a democracy, this fact would be considered scandalous. But it’s taken for granted in the plainly plutocratic United States, where the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page find, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
Millennials have seen their preferred candidate Bernie Sanders chewed up and spat out by the Democratic Party and the media. Virtually none of the party’s officials gave Sanders any support, allowing Clintonites to dismiss him as irrelevant or divisive. The website FiveThirtyEight puts Clinton overwhelmingly in the lead among “party elites,” by 522 to 13. Last year, the nightly news shows devoted some twenty-three times more coverage to Trump than they did to Sanders. In August, the New York Times ran four times as many stories about Clinton and 4.5 times as many stories about Trump as it did about Sanders. The paper’s public editor Margaret Sullivan has admitted, “The Times has not ignored Mr. Sanders’s campaign, but it hasn’t always taken it very seriously. The tone of some stories is regrettably dismissive, even mocking at times.”
As Clinton accepts her inevitable coronation from the Democrats, she begs for millennials’ allegiance. She has even stolen a slogan from the youthful Occupy Wall Street activists and their predecessors in the alter-globalization movement. A page on her campaign website features a sign with a Hillary logo and the words “This is what democracy looks like.” Riiight…