Intelligencer - March 10, 2020
"By contrast, it’s difficult to imagine a worse standard-bearer for young Democrats with anti-Establishment leanings than Joseph R. Biden Jr., a fixture of national politics for more than 50 years. In that time, he has been an active participant in damn near every major policy failure that’s plagued the millennial generation’s existence, frommass incarcerationto the Iraq War tothe student-debt crisis. This year, he has centered his primary campaign onnostalgia for a past that never existedand that Americans under 35 are too young to misremember. Biden has even allowed himself to becaught on tape saying, “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are — give me a break. No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”
Over the course of the 2020 primary race, Bernie Sanders and his sympathizers have derided Joe Biden (with some justification) as a warmonger, an ally to segregationists, a nepotist, and a corporate shill whose “broken brain” was sure to cost Democrats the 2020 election.
Now, for the second straight week, Biden has handed his intraparty adversaries a string of bruising defeats. As of this writing, the western states of Washington, Idaho, and North Dakota have yet to report results. But the former vice-president has already defeated Sanders in his 2016 stronghold of Michigan and trounced the Vermont senator in Missouri and Mississippi. The scale of Biden’s victories in the South and Midwest ensure that he will emerge from Tuesday night’s contests with a larger delegate lead than he entered with, no matter what transpires out west.
Given the ferocity of the left’s criticism — and the magnitude of his recent victories over its standard-bearer — Biden might be tempted to write off his progressive detractors as so many “lying dog-faced pony soldiers” once this primary is over. But if he wants to win in November — and would like the Democratic Party to thrive thereafter — Uncle Joe will need to negotiate a truce with Bernie’s immoderate rebels. (To be sure, blue America’s civil war is not quite finished. But barring a medical emergency or criminal indictment, it is difficult to see how Biden does not secure the nomination in Milwaukee.)
Some in Biden’s camp may see little need to make accommodations to the Bernard brethren. After all, the former vice-president is already running well to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. His campaign platform features a $1.7 trillion climate plan, $15 minimum wage, deportation moratorium, strong public option for health insurance, and a robust package of pro-worker labor-law reforms. To the extent that Sanders supporters are reachable, shouldn’t this historically progressive agenda — combined with the specter of a second Trump term — be sufficient to keep them beneath blue America’s big tent? Why cater to the left when you can pivot to the center? The former has fewer votes to give and no real place to go, anyway.
But such reasoning is misguided in multiple respects. First, Sanders’s faction is not the same old minority of staunch progressives that have been with the Democrats since time immemorial. It is a coalition of the ascendant. Throughout the 2020 campaign, Sanders has boasted the lion’s share of the millennial and zoomer generations’ support, while Biden got by with a minuscule fraction: As of late January, national polls were putting Biden’s support among voters under 35 within their margin of error. And although the Democratic front-runner has gained some of the younger vote as the field has narrowed, exit polls from Tuesday night’s races once again confirmed that Biden’s crusade against “malarkey” (and/or single-payer health care) does not resonate with the young folk. Even as he lost Michigan and Missouri by hefty margins Tuesday night, Bernie Sanders won voters under 30 in those states by 76 points and 57 points respectively, according to exit polls.
To maximize his odds of victory in November, Biden will need to improve his standing with younger, progressive voters. Given Trump’s structural advantage in the Electoral College, Democrats can’t afford to take any votes for granted. To whatever extent Biden can earn the enthusiasm of this block — whose turnout rates tend to be variable and identification with the Democratic Party much weaker than older voters with similar ideological inclinations — he would be wise to do so.
Ultimately though, winning over young Sanders supporters may be less important for prevailing in November than it is for fortifying the Democratic coalition in the years and decades to come. The millennial and zoomer generations aren’t just more progressive — and less partisan — than their predecessors. They also evince far lower levels of social trust: In a Pew Research survey released last year, 73 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 said that “most of the time, people just look out for themselves,” while 71 percent claimed that “most people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance,” and 60 percent contended that “most people cannot be trusted.” Among Americans over 65 — the most conservative cohort in the U.S. — those figures are 48, 39, and 29, respectively. Meanwhile, younger Americans also espoused far less faith in elected officials than their elders ...
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