Sanders a hit with Millennial women

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hugs Kishia Saffold of Dothan, Ala., after she told a personal story during a forum at First Christian Church on Jan. 9 in Des Moines.

Credit: Byron Houlgrave

Credit: Byron Houlgrave

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hugs Kishia Saffold of Dothan, Ala., after she told a personal story during a forum at First Christian Church on Jan. 9 in Des Moines.

Young women could make history by helping elect the first woman president, but many of them are turning to the oldest white guy in the field.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, 74, a Vermont independent, will head into the Democratic presidential debate Sunday with a 19-point lead over front-runner Hillary Clinton, 50% to 31%, among Democratic and independent women ages 18 to 34, according to a recent USA TODAY/Rock the Votepoll.

Millennial women are among the supporters Sanders is counting on to help him pull off an upset Feb. 1 in Iowa, where his poll numbers are surging, and hold his lead in New Hampshire, which will hold a primary Feb. 9, to give him the momentum he needs to succeed in later contests where Clinton is favored.

“The challenge of this election is to disprove the skeptics who believe (young people) don’t vote,” said Tad Devine, Sanders’ senior adviser. “Obama and his campaign took that on, they disproved it, it became the source of their victory. We’re trying to do the same thing.”

The ‘Obama effect’

In 2008, Obama won the Iowa caucuses, and Clinton placed third after a record attendance that nearly doubled the 2004 turnout. His greatest support came from 17- to 44-year-olds while Clinton won among those 65 and older, according to exit polls.

Despite her advantages in contests after New Hampshire, Clinton could leave Iowa “weakened or politically wounded” if the “Obama effect” works in Sanders’ favor and she fails to score a resounding victory, said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.

The problem for Sanders: Young people are among the most “unreliable voters” who tend to turn out only for general elections, Goldford said.

The poll showed that the younger voters are, the more likely they are to be Sanders supporters.

Among both genders, Sanders has 57% backing in the 18-25 age group, according to the USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll. That drops to 36% for those ages 26-34. For Clinton, the opposite is true. She gets 44% of those ages 26 to 34 and 25% of those 18-25.

Energizing young supporters

Sanders has worked to energize young supporters with town meetings at colleges and recently in Iowa high schools, outreach on social media and interviews on the online message board Reddit.

The idea of not voting is unfathomable to Julie Fredrick, 23, of Jefferson, N.H., a Sanders volunteer who canvasses, participates in phone banks, connects on social media and leaves a trail of Sanders fliers in her wake.

She voted but didn’t volunteer for Obama in 2012 because she “wasn’t nearly as inspired” as she is now. She finds the same passion among her friends.

“For the first time, I feel empowered to create change,” said Fredrick, a marketing representative for a fine furniture shop. “This is a peaceful political revolution, and everyone’s very excited to be a part of it.”

Viewed as more trustworthy

Some Millennial women consider the Democratic socialist more trustworthy, and they like his anti-Wall Street message and focus on changing what he calls a corrupt political system.

Lillian Moravek, 17, of Westfield, Iowa, said his plan for free tuition at public colleges is most attractive.

“It’s a very important thing to be part of a movement that could pass that on to younger generations,” said Moravek, a Sanders volunteer who will serve as a co-precinct captain for her district’s caucus. “The second most important thing is, he’s a feminist, and so am I.”

Clinton seen as establishment candidate 

Millennial women are less motivated than their older counterparts by the prospect of electing the nation’s first female president, said Krystal Marie Ball, contributor toGlamour magazine’s 2016 election project, called “The 51 Million,” referring to the number of U.S. women under the age of 45 eligible to vote. Although many have never voted for a Clinton, Hillary Clinton has been a public figure their entire lives, making them more likely to identify her with the ruling political class.

“Even though having a woman in the White House would be new and different, it’s hard to feel like Hillary Clinton is new and different,” Ball said. “They’re expressing their disgust and frustration with a political system,” and Bernie Sanders “is an expression” of that sentiment.

Taryn Hogarth, 22, a University of South Dakota student, said the history-making prospect of a woman president is a deciding factor for her mother but not her. She trusts Sanders more than Clinton to get money out of politics and reform the criminal justice system. Though Sanders has served in Congress since 1990, she still sees him as “a fresh face” who makes her “excited for our government.”

“I would love to have a woman president, but I’d like the right woman president,” she said. “I want this to be based on the ideas and what they’re going to do for our country.”