Texans voted along with 11 other states during the Super Tuesday primary elections on March 1. For the Republicans, Ted Cruz won Texas and many Plains States, whereas Donald Trump took most of the South and Northeast. Hillary Clinton won a majority of states for the Democrats, but Bernie Sanders took a respectable amount as well. Looking at the current delegate count, Clinton has a large lead, and while Sanders’s campaign is unprecedented for an openly socialist candidate, Clinton looks like a solid favorite to win the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, while Trump has the lead, Cruz has a strong second place, buoyed by a 17-point win in Texas over Trump.
I have seen reactions to these results over time from millennials on social media and in person. On the left, many support Sanders, while on the right, there is more ambivalence, especially following the suspension of Rand Paul’s candidacy after a fifth-place Iowa showing. But both sides ultimately express concern over our country’s direction. Millennials are looking for solutions to issues like student debt, a weak job market, and social issues like climate change and access to women’s health facilities. Of the leading candidates, Clinton and Trump have largely failed to garner support from voters in the 18-29 age group, and Ted Cruz has only gained reluctant support from former Rand supporters. Polling reflects this, even going as far as a 70 percentage point gap for Sanders over Clinton among voters under 30.
While Sanders may be able to galvanize younger voters on the left, younger voters who support limited government in economic affairs have fewer options. The focus on free tuition to alleviate massive student debt and a high minimum wage have gained the support of college students, recent graduates, and low-income youth struggling to secure a well-paying job. His campaign is unique in the focus on millennial voters. Yet the same demographic that has been the focus of Sanders this election cycle also supported Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, despite the many differences between the two candidates. Paul was even able to garner 48% of the youth vote in Iowa in 2012, as well as pluralities of those making less than $50K a year despite opposing most wealth redistribution programs.
But how could two candidates who are seemingly polar opposites attract the same demographics? Some point to similarities in social issues like drug legalization where millennials tend to be supportive. Others point to the fact that they are often deemed “outsiders,” although both were in Congress for several decades (and Sanders still is). Ultimately, both oppose the status quo that left Millennials with a bill in the form of a $19 trillion national debt as well as a poor job market and skyrocketing student debt. Millennials are looking for major changes, and Sanders is making this promise just as Paul did, even if their policy stances are widely different.
Looking towards the 2016 race, results in the week following the primary in Texas show Sanders with a surprise win in Michigan despite polling 20 points under, a huge boost for his campaign but one that is unlikely to result in Sanders being able to gain more delegates overall than Clinton. Trump is also leading by a wide margin, with Cruz winning some states and John Kasich finishing near Cruz for second in Michigan. Trump and Clinton are also expected to do well tomorrow, March 15, where voting is being held in five states, including the home states of Marco Rubio (Florida) and John Kasich (Ohio). If they lose their home states, they are effectively out of the race, and the best they could hope for is a vice presidential slot.
Ultimately, it’s looking like it will come down to a Trump vs. Clinton matchup in the 2016 general election. Neither are the favorite of millennials, so both sides will have to work hard to attract their support. How each candidate will do it remains to be seen.