I understood that the Democratic Party owes its occupancy of the White House to the Obama coalition: African Americans, Latinos, Asians, LGBT folks, and single women... Somehow Sanders doesn’t seem to see that. - Joan WalshIn case you missed it, there's a glaring omission here: young people. This is not an aberration:
- Here's Jannell Ross in the Washington Post identifying "each element of the so-called 'Obama Coalition'" as "non-white voters and progressive whites" - as opposed to the "young, white, liberal voters" who support Sanders.
- Here's Mark Sappenfield in The Christian Science Monitor arguing that "Clinton’s victory Saturday suggests that Obama’s coalition might not be a fleeting phenomenon connected only to him" - a coalition of "minorities and, to a lesser degree, women".
- Here's Clay Shirky, in a much-cited Tweetstorm, arguing that "Clinton is not re-running her '08 campaign. She is re-running Obama's '08 campaign" by winning "the Obama coalition," by which he means a "black-white progressive coalition."
- And here's Sady Doyle, insisting that "the lesson of the Obama coalition" is that you can win "without white guys."
Obviously voters of color were crucial to Obama's victories and will remain a central Democratic constituency for the foreseeable future. But the same goes for young people. Obama won an extraordinary two-thirds of young people in 2008 and sixty percent of them in 2012. Until recently, this has always been understood as one of his major achievements - especially since young voters, including young voters of color, represent the future of the party. Standard analyses from Obama's various victories:
- "Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton have divided the Democratic Party by race, income and education, but there is no demographic indicator that sorts the Democratic vote as starkly as age. If you voted in one of the Democratic primaries or caucuses, your age probably determined your vote: The older you are, the more likely you were to vote for Clinton, and the younger you are, the more likely you were to vote for Obama." - NPR 4/30/2008
- "They were the initial cheerleaders of Barack Obama’s candidacy who stuck with him on the long slog to Nov. 4. And on Election Day, young people voted overwhelmingly to send him to the White House while exceeding their 2004 turnout levels by at least 2.2 million, according to researchers who track the voting habits of youth." - New York Times, 11/5/08
- "Obama’s campaign...aimed exclusively at the key constituencies that make up Obama’s coalition: African Americans, Hispanics, young voters and women (particularly those with college degrees.)" - Washington Post, 11/7/12
- "Romney lost embarrassingly among young people, African-Americans and Hispanics, a brutal reminder for Republicans that their party is ideologically out of tune with fast-growing segments of the population." - CNN 11/7/12
Supporters of Clinton who routinely invoke Obama's coalition while omitting young people are blatantly rewriting history - and it's easy to see why. This is more of what Matt Bruenig called "get-off-my-lawnism": the tendancy of Clinton supporters (particularly the ageing ones) to attack young voters. Old people are mad that young people reject their politics, and they're embarrassed that youth culture rejects their pandering as lame. To save face, they've got to pretend that Hillary Clinton isn't abandoning a key bloc in Obama's legacy, and that means pretending that young people were never a part of the Obama coalition in the first place.
This isn't just ridiculous and inaccurate - it's reckless. Walsh, in her article, crows that Clinton beat Sanders "even among black millennials" 61-31 among nine Super Tuesday states. Nationally, however, that number effectively reverses:
Black Voters 18-29, Reuters
And while Walsh cites an article on attn.com as evidence of support among black youth for Clinton, the article actually makes the opposite case: "Black millennials aren’t as swayed by Clinton’s largely successful attempts to connect with Black voters across generations." Political scientist Michael Dawson explains,
I think that generally when you look at Sanders support, the country is not working well for young people, particularly for young Black people right now; they’re looking more toward a candidate who will shake things up significantly.
This weakness of the Clinton coalition underscores an obvious point: if you care about the future of the party, you have to care about young people. You can't even sustain a multiracial party if you abandon young voters of color. If you're an older American, you have the privilege to not care about this: you can afford to sacrifice the future for a short-term win. But by writing young voters out of the party's past, Clinton supporters like Walsh are also writing us out of its future.