Will young ‘Bernie or Bust’ supporters hurt Democrats in 2020? Maybe, but not how you think.

The ‘Bernie or Bust’ phenomenon is simple: you either support Bernie Sanders for President, or you support no one. So, if Sanders fails to win the Democratic party’s nomination for the candidacy, a ‘Bernie or Bust’-er will not vote for the Democratic nominee, regardless of who the nominee is.

Amidst an increasingly competitive race for the Democratic nomination, some worry the ‘Bernie or Bust’ may hurt the Democrats in the 2020 general election. ‘Bernie or Bust’ in the 2020 election is worth revisiting, particularly among young people. 

Sanders’ campaign has become strongly associated with young voters. The first Emerson college poll of 2020 found that 47 percent of young people (ages 18-29) support Sanders. The second closest was Yang at 20 percent of the same age range and Biden, third, at 14 percent. Are these millennial and Gen Z voters, nearly half of which support Sanders, ‘Bernie or Bust’? Will they vote for the Democratic nominee regardless?

Enter the Bernie Sanders town hall at Hanover Inn, right next to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. It is a late-Sunday morning two days before the Tuesday primary vote. Past the to-the-door lines of college students, in the soon-to-be packed event space, Dan Meranti—25-years-old—and Rachel Berg—25 as well—wait at the edge of the room.

Meranti and Berg are both in the Biology PhD program in Dartmouth College. They voted for Sanders in the 2016 New York primaries, the state they lived in at the time. However, Berg voted Libertarian in the general elections and Meranti wrote in Sanders’ name, primarily due to their confidence in Hillary Clinton winning their state. This time around, though, their general election vote in New Hampshire will be different.

“‘Vote blue no matter who’ is, I think, the policy of this year,” says Meranti, “We can’t afford another year of blatant corruption.”

Berg agrees. “And honestly, dividing it… it doesn’t serve the greater purpose. If you divide up just for your candidate, you’re basically paving the way for four more years of what we already have.”

Is this sentiment common among other Sanders supporters? Meranti thinks so. “Most people that I’ve heard, it seems to be this is the primaries, where you vote with your heart, and the general [election] is where you vote with your head,” he says.

Still, there is a certain excitement for Sanders among his supporters that may not translate to a non-Sanders Democratic nominee. 

Enter the Breakfast in Manchester for Bernie, one of the Sanders campaign’s last pushes to get out the vote on the Sunday before the primary. Sanders has just spoken and the attendants at the Ultimate Sports Academy flock to the podium, trying to catch him as he makes his way to the door.

Salman Ahmed, a 33-year-old physician from Boston, smiles widely and cheers Sanders as he leaves. “What his whole movement is based on is getting people involved,” says Ahmed. 

“What I appreciate about Bernie is that he’s calling on all of us to do more,” Ahmed says. “He’s asking us to step up and contribute what we can and where we can.” The 2020 Sanders campaign is the first that Ahmed has canvassed for.

Sanders has now left and the crowd is slowly dispersing to the exits. Lingering by the now empty podium is Bailey Fenn, a 20-year-old from Severna Park, Maryland. Fenn had driven with his uncle and two brothers to canvass for Sanders’ New Hampshire campaign. 

“I really believe in Bernie,” Fenn says. “I think that it takes many people to do such a big thing and I want to be one of those people.”

Fenn voted in the 2018 midterm elections but was ineligible to vote in the 2016 primaries or general election. Would Bailey vote for a non-Sanders Democratic nominee in the 2020 general election? 

“Probably… I probably will. I certainly won’t be as excited about it,” says Bailey. Despite the comparative lack of enthusiasm, Bailey cited that “any movement to the left is good,” albeit slower than he wanted. 

Fenn’s lack of enthusiasm was not unusual and Meranti’s “vote blue no matter who” was not an anomaly. Young Sanders supporters won’t be excited about it but many will vote for the nominee regardless of who it is. In other words, many aren’t ‘Bernie or Busters.’

Still, there’s more to it than that. What Ahmed refers to as ‘getting people involved’ is evident in Sanders’ campaign, especially so for young supporters, like Fenn, who are important volunteer-labor in campaigns. In 2015, 44.1 percent of all volunteers were between the ages of 16 and 34, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Democrats might be able to count on young Democrats’ votes. However, given the lackluster excitement of young Sanders fans, who constitute almost half of the 18-29 year old Democrats, can the party count on young Democrats to mobilize voters for a 2020 non-Sanders nominee? Only time, and chance, will tell.

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