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Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

  • Aru Pande

The excitement is palpable outside a New Hampshire Democratic Party event in Manchester, New Hampshire, as three friends hold signs to show support for one candidate – Bernie Sanders.

“He feels like a man of the people and that is what I like about him,” Nick Cimellaro said. For Cimellaro, Karli Griffin and Cameron Hampton, all in their 20’s, Sanders’ message about creating opportunity through education resonates.

“Being passionate about the issues that are affecting the next generation, so my generation and the ones younger than us. College loans obviously is a huge issue for a lot of my people my age,” Griffin said.

The 26-year-old retail worker said she was in college when the 2008 recession hit, graduating with debt and uncertainty about whether she would get a job to pay it off.

She and 22-year-old Hampton say Sanders’ straight talk on the issues is attractive.

“When he tells you he is going to do something, he already has a plan for it. Paying for college, he already has a spending plan for that,” Hampton said, holding a Sanders sign outside Manchester’s Verizon Arena.

Despite a narrow loss to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29.

Saint Anselm College politics professor Chris Galdieri says Sanders’ income inequality message and free college pledge resonates with young voters.

“They are worried about student debt, they’re worried about their job prospects. They are worried about - will there be any stability to their lives? Will they be able to have the same sort of lives that their parents or even their older siblings have had,” Galdieri said.

But just because young people care about issues like job security or college debt does not mean young voters will show up at the polls. In 2014, turnout for voters between the ages of 18 and 29 fell to a 40-year low of just 20 percent.

“One of the dangers with relying on younger voters is that the younger voters tend not to turn out at the same rates that older voters do. It is a real challenge to get people to cast that first ballot,” Galdieri noted.

For first-time voter Lilly Johnson, the choice will not be Sanders, but Hillary Clinton, whom she calls more realistic and experienced on the issues.

“I like her stance on the environment, on foreign policy, planned parenthood, on equality in terms of men and women,” the high school government student said as she picked up a blue Clinton T-shirt inside the Verizon Arena.

It is the years of work on women’s issues and foreign policy experience that also play big for older voter Susan Donner.

“One of the things that impresses me the most about Hillary is that she went out of her way as secretary of state to fight for women and girls around the planet,” she noted as she waited for Clinton to take the stage during the McIntrye-Shaheen 100 Club Celebration dinner.

“She has supported things important to me for many, many years.”

To do well, not just in New Hampshire but also in the campaign ahead, Clinton will be relying on voters like Donner who say they have a better understanding of the experience it takes to effect real change.