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Hillary Clinton may have been the Democratic victor in Iowa last Monday, but the scale of Bernie Sanders’s achievement there was as significant as his win in New Hampshire last night. Clinton is not only a former secretary of state and first lady, but has vast resources at her disposal. Before Christmas, George Soros donated $6 million to her Super PAC, Priorities USA. That’s the equivalent of 228,000 Sanders supporters each donating $26.28, the average contribution his campaign has received so far.

The Vermont senator who describes himself as a ‘democratic socialist’ was able to take America’s best-connected politician to a ‘virtual tie’ in Iowa, and defeat her in New Hampshire, because his campaign has galvanised the young more than anyone could have expected. The only reason Iowa was a race at all – as Eric Levitz elegantly put it – was because, among the young, it wasn’t. 

According to the Iowa entrance poll, Sanders beat Clinton by almost 6-1 among the under-30s, taking 84 per cent of votes compared to Clinton’s 14 per cent. Sanders also enjoyed a 20 point lead among 30 to 44-year-olds, but Clinton was peerless among the over-45s, and won 70 per cent of the vote among over-65s.

The Democrats have won more of the popular vote than the Republicans in five of the last six presidential elections, and with the country’s changing ethnic composition – according to the US Census Bureau, ‘the US is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043’ – the pattern looks set to continue. People of colour are more likely to vote Democrat, and demographic shifts could keep the Republicans out of the White House for more than a generation. The Republican establishment, aware of the gravity of the problem, has tried to address it for the best part of a decade, as evidenced in the favoured candidacy of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush’s mentioning his Mexican wife whenever he can. So far, however, it’s failing, and the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on immigration is likely to have undone any good will from minorities. Simply put, much of the Republican core vote is at odds with the direction the party has to take in order to reflect a changing electorate.

The transformation in American politics since George W. Bush won a second term in 2004 is remarkable. Changing social attitudes on a range of issues, from race to gay rights, are remaking the country. Non-medical use of cannabis has been decriminalised in several states, and same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide since last June. Barack Obama arrived in office heralded as a liberal, but he has been repeatedly outflanked by movements to his left, in particular on income inequality and police violence against people of colour. The most important social movement of his presidency wasn’t the Tea Party; it was Black Lives Matter. Ask anyone who watched the half-time break at Super Bowl 50.

This evolution, both within and beyond electoral politics, is being driven not only by changes in the country’s ethnic composition. A large birth cohort – ‘millennials’ – now outnumber baby boomers. Aged 18 to 34, this racially diverse, economically stressed and politically liberal generation is now the largest in the US labour force. Slowly, they are redefining its politics. The success of Bernie Sanders, even if he doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, is a political breakthrough for them. It is unsurprising that, as in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn, they are represented by an older politician (Corbyn is 66; Sanders 74). After the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, a generation lost faith in party politics, the potential leaders among them more inclined towards direct action than electioneering.

Sanders may not win the Democrat nomination – although the data from his win in New Hampshire last night is incredibly promising – just as Labour may not win the 2020 general election. Yet both Corbyn and Sanders appeal to a new normal among many middle-aged and younger voters: high levels of debt, little in the way of asset ownership, an uncertain future and a sense that any historical social contract has long been hollowed out. Critics of Corbyn, unwilling to look at the data on who actually voted for him, call his thinking antiquated and out-of-touch. They couldn’t be more wrong. The politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is the leading edge of something far bigger than either man, or even their respective parties. A generational shift, regarding the role of government and much else besides, is under way. At some point in the next decade it will be the bedrock for a different kind of consensus from the one that currently prevails.

Comments

  1. SpinningHugo says:

    What a depressing read. The arguments of 1979 all over again.

    “Sanders may not win the Democrat nomination – although the data from his win in New Hampshire last night is incredibly promising – just as Labour may not win the 2020 general election.”

    There is no ‘may’ about it, I can state quite categorically now that neither event will occur.

    “Critics of Corbyn, unwilling to look at the data on who actually voted for him, call his thinking antiquated and out-of-touch.”

    Whether it is antiquated thinking is determined by its content, not by the age of those who vote for it. By that measure it is antiquated. Corbyn’s views are exactly those he held in 1977. Constancy is one of his prime virtues. he hasn’t changed his mind about anything. Good for him, in a way. It is i suppose possible that he was right all along and that no subsequent events have needed any alteration of view. A bit unlikely of course.

    In a primary, the candidate who can win is often the one able to inspire the basis. Narrow but passionate support is what is called for.

    In a General Election in a democracy who wins: candidates with deep passionate, but narrow support, or those with lukewarm but wide?

    The answer is obvious.

    • Amateur Emigrant says:

      “Constancy is one of his prime virtues. he hasn’t changed his mind about anything. Good for him, in a way. It is i suppose possible that he was right all along and that no subsequent events have needed any alteration of view.”

      Isn’t Aaron Bastani’s point though, that it is a large part of the electorate which has changed its mind and finds Sanders (or Corbyn) more representative of their views than Clinton (or Cooper)? And that they find them more persuasive on many issues?

      It is precisely Labour’s problem that Blairism abandoned the central business of politics, which is to persuade people that your policies are better, and instead simply adopted centrist, Tory-lite policies on the basis that the electorate voted Tory therefore to be elected one must become Tory. They failed to make the argument for an alternative path to the neo-liberal free-market economy, so they just gave up arguing against it. They then became interested in power for power’s sake, not from any true belief in how to make the world better. Corbyn may not be the man to reverse this, but his election represents a realisation that aping the opposition to make yourself electable isn’t going to solve anything.

      • SpinningHugo says:

        “Isn’t Aaron Bastani’s point though, that it is a large part of the electorate which has changed its mind”

        You know how we test propositions of this kind that there has been a large leftward shift in the electorate.

        You have general elections.

        Any recollection of what happened in May 2015?

        I cannot, of course, prove that your preferred strategy won’t miraculously succeed. We will have to wait and see.

        What I am sure of, however, is that when it fails we will here plenty of excuses from the likes of you (and Bastani). Blairites under the bed undermining the leder, and so on. Today, we are re-running the 80s with lots of monaing about the media, although I am unclear how wishing the world to be different from how it is helps anyone.

        • Amateur Emigrant says:

          Any recollection of how leftish the Labour Party agenda was in May 2015?

          Wishing the world was different from how it is seems to me to be the basis of political activity. You know, you wish it was different, think about how that could happen, persuade others of your vision and programme, and then you know, you test it at general elections. What was tested in May last year was just a slight variant on how the world could carry on being the same.

          As for ‘antiquated’ views, a principle doesn’t neccessarily lose value just because it’s old. Things like votes for women for example were new ideas over a century ago. Perhaps that’s too antiquated for you. Wealth redistribution is probably quite antiquated too, even older than 1977, but a lot of quite respectable people seem to think it’s got some legs still.

  2. Geoff Roberts says:

    Sanders a “democratic socialist’? His message reminded me of Willy Brandt, whose programme in 1969 was “Let’s dare to be be more democratic.” In 1969, the first post-war generation went to the polls in huge numbers in West Germany, motivated by many demonstrations and sick of the arrogance of the ruling elite, which declaimed that Brandt had “deserted the Fatherland” in 1939. Adenauer called him “the so-called Herr Brandt”.
    Brandt appealed to the young 68ers and he won huge support from the unions and the working class. For the first time in Germany there were demonstrations calling for his election. Brandt was a very good speaker and it was his charisma that created an atmosphere of hope and a desire for change among the huge crowds at his meetings. His integrity and the fact that he had been in exile during the war appealed to the young, who were tired of the old guard and who wanted to try more democracy in the factories, the schools the courts and universities.
    He was only chancellor for five years, but his administration changed politics in Germany and began the slow process of detente with the Soviet Union. The best chancellor Germany has ever had.
    The appeal of Sanders to the younger voters and his call for a democratic renewal could help him defeat the Clinton Juggernaut and win the nomination. It looks as if there could be a majority of people who want to try a little more democracy and restore some common sense to American politics.
    But even if he won, he’d probably be confronted by the denizins of the establishment who will tell him what they told Kennedy what to do about Russia. “Mr President, you have three possible policies. You can attack Russia and destroy the country completely through our nuclear superiority. Or you can talk to Krushchev and give him all that he demands. Or you can listen to us and we will tell you what to do.” Even intelligent presidents are faced with the problem of controlling all of those “intelligence services” It was an East German spy who brought an end to Brandt’s chancellorship.

  3. semitone says:

    To say that Black Lives Matter has been a more important movement during the last 7 years than the Tea Party is not so much wilfully naïve as wilfully ignorant. And sadly I expect the Super Bowl half-time show will have about as much influence on racial politics in the US as the Olympics opening ceremony is having on Tory health policy. Which is to say approximately zero.

  4. Dominic Rice says:

    It is publicly-available knowledge that Hillary Clinton is a corrupt tool of big banks, hedge funds, Big Pharma, etc. Once people know that fact they can’t un-know it. Given the evaporation of her huge poll leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s obvious that more and more people have become aware of it. That awareness will only increase in coming months.

  5. nasteffe says:

    ‘The Democrats have won more of the popular vote than the Republicans in five of the last six presidential elections, and with the country’s changing ethnic composition – according to the US Census Bureau, ‘the US is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043’ – the pattern looks set to continue.’

    While true in the presidential elections, Republican control over state and national legislatures appears to be a foregone conclusion.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/13/opinion/campaign-stops/the-republican-partys-50-state-solution.html

  6. Graucho says:

    As a baby boomer on this side of the pond I can’t say I’m proud of the legacy we have left the next generation. Slim pickings compared with the legacy from our parents who grew up through the depression, fought an appalling war and were determined that we would fair much better than they. We voted for “Blow you Jack I’m all right” politics right through the 80’s and 90’s. Labour and the Democrats did little to reverse the damage when they got back and often added to it. The younger generation are as mad as hell and they are voting accordingly.


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